Kirk Kinsell has been on the job as IHG’s new president, the Americas for a little more than a month. Following the surprise departure of Jim Abrahamson to Interstate Hotels & Resorts, Kinsell return to the Americas after serving as the company’s president, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. From IHG’s headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., yesterday, Kinsell spoke with Lodging on a number of topics, including his return to the Americas, plans for the future, IHG’s brands, and the sale of InterContinental Barclay in New York City.
Len Vermillion: As you take over in the Americas, what is the state of your company?
Kirk Kinsell: We’ve all seen the industry continue to grow. Demand levels are certainly at an all-time high. IHG and its brands, as powerful as they are and as preferred as they are, we continue to grab our share. Certainly, I’m taking over at a time when we are in a good place, our industry’s in a good place, and I think our brands are in a good place.
LV: Coming from the EMEA, are there any ideas you’re bringing from there to the Americas? Are there things you’d like to change, or will it be status quo for IHG?
KK: Status quo sounds boring, but it can be very powerful. IHG has had a very consistent strategy, which we kind of banged out over the last five to seven years. We continue to focus on making sure we put the brands at the center of everything we do, which means the focus on our guests is really important. We keep making sure we have really strong distribution and that our pipeline growth and the hotels we have are in good condition. And we continue to work on our leadership agenda in terms of the talent and development of our people. Those are things I worked on in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and I’m going to continue to work on here.
That environment was all about joining up very different types of viewpoints, and certainly I’ve benefited from the time I spent in very diverse markets. At the same time, I benefitted greatly from being in the same space as people such as Richard Solomon, who’s my boss now, and other key leaders. I bring a much closer relationship. There isn’t a big gap in the way in which we work together. They are very much aligned on our brands, the opportunities for our owners, and our people.
LV: Do you see any strength in any particular brand, or have plans for any particular brand?
KK: [The Holiday Inn relaunch] is still going on. I see strength in entities such as J.D. Powers & Associates recognizing Holiday Inn and Hotel Indigo. We continue to focus on evolving the Holiday Inn offer, and defining that sector, because the last 60 years that’s what we’ve been doing. With the social hub concept we’re doing here in Atlanta, we’re looking at how we deliver the food and beverage—the full-service element—of a mainstream brand.
Over the last few years, as we came out of Holiday Inn, we’ve turned our attention to Crowne Plaza, so we’ve started that work. We’re talking to our owners across the world about the next steps forward for Crown Plaza. It’s the fourth largest upscale brand in the world. A lot of people don’t realize how fast and how big it’s grown outside of the United States. We’ll be coming forward on that shortly.
LV: Will you continue with your asset light strategy?
KK: Yes, I think so. I’ve had the privilege of serving on the board, and the board is constantly looking at our capital structure and the opportunities for growth. We’ve said that where appropriate we’ll continue to support our brands and brand development. We always use the example of Hotel Indigo. In San Diego we invested in and built it. We just sold that hotel and now we’ve harvested investment and redeployed it into New York and an Indigo project there. We’ll continue more on that basis rather than a wholesale change.
LV: You brought up Hotel Indigo. How important is that brand to the growth of IHG?
KK: It serves a marketplace that was underserved. It’s a product that has had great success in the U.S. and now globally. It gives us something else we can offer to our owners. It offers an alternative to guests and our global accounts when they are traveling. More recently, Indigo has had more global growth. We’ve had four hotels open in the U.K. We opened in Shanghai about four or five month ago. Now, we have a lot growth in the Asia-Pacific. On a relative basis, it’s not going to match the power of Holiday Inn, but it’s very important to the group in terms of our brand lineup.
LV: What about the rest of the Americas? Will you concentrate mostly in the U.S., or will you look more at Latin America?
KK: Latin America is a big market, but let’s not forget the U.S. is the world’s largest hotel market. China gets a lot press, and we’ve been there for a long time, and have a big pipeline. But the biggest pipeline in the world is ours in the U.S. It gets a lot of my attention, as it should.
Outside of the U.S., we’ll continue to grow in Canada and Mexico. We have a very large position in both of those countries. And, we’re looking at expansion in Latin America, particularly in South America. We’ve had couple of openings recently in Argentina.
LV: Are you confident that the pipeline will materialize with the way development is right now?
KK: This business is a relative business. When people are looking at the hotel industry we compare ourselves against others. The attrition rate in the pipeline has been a point or two ahead of where the traditional attrition rate has been on our pipeline. All hotels have the same challenge. No one has cornered the market on the lending community. What we see is that we still have a lot confidence in the pipeline.
LV: Any more news about the Barclay?
KK: No more updates. We continue to hold it for sale. At this juncture, we’ve had a number of qualified potential buyers. Nothing to announce yet, but these processes take awhile. There are a number of people who like New York as place to park their investment capital. The Barclay is a great asset and we want to make sure we have the right owner and, if possible, assess with that owner how we might grow together even more.