Kirk Kinsell, president of the Americas at IHG, took the stage at the IHG 2011 Americas Leadership & Investors Conference and proclaimed that in these uncertain times bigger is better. It was a fitting statement considering this year’s edition of the annual conference set a record with more than 6,100 attendees at The Venetian and The Palazzo in Las Vegas, Nev.
Both relatively new to their positions this year, Kinsell and IHG CEO Richard Solomons hammered home the idea that the large hotel company was making a point to focus on its brands, creating profitable revenue, and its people.
“We have set aggressive goals, but we can reach them, no doubt,” Solomons told the gathering of owners, investors, and operators of all IHG brands.
While Holiday Inn’s relaunch had taken center stage at the last few IHG conferences, Crowne Plaza was this year’s belle of the ball. Like Holiday Inn before it, Crowne Plaza has been embarking on a refresh of its own. While the Holiday Inn relaunch, which refreshed more than 3,200 properties worldwide, received a great deal of fanfare, the Crown Plaza repositioning is being accomplished in a much more stealthy manner.
“Until recently, Crowne Plaza had not been defined,” Solomons said. “There is a huge opportunity for growth with Crowne Plaza. We are prepared to lose those hotels that don’t want to take the journey with us.”
When Holiday Inn relaunched it lost 1,200 underperforming hotels, but replaced it with 1,500 new properties. Kinsell said IHG is prepared to make the same type of commitment with Crowne Plaza.
“If you remember, Crowne Plaza was developed as much to satisfy a franchisee gap instead of a customer need,” Kinsell said. “You can expect the same commitment with this refresh as you saw with Holiday Inn.”
The Crowne Plaza repositioning is meant to be a multiyear journey broken up into three parts. The current stage is focused on improving the quality of the properties and service, and ensuring compliance with brand hallmarks. “We’ll also be launching the new brand identity,” said Janis Cannon, global brand leader for Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo.
The next stage will focus on growth of the brand and identifying network gaps, according to Cannon. “We want to bring in more resort products,” she said. “We’ll also be launching a new branded service behavior.”
Crowne Plaza is the fourth largest upscale brand after only 28 years of existence. It has 396 properties and Cannon said there are approximately 200 properties in the pipeline.
The third stage, expected from 2013 through 2015, will introduce new hallmarks. “Great brands have to be evolving,” Cannon said. “They have to be focused on being proactive about delivering needs to customers.”
The refreshed Crowne Plaza will be about bringing energy to the brand. “It will have a modern transition in terms of design and offer more choices,” Cannon said. “It’s all about removing obstacles for guests.”
Aside from the Crowne Plaza repositioning, IHG executives on hand talked extensively about building revenue for franchisees. “The fact is there may be opportunity to raise rates because demand is up and supply is down,” Kinsell said.
Kinsell added that the company wants owners to be bold in pricing and to review their rates. “Only a few owners are adopting recommendations on pricing,” Kinsell said. He implored the rest to follow.
In addition, Solomons outlined ways in which IHG is seeking to put its people first. “IHG may be a large business, but the problems and the service are like that of a small business,” he said. “One of our competitive advantages in that respect is our people.” He added that the company’s focus on people was a reason for a recent appointment of Tracy Robbins, head of human resources, to the IHG board.
He also said the company is looking to hire an operations officer as well as a chief marketing officer.