With close to 35 years of branded hospitality experience, Joel Eisemann, IHG’s chief development officer for the Americas region, has focused on the real estate side of the hotel business his entire career. Now, nearly five years into his tenure at IHG—which follows 29 years at Marriott—Eisemann is a strong proponent of the power of brands in the lodging industry. Eisemann talks about why brands are so important for owners and how IHG is currently working to expand its branded offerings for owners and guests.
What is the value of branded hotels?
There is tremendous value for owners in being affiliated with branded hotel companies, like IHG, because of the investments that we have made and the resources that are available in areas such as product development, guest loyalty programs, and technology, including reservations systems, and training. There will always be opportunities for independent hotels, but having the power of a major brand behind a property will enhance its performance and the returns to the owner.
How can brands offer guests the localized authenticity that they crave?
A hotel has the opportunity to deliver authenticity through both product and service. While some of our most distributed brands, like Holiday Inn Express, have standardized interior design packages, we still provide our owners with some flexibility to reflect regional and market differences. With other IHG brands, like Hotel Indigo, which is a boutique offering, we encourage our owners, their architects and their interior designers to incorporate a “neighborhood story” into the design of the property. Often, the most memorable part of a hotel stay is the personal experience a guest has with a member of the hotel staff. A critical part of operating a great hotel is having an excellent, well-trained team that understands and caters to the needs of the guests. It’s about engaging with our guests on a personal level.
IHG acquired Kimpton about 18 months ago. Are you planning on franchising that brand anytime soon?
Since IHG acquired Kimpton in January 2015, we’ve had tremendous success growing the development pipeline. Currently, the entire Kimpton portfolio is managed; we don’t have any franchised properties. Based on the brand’s success, our plan is to continue to operate under a managed model. Kimpton has a very unique culture and service delivery, which we believe lends itself quite well to this approach. In fact, Kimpton was recently ranked in Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For: Gen X” list at number one, and in the “100 Best Companies to Work For: Millennials” at number 17. Kimpton is the highest ranked hospitality brand on both lists.
What development initiatives does IHG have planned for 2016?
IHG’s focus is on growing our distribution by developing the right brand, in the right market, on the right site, with the right owner and with the right operator. Our goal is to support our owners and help them identify the best growth opportunities by ensuring they understand the positioning and power of each of our brands. This will result in outstanding projects for both our owners and our guests.
What do you enjoy most about hospitality development?
One thing that I’ve learned is that regardless of where we are in the lodging cycle, there are always tremendous opportunities—sometimes we just have to look harder for them. Helping our owners find those opportunities and put the development “puzzle” together, that’s what I really enjoy about my role. We are very fortunate at IHG because our brands are highly desired by our owners and our guests, and we have the opportunity to work very closely with our owners to bring IHG’s brands to a wide variety of projects. My team and I get a tremendous sense of achievement when everything comes together to create an outstanding hotel.