IHG’s Eric Lent and Meredith Latham Talk Crowne Plaza Accelerate

In late October, Crowne Plaza held its owner and GM conference, Accelerate Together. The conference focused on the latest initiatives to come out of the Crowne Plaza’s Accelerate program, a 3-year initiative that will transform the brand and keep it at the forefront of its market segment. LODGING caught up with IHG’s Eric Lent, vice president of Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and F&B Solutions for the Americas, and Meredith Latham, head of Crowne Plaza Hotels, Americas, after the conference to learn about Accelerate’s next steps.

How does it feel to have hit the halfway point of the Accelerate program?

Eric Lent: Well, it’s an estimate, but yes, we are about halfway through! The most exciting part of our conference this year was that we could present a report to our owners and general managers about the progress we’ve made since we launched the program back in summer 2016. We shared a glimpse at the data about how the program is working. Most notably, we showed that owners who have gotten on board with the program—which is the majority—are showing markedly improved performance commercially over owners who have not. And that includes performance related to Guest Love [IHG’s guest satisfaction benchmark], RevPAR, and RGI. In fact, the difference is about 3 points in Guest Love, almost $5 in RevPAR, and almost 5 points in RGI. We also used Conference as an opportunity to unveil what’s next. We showcased new operational lists for 2018, as well as a number of innovation initiatives. Overall, the conference really gave us an opportunity to call attention to what we view as a major milestone of the program and show what it has done for IHG owners.

What are the main objectives of the Accelerate program?


EL: Foremost, that Crowne Plaza must be design led. And I don’t just mean in the FF&E and design of our hotels, but in everything. From the music that’s playing when a guest walks into the hotel to the uniforms the team members are wearing to what’s on the cocktail menu. This sort of thinking ensures that a brand remains culturally relevant. We also are working to keep the brand in the cultural zeitgeist through partnerships, programs, and initiatives that make the brand palpable and put us in direct centers of conversation.

What else goes into being design-led?

Meredith Latham: We have about 400 Crowne Plazas around the world, and we aim for them all to showcase the exact same design philosophy, which we call “new modern.” To help accomplish this, we created a guidebook for all of our hotels. It is so important that we have a consistent look and feel across all markets. This guidebook showcases everything from furniture to flatware and light fixtures, so that each hotel can execute the proper design. We’re really excited about it. Every single item in the hotel has to be contemporary, purposeful, and inspired.

How does that goal translate into the properties?

ML: There are a number of ways. We officially debuted the WorkLife guestrooms earlier this year, which were created to help our guests work and live exactly as they want. These rooms have a flexible design and lots connectivity points so guests can relax or work, depending on what they want to accomplish. Across our system, we have 7,300 new rooms being installed; 3,000 of them are WorkLife rooms, and that number continues to grow. The Crowne Plaza properties that have installed these rooms are receiving a $20 premium on our best possible rate. And then, most importantly, guests love it. They’re are rating this room 5 to 10 points higher than our standard rooms.

What about the lobby?

ML: We’re taking the same flexible and connected approach to our lobby spaces. We’ve been piloting the design and we discovered that 95 percent of guests who experience our new lobbies say it would influence them to choose Crowne Plaza over a competitor. 95 percent. This is the kind of result that just shows that we were really onto something good. We call it the Plaza Workspace and it’s based on four key elements: exceptional service, great food and beverage, technology in every space, and new modern design.

I also want to mention the Marketplace. The F&B concept is an incremental revenue driver that is really making a big difference with both grab-and-go food, as well as local favorites.

How have you ensured that IHG owner needs are met within the Accelerate program?

EL: First, we recruited a dedicated team of individuals to develop this program. When we were looking, there were five characteristics that we looked for. First and foremost was grit, the ability to push through adversity because this is a business transformation. Second was intellectual curiosity, that the person that doesn’t accept the first answers he gets to a question, but keeps asking why until he gets to the root cause. Third was agility. We are constantly being subjected to new information, and so we know when we went into this that the brand we had on paper needed to change. We just didn’t know what needed to change until we started executing, so that ability to be agile was key. Fourth was collaboration. Because this is a highly iterative, interdependent, cross-functional plan, people who are well-versed in working as a team and being a good team member were critical. Lastly, we hired a team of leaders. We have leadership at all levels in this program. There’s not one follower on the team. When you have a group of individuals who have those five characteristics and enable you to move that pace in a way that allows us to be successful.

We’ve complemented that group with an owner association advisory board. These owners are very experienced hotel leaders that are very invested in Crowne Plaza. We meet with them about once a month—either live or via conference call—to work through the various finishes and ideas that we’ve had. Additionally, these owners have allowed us to conduct more than 30 pilots across our various hotels. They give us constant input, into literally every element of what we’re working on. We use their input to help guide the program on an ongoing basis. We’ve been doing that since we launched and we will continue as we go forward.

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Kate Hughes, Editor, LODGING Magazine