Christian Hempell, vice president of new business development and delivery for IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), was having a busy day earlier this week, but one that he was thoroughly enjoying. “I have a really good time telling the story about EVEN Hotels,” he told Lodging on Tuesday afternoon via telephone from Las Vegas, Nev. Just hours earlier, IHG created a buzz in the lodging industry with the announcement of its newest brand, which the company believes will fill a void for travelers who want to not only keep up with being healthy on the road, but also continue to live their healthy lifestyle in a wellness-focused environment.
While there have been niche products in the market for health-inspired hotels, IHG is banking on the concept of a wellness-focused, mainstream brand, which can offer a healthy travel environment at mainstream hotel prices.
‘This is not a gym hotel,” Hempell said. “This brand is based on integrating all four pillars of a healthy lifestyle, which is eating right, exercising right, and being productive. If we get all of that right it’s going to help the guest sleep better, which is our business. We’re in the hotel business.”
Hempell said IHG embarked on a large-scale research project with its customers and realized that there is a large group of travelers who put a priority on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “They get really frustrated when they get on the road and get into a mainstream hotel and they can’t maintain their routine,” Hempell said. IHG’s qualitative study took place in a span of 18 months with more than 4,000 customers.
Hempell pointed out that the research showed that these travelers didn’t believe there was any mainstream hotel brand that catered to their needs for holistic, healthy-minded travel. “This is mainstream because the customer base is everyone from the 20s to their 60s and beyond. It covers business as well as leisure travelers,” Hempell said. “The research shows that people with healthy mindsets are living and traveling in every major city in the U.S. and that’s where we are focusing our development and growth. It’s very different than a niche hotel that is focused in one market.”
EVEN Hotels will only be developed in the U.S. to start, with Hempell mentioning places such as San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. as likely locations. “Eventually, as we do with all of our brands, we’ll roll it out to other markets when appropriate,” Hempell said. “But for now we are focused on the U.S. market because it is the biggest market in the world and the place where we have the most advantage.”
IHG plans to grow the brand swiftly. It announced that it will spend $150 million of its own capital to acquire the first hotels. The first location is expected to be announced in the second quarter of this year. IHG expects to open the first hotel in the first quarter of next year. “We’re talking a year a way from the first hotel opening,” Hempell said.
EVEN Hotels joins IHG’s seven existing brands and Hempell said it is designed to expand the type of customers the company can serve, and not to compete with its own brands, particularly Holiday Inn. “We envision stealing share from some of our key competitors,” he said. “What’s very important is that this brand is very different from Holiday Inn. The customer base is different. And how we are going to grow this brand is very different than Holiday Inn grew.”
Ultimately, IHG is creating a wellness-focused brand to appeal to all travelers. “What we figured out was healthy balance can mean many different things to different people,” Hempell said. “Our customer wants to be balanced but have choices.”
The launch of EVEN Hotels keeps up a tradition for IHG of creating industry firsts, according to a statement from Richard Solomons, CEO. Now, IHG is looking to bring wellness into the mainstream of the industry.
Look for more on EVEN Hotels in an upcoming issue of Lodging.