IHG Group fast-paced strategic decision to further develop its luxury brands which climaxed in 2018 with the acquisition of Regent Hotels has prompted CPP-LUXURY.COM to step up coverage of InterContinental, Kimpton and Regent Hotels across all sections and from all business angles. We are privileged to debut this coverage with an exceptional interview with Tom Rowntree, Vice President Global Luxury Brands, one of the ‘architects’ of the new strategic approach towards luxury.
You recently unveiled in Shanghai the 200th InterContinental Hotel branded property. What are the pro’s and con’s of a luxury hotel brand with such a large portfolio but also your 70 year experience?
As the world’s first and most international luxury hotel brand, InterContinental’s heritage and global presence gives us a huge amount of cultural expertise. From that comes an inherent understanding of the needs of our guests, whether they’re from Europe, the UK, the US or the Middle East. We understand their key cultural motivators so we tailor authentic experiences around these.
As we have expanded our presence, we’ve maintained a focus on staying at the forefront of luxury – leveraging technology to reduce friction in the guest journey, such as through the introduction of Smart Rooms powered by Artificial Intelligence, which feature at InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland. I recently had the pleasure of staying there with a group of international media and the hotel is nothing short of an engineering marvel. Built in a former quarry, 16 of the hotel’s 18 floors are built underground and two are submerged inside a 33-foot-deep aquarium. All rooms apart from those underwater feature a balcony with views of purpose-built waterfalls, providing spectacular vistas.
We’re delighted InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland is our 200th hotel, and see the InterContinental brand growing from strength to strength as we expand to more destinations, further cementing our standing as a true pioneer and leader in the luxury hotel space.
What has been your strategic approach of franchised versus managed properties? Do you still own any of your luxury branded properties?
IHG is an asset light organisation, meaning we invest in our brands and partner with owners with a predominately managed and franchised model. The majority of our luxury hotels are managed, although we do have franchise partnerships with InterContinental in certain locations with owners with the right expertise and infrastructure.
Through the recent acquisition of Regent Hotels you have further expanded your portfolio of luxury brands. Tell us more about your portfolio and why now?
This is an unprecedented time in the luxury sector, with growth fuelled by millennials, China and the rise in traditional luxury markets. We see clear demand from our owners and guests for a differentiated and expanded luxury offering. Luxury is of strategic importance to IHG, both from the growth opportunity and an important halo effect for our entire portfolio and loyalty proposition.
The opportunity to strengthen our luxury portfolio forms a key part of our new strategic initiatives and the acquisition of Regent Hotels and Resorts is an excellent addition to our offering.
Additionally, this is an exciting time for the global expansion of Kimpton. Acquired in 2015, with a vision to growth the brand and take it internationally, we have secured Kimpton’s presence in 14 countries worldwide, with upcoming openings slated for Bali, Tokyo and Edinburgh amongst others. Deals such as our agreement with Covivio (formerly Foncière des Régions), to rebrand and operate 12 high-quality open hotels in the UK from the Principal and De Vere brand portfolio have enabled us to become the leading luxury operator in the UK and we will continue to look at opportunities that have significant potential for growth.
What are your plans for the Regent Hotels brand? Is it positioned as a higher tier than the InterContinental brand?
Regent Hotels sits in the upper luxury segment above InterContinental Hotels. Regent has a heritage of innovation and set the standard for luxury hotels over four decades, we now have plans to grow the brand in key global gateway cities and resort locations. Since relaunching the brand last year, we’re delighted to have announced the first signing for the brand since acquisition in Kuala Lumpur.
We see a strong opportunity to benefit from the legacy and brand equity with a brand for future luxury generations. We’re capitalising on the incredible DNA of innovation, protecting what makes the brand special whilst building on it for the future. This includes creating a new service approach, brand hallmarks, visual identity and design philosophy; and a style that delivers for the modern luxury traveler.
Regent Hotels has a clear aim – to create the world’s most prestigious luxury hotels, in outstanding locations across the globe. In our reimagining of the brand, hallmarks will include Personal Havens – physical spaces in the hotel designed to delight guests, signature dining experiences that evokes the local culture, and an intuitive and personalised approach to service that delivers an unforgettable Regent experience through anticipating guests needs.
What are the opportunities and set of competitive advantages you are now able to provide both hotel developers and owners when it comes to luxury?
