This year is the centenary of Hilton Hotels. In 1919, Conrad Hilton bought the 40-room Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas, and averaged 300 per cent occupancy, because the guests were mainly oilfield workers who rented the rooms in eight-hour shifts.
Over the years we’ve covered many subsequent Hilton successes. One of these, in the 1980s, was the Nicon Noga Hilton in Abuja, now the capital but then, according to our writer, “a backwater of Nigeria” – and one where Hilton had only four weeks to prepare and open the hotel in time for a prestigious conference.
“Work on the hotel began prior to the Nigerian coup in 1985,” Maggie O’Sullivan reported in our April 1987 issue. “At that time, the government was laying elaborate plans to relocate itself from Lagos to Abuja.” The move was delayed because of political instability (it eventually became the capital in 1991), and construction on the property slowed.
Then the owning company took a booking to host the Economic Community of West African States summit at the end of June 1986. Hilton had less than four weeks to staff and equip a property that still wasn’t finished.
“What happened next was 21 days of utter pandemonium,” O’Sullivan said. Somehow the management team and staff pulled it all together. “Its first official guests… slept in rooms that a month previously had been concrete shells.”
Three days later, the conference was over, the hotel was closed and the builders moved in to finish the remaining ten floors. It opened officially the following spring. As O’Sullivan put it, this was “one of Hilton’s finest hours: the great instant hotel caper”.