Robert Shepherd, InterContinental Hotels Group

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG ®), one of the world’s leading hotel companies, has a rich heritage and broad portfolio of nine brands across 4,653 hotels and 678,000 rooms, in nearly 100 countries and territories. In an exclusive interview with Europe Real Estate, Robert Shepherd, Chief Development Officer Europe, talked about the increased personalization in the hotel industry and the challenges of operating in diverse cultural and social contexts.

Tell us about your brands and what they represent.

IHG’s nine hotel brands are InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, EVEN Hotels and HUALUXE Hotels & Resorts. Our hotels are some of the best-known and most popular in the world, ranging from luxury hotels in the world’s major cities and resorts to reliable family-oriented hotels.

Which countries is the Group focusing on at the moment and why?

Germany, Russia and the UK are our three priority markets in Europe. We expect the majority of our growth to come from our midscale brands–Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. Multiple development agreements are working particularly well in Germany and Russia and towards the end of 2013 we signed our sixth MDA in Germany. In Russia, our ambition is to have 100 hotels open or signed in the development pipeline by 2020. We have spent some time building the necessary infrastructure to allow us to identify great partners and I expect to see that coming through as more signings. In March 2013, we signed a multiple development agreement for 15 Holiday Inn Express hotels in Russia, the first of which will open in just a few months. 

We are focused on increasing the number of franchised and managed hotels we have. Our hotel development pipeline is the industry’s second largest, with more than 1,100 hotels. We have prospered during the economic downturn, delivering consistent high-quality growth, and we are looking forward to what 2014 holds.

What are your main criteria and standards when developing new properties?

Developing and opening hotels means long-term responsibility for owners and operators. Whether our relationship is under a management contract or franchise agreement, we are looking for the commitment and financial stability to see a project through, and for the right kind of knowledge, passion and experience to make it a success. We have a rigorous approach to every new hotel development and we are able to bring to bear the considerable weight of resources we have to ensure our owners are supported in making commercially sound choices. Our ultimate ambition will always be a great new IHG-branded property and a thriving business proposition for our partners.

What are the new trends in hotel management and operation?

Our recent report, ‘Creating Moments of Trust–the key to building successful brand relationships in the Kinship Economy’ explores the transition from brand experiences to brand relationships in the hospitality sector. Travelers’ expectations of tailored experiences at every touch-point are increasing. Nearly three in five travelers (59%) are saying their hotel stay is significantly more comfortable if services are personalized and more than half (54%) admit it makes them feel more valued.

The management effort is all about hiring the right people with the right skills and personalities, who are fully committed to delivering great service, particularly for the upscale and luxury segments. For other segments, there is a focus on efficiency and allowing the customer to make the most of their time–and this is where technology is revolutionizing the way we operate. We are actively looking for new solutions to improve the guest experience in our hotels. We currently have over 14 customer-facing mobile apps that aim to improve and speed up the check-in experience, while still providing guests with outstanding service.

What are the main challenges of operating hotels in different regions and countries? 

IHG operates across four regions: the Americas, Europe, Asia, Middle East & Africa (AMEA) and Greater China, which brings a wealth of cultural differences. The challenge is actually a great opportunity, provided we find the right people. We are uniquely placed to understand the needs and desires of people from all over the world. It requires leaders with an open mind, wide geographical experience and the willingness to work with people from all walks of life, something we are very proud of at IHG. Our research concluded that travelers from emerging markets (Brazil 68%, UAE 60%, and China 58%) choose global hotel brands because they feel they are considerate to local tastes, customs and cultures.

Mr. Shepherd's interview is part of the Thought Leaders section of Europe Real Estate 2014, launched during the MIPIM conference. The digital version of Europe Real Estate 2014 is also available in our webshops.

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