“Historic hotels have a competitive edge that allows them to cope with hard times when tourism slows down, the situation Egypt once again finds itself in,” Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazoue stressed at the recent opening of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Cairo.
For Egyptians, this is not the mere opening of a hotel. The Nile Ritz-Carlton is the newly renovated former Nile Hilton, the first international hotel to open in Egypt, back in the 1959. It held that honour uncontested until the 1970s when the Sheraton Hotel chain opened its Giza Sheraton. Other international hotels followed suite.
The Nile Hilton was built on one of the most imposing sites in Cairo. Its western façade enjoys a majestic view of the Nile, and its eastern façade overlooks the central Cairo thoroughfare, Tahrir Square, which is the now-iconic ground that hosted the Arab Spring uprising in January 2011. The hotel’s next-door neighbour is the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, which houses the Tutankhamun collection among a treasure hold of ancient Egyptian antiquities; and it stands on the threshold of Downtown Cairo. In addition, the nearby Qasr al-Nil Bridge crosses the Nile to the magnificent Cairo Opera House, a unique landmark of aesthetic and cultural interest in Egypt.
The 1960s and 70s generation of young Egyptians—and indeed through to younger generations—harbour fond memories of sipping coffee and enjoying delicious treats in the hotel’s spacious coffee shop, digging into its famous pizzas at the cheerful pizzeria, indulging in delicacies at the elegant restaurants, or attending conferences, exhibitions, or social events in its function rooms. Even strolling around the ground floor foyer and corridors was a delight; the wide, airy spaces were full of natural light and dotted with ancient Egyptian-style artefacts and modern art pieces.
The Nile Hilton, which first brought to Egypt the taste of modern international hospitality standards and which hosted Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra, was a household name for Cairenes. To this day the hotel is no mere hospitality business; it is a staple of Tahrir Square and intricately intertwined with Cairo’s everyday life for a long part of modern history.
The Nile Hilton was acquired by Ritz-Carlton in 2009, with a plan to renovate and reopen the hotel within two years. However, the political unrest associated with the Arab Spring uprising, along with some construction challenges, put those plans on hold. The Ritz-Carlton was chosen from nine companies that submitted tender offers to run the property, managed by Hilton Hotels since it was inaugurated in 1959 by Egypt’s then-President Gamal Abdel-Nasser and his Yugoslav counterpart Josip Broz Tito.
The renovated Nile Ritz-Carlton today boasts 331 rooms and 50 suites, including the élite Royal and Presidential suites that feature spectacular Nile views. It houses ultramodern facilities including an outsize swimming pool with 17 private cabanas. The accommodation and interiors have all been designed by interior designer Frank Nicholson, a long-standing collaborator of the brand, and are reminiscent of the style of Ritz-Carlton properties around the globe while anchored in the flavours and traditions of Egypt.
The Nile Hilton’s Alf Leila w Leila (A Thousand and One Nights) Ballroom, a treasured Egyptian memory, retains its name in the new hotel as it awaits the grand-scale legendary weddings it was once famous for hosting. Other smaller rooms can host smaller social, cultural or business events, but an avant-garde conference hall extends over some 1,700 square metres. The hotel also has a spa overlooking the Nile, a huge underground parking facility, and a state-of-the-art safety and fire alert system.
Completing the renovation process has been one of Cairo’s most significant recent events, long awaited by the tourism sector, although the cost of renovation recorded the highest among Egypt’s hotels. According to Ihab al-Kerdani, Chairman of Misr Hotels Company which owns the property, the cost passed the EGP one billion mark.
“The market in Egypt is in need of such ultra luxury hotels in order to attract a particular kind of guest,” Mr Kerdani notes. “This would realise a good revenue for the economy, and for sure would benefit not only the company, but also all the sectors involved.”
“Despite the state of unrest in Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring, given that the hotel is located in the heart of Tahrir Square, it was a correct decision to go ahead with renovating the Nile Ritz-Carlton Hotel,” says Mervat Hattaba, head of the holding company for hotels.
With the first guest entering the hotel, the Misr Hotels Company receives USD12 million from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for the hotel management contract. The annual revenue is expected to reach USD29 million.
9 December 2015