Our heritage and scale puts IHG in an unparalleled position in the luxury space. As the largest global luxury brand operator with InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, we’re able to offer owners and developers an industry-leading proposition aimed at enhancing revenue delivery.
Our owner offering includes access to our revenue driving tools and systems that include IHG Concerto, our cloud based technology platform that incorporates several capabilities into a seamless hotel management tool, along with popular guest offerings such as IHG Connect, a Wi-Fi logon process designed to make it even easier for our guests to stay connected.
Owners also recognise the value of our loyalty offering, IHG Rewards Club. With more than 100 million enrolled members globally, IHG Rewards Club is one of the largest guest loyalty programmes in the hotel industry. Named Best Hotel Rewards Programme in the World ten years running by Global Traveller magazine, IHG Rewards Club delivers 42.5% of rooms revenues into our hotels (up 3.5%pts over three years).
How has your Hualuxe brand evolved and what are your current and future plans?
Hualuxe is the first international hotel brand designed specifically for Chinese travellers. In 2015, we opened the first three Hualuxe properties in Greater China – Haikou, Yangjiang and Nanchang, and this has grown to 8 hotels (2,335 rooms) across China.
IHG has ambitious plans for Hualuxe both in Greater China and internationally. Since IHG first announced the launch of the brand in 2012, we now have 20 hotels in the pipeline in attractive locations in key cities across China including Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu.
As Chinese outbound travel continues to grow and gain momentum, IHG also plans to introduce the brand into key international destinations, such as London and New York, to meet the specific requirements of Chinese travellers wherever they may be.
Guests are increasingly seeking an experience from their stays? How is IHG’s luxury portfolio responding to this?
The affluent guest wants to be a traveller, not just a tourist, which means seeking transformative experiences that can’t be found in a guide book and giving them a chance to meet the locals. Luxury travellers are becoming more discerning and experimental in their travels, increasingly spending on experiences rather than luxury possessions.
To reflect this, InterContinental offers services such as our hotel Insider Experiences which showcase the extraordinary relationship between our hotels and the cities in which they are located.
We join with carefully-selected partners to create bespoke experiences that offer a fresh perspective for our guests. For example at InterContinental Bordeaux we provide guests with exclusive access to the most prestigious vineyards of Bordeaux through our unique Wine Concierge Service. We tailor specially designed programmes that grant guests unprecedented access to the world of Bordeaux wines, a privilege normally reserved for industry insiders.
While service standards are under your control, how do you ensure certain properties are renovated faster?
We know that over time, our guests’ needs change and therefore we work closely with our owners and luxury hotel teams to implement renovations and restorations that blend design classics with modern luxury to embody a sense of global sophistication.
Through an extensive refurbishment programme across the InterContinental estate, we are aiming to bring modern luxury to our heritage buildings whilst maintaining their historic spirit.
For example, the iconic InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel is currently undergoing a multi-million Euro refurbishment which began in January 2018 and is taking place in two phases. Under the guidance of renowned interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, the work will be focused on the improvement of the hotel’s rooms, restaurants and public spaces.
There is a growing tendency of guests to mix corporate and leisure. Tell us more about your take.
Our guests live a blended lifestyle and we are very attuned to whether our guests are in a leisure or business mindset, they want to connect with where they are and have an authentic experience.
From a service delivery perspective, the key lies in understanding their key cultural motivators so that we can tailor authentic experiences around them and offer something transformational, not in obvious ways but through subtle nuances.
For example, at InterContinental London Park Lane, we were recently made aware a guest who was in town for a very short period of time on a really important business trip but of course wanted to connect with the destination, so we arranged for him to have a corner suite overlooking Hyde Park Corner to see the changing of the guards and connect with our unique location.
Additionally, at InterContinental Presidente Cozumel in Mexico we had a guest who needed to prepare a very important presentation for a conference, so our staff arranged for her to work from her laptop on the beach, providing just the right amount of shade for her to get her work done in comfort.
We also see our multi- award-winning Restaurant and Bars offering as providing a gateway to local culture, so that whether a guest is staying with us for business or leisure, they can experience authentic cuisine. For example, at InterContinental Hong Kong, guests can savour the finest Cantonese delicacies at the legendary two Michelin-star restaurant Yan Toh Heen and also take advantage of the services provided by the restaurant’s very own Tea Sommelier, the first in Hong Kong.
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