$162 MILLION HILTON RESORT TAKES SHAPE IN FIJI

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 6) - Amidst the buzz of construction on Fiji's leading tourism destination, the ever-expanding Denarau Island, there sits a makeshift office - a humble refurbished shipping container - of the newest man on Fiji's travel scene. He is Mahmoud Mokhtar, general manager of the Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, managed by Hilton.

Originally from Alexandria in Egypt, Mokhtar moved to Fiji two months ago with his wife, Elena, and six-month-old daughter, Selma.

With close to twenty years in the international tourism industry and three Hilton openings under his belt, Mokhtar is tackling his latest assignment with a mixture of positive thinking and calm confidence - the by-products of vast experience.

"My family and I felt at home here from day one," he remarks.

"Fiji is a safe place and the people are very friendly - an ideal location for our world-standard Beach Resort & Spa. The Hilton team is very excited about developments here."

Once fully completed, the FJ$270 million (US$162 million) development will be a fully integrated five star resort set on 1.5 kilometers of Denarau's beachfront.

"We have about 650 men on site, working seven days a week. The progress we've made since starting in November last year has been remarkable."

Signaling towards a detailed model of the Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, Mokhtar points out the first stage of the project, which he expects to be opened by mid-December as the "Fiji Beach Resort, managed by Hilton."

It will have initial guest accommodation in 138, five-star villas, providing 218 accommodation rooms.

Also to be constructed are a 120-metre long pool, 250-seat restaurant, temporary reception, retail center, gym, kids club and preliminary spa facilities.

The second stage, to begin by the end of the year, will lift the villa total to over 300, equivalent to nearly 480 rooms and feature common facilities of over 20,000 square meters in area. This will include five restaurants, ballroom and conference facilities for over 1,000 guests, business centre, extensive retail, a 2,200sqm spa and two large swimming complexes.

The third and final stage will see the room count reach 570.

"One of our top priorities, as Hilton, is to form a good partnership with the local community," says Mokhtar.

"We want to employ competent locals and get them to work at standards of our worldwide Hilton network. There is a lot of potential here to be tapped into, which is why I have been screening for candidates to send overseas for extensive training."

Mokhtar explains they have chosen six young applicants from the local community with little or no previous work experience, but with a lot of promise, to undergo the training.

Some have either finished high school or university.

"We will be sending them to our properties in Australia.

"Some have never even been overseas before, but these six stood out because of their enthusiasm and commitment to hard work.

"I am reminded here of my own humble beginnings as a cook in the kitchens of a top hotel in Alexandria. I wish them all the best."

The six candidates will be trained in Front office, food and beverage and housekeeping," explains Mokhtar.

"Hilton is very well-known for their successful training programs," he said.

"We have the Hilton University, which is accessible online to our employees who can study and graduate with specialized certificates.

"We have the Elevator program, which is aimed at training managers. There are many more programs aimed at the advancement and welfare of our team members around the world.

"Now Fiji can be a part of that great network."

Mokhtar says the feedback from the local community has been overwhelming.

"They can see that things are moving forward at the Fiji Beach Resort & Spa.

"We are looking at about 200 to 250 job opportunities for stage one alone. I'm sure at later stages we will send more batches of trainees overseas and we will again target local communities for employment."

Strolling in the warm Nadi sunshine towards the first completed and fully furnished Beach Resort & Spa villa, Mokhtar remarks that Fiji weather is similar to that of his home country.

"My family and I feel comfortable here," he comments.

"Sometimes it seems like we've been here for two years, when it's actually been only two months!"

Opening the large door of the villa, Mokhtar assertively says: "I think you will like what you see."

The door opens to a spacious kitchen, lounge and dining area, complete with a crispy-clean feel of luxurious holidaying. Plasma-screen televisions adorn the lounge, three double bedrooms and study area.

"Particular attention has been given to the ensuite bathrooms in each bedroom," Mokhtar points out.

"Open-plan living has been encouraged through the use of finely crafted kitchen bars, with outdoor cooking and living areas merging the interior and exterior spaces.

"With the spectacular oceanfront on its doorstep, the villa can be opened to absorb the gentle tropical breezes, or closed for the use of air conditioning."

The flagship - a 191square meter villa - features 163 square meter of outdoor terraces, with a private pool area.

Mokhtar explains the villas have to meet the exacting standards of the Hilton Group.

"I have received very good feedback from travel agencies and local tour operators," he said.

Since his arrival in Fiji, Mokhtar has been familiarizing himself with the local tourism scene, meeting with managers of top hotels and resorts, travel agencies, tour operators and various local suppliers.

"It was important that Hilton become a member of the Fiji Hotel Association, which we have done."

Mokhtar says Hilton's international network is one of the largest in the world, with wide-reaching distribution channels able to attract substantial business to Fiji.

"That is another one of our prime goals - to generate revenue for Fiji," he says.

"We are well-known in the international market for running very successful resorts, and I believe this will be one of the best.

"The harmony between the developers, Denarau Investments Limited, and the management company, Hilton, is at its maximum.

"We are in agreement of almost everything, so I believe we are definitely moving in the right direction."

Denarau Investments directors include well-known local figures Mahendra Patel and Tui Mailekai. They serve alongside New Zealand businessman, Neville Mahon.

The local directors say the company is pleased with both the international and local responses to an investment scheme for the purchase of the resort villas.

They say this is another expression of confidence in Fiji and its economy and a new source of investment income for the country.

By the end of May 2005, advance villa sales totaled nearly FJ$130 million, covering the first and second phases of the resort.

Most sales are to New Zealanders, with others coming from Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Nearly 30 Fiji citizens and residents are among the buyers.

Investors are entitled to use their villas for up to 10 weeks a year. When they are not in use, villas will be rented out as rooms in the resort, with 50 per cent of the income going to their owners.

Villa investment returns are projected to average between 6 and 12 percent. Tax incentives offered by the Fiji Government are an added attraction.

A group of indigenous Denarau landowners who paid a substantial deposit on the first 10 beachfront villas have already seen an increase in value for the property of around 10 percent.

July 7, 2005

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