New Hilton GM assures skills development, cultural integration

Now perched on a comfortable seat in a classy, spacious and luxurious office, nobody would have imagined that this gentleman’s career would stem from being an ordinary restaurant waiter to commanding a position of repute in an internationally renowned hotel.

Having travelled the world amassing a wealth of experience in his hospitality career that spans over 30 years, the recently appointed Hilton Windhoek hotel general manager, John McAree, assures the hotel’s clientelle that he will use his decades’ long know-how to turn the globally illustrious entity into a first choice destination for international travellers.

McAree who took over the hot seat in December last year, replacing Roman Kopacek who opened Hilton Windhoek in May 2011, is optimistic of the future given his previous stints as a respected general manager in countries such as the United Kingdom, Netherlands and most of East African Hilton line of hotels.

As a part-time barman as well as a higher national diploma (HND) student at the University of Edinburg, Scotland, McAree gradually grew in his career by taking full advantage of the academic opportunities that were [and still are] offered by the hotel.

“I started off my career as a waiter in 1983 at the Hilton International in Kensington, United Kingdom. During the first two weeks, I was not allowed to meet clients as my job was just to polish cutlery and glasses. Determined to do better, I would spend the first 12 years of my career in the food and beverages industry working in different departments.

“I rose from being a barman, to a chief barman, to a chief steward and then to a room services manager. As time went by, I climbed up the ladder in different positions and here I am today. I have been a general manager for the last 15 years, so I know from experience exactly what I need to do to ensure that Hilton Windhoek becomes the international travellers’ choice,” he states, adding enthusiastically, “The hotel itself enjoys an admirable status as one of the best in Namibia. I have travelled extensively around Africa but Namibia’s beauty and hospitality will stay with me forever.”

As a seasoned industry professional, McAree joined the 150-room Hilton Windhoek hotel from Hilton Addis Ababa in Ethiopia where he held the same position.

He is well travelled for he has worked at the Hilton line of hotels across the Middle East and Africa in countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Oman and South Africa.

He replaced Roman Kopacek, who opened Hilton Windhoek in May 2011 and helped build the hotel into one of the leading hospitality providers in Namibia.

McAree has already started stepping up his authority in a bid to unravel the gem that will catapult Hilton Windhoek into what he intends for it to be; the international travellers’ choice. As such, he plans to involve the local community in his endeavour.

“Apart from changing our menus, there are a whole lot of other plans in the pipeline. I will be working with a strong team that includes the executive chef - Paul Gindra - who was once a judge for the popular Master Chef South Africa,” he submits.

“We need to increase our offering, though,” he adds.

McAree is notorious for his highly driven and enthusiastic nature, not to mention that he is a team player.

But what are some of the accomplishments he has managed to craft for the Hilton hotel during his 30-year tenure?

“I have had numerous extensions and rebuilds at most of the Hilton hotels that I have worked for over the years. These include upgrading workers’ living quarters in Kenya, starting a nine-hole golf course, as well as refurbishing various restaurants, bars and pools. I basically did a complete refurbishment of hotel facilities wherever I went,” he boasts.

As far as skill training and development is concerned, Hilton is one of the most renowned hotels in the world for its dedication in this regard.

The five-star international hotel is currently in agreement with Cornell University of the United States in which the university provides training courses to the hotel staff.

“We offer e-learning courses to our staff for free. We also have a three-year chefs’ apprentice programme meant to provide the current apprentices with an opportunity to travel the world and work with other international chefs. The idea is to develop their skills and thus create a pool of an employable workforce,” he says.

McAree also explains; “We have the obligation to train Namibians to meet five-star international hotel standards. Thus, we will give them the opportunity to travel and further develop their experiences and skills. We also have outside courses that we pay for, for those who wish to go beyond Hilton.”

Hilton management services have extensive employment benefits and compensation programmes.

But there is no job without a challenge and McAree has braced himself for all of them.

“One of the most ‘enjoyable’ challenges that I am going to face is developing a team and seeing it grow. Training is critical and developing the local community is of paramount importance. As such, I would like to create a team that shares my vision. My second objective is to help the team realise the opportunities they have within the company. I believe that I was brought here to develop the hotel because of my experience,” he divulges, adding that all the hotel’s departments are equally important in sustaining and building the entity.

“Even though we have shown that we are a big brand for over eight decades, we acknowledge and appreciate the support we receive from the local community. We also respect the various local cultures and traditions here,” he says.

Hilton Worldwide is a leading global hospitality company. It spreads across the lodging sector from luxurious full-service hotels and resorts to extended-stay suites and mid-priced hotels. For 93 years, Hilton Worldwide has offered business and leisure travellers the finest services in accommodation, hospitality, amenities and value for their money.

Hilton Windhoek is situated in the heart of the capital city of Windhoek, next to the Bank of Namibia, government buildings, as well as historical and tourist attractions.

Recognised for its architecture, Hilton Windhoek provides a perfect view of the city from the Skybar, the terrace at Kalabar, the Centrum Restaurant and the D’vine, which is a wine cellar.

Its residents dine at Ekipa Restaurant, which offers Namibian delicacies that are prepared from the open kitchen at the diners’ watch.

The hotel received the 2012 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award. This honour is awarded to establishments that achieve outstanding traveller reviews on TripAdvisor.com, the world’s largest travel site. PF