As Holiday Inn swells, IHG CEO Richard Solomons hints at adding another brand

The 20/20 Vision panel at IHIF with, from left, Michael Hirst of CBRE; Alison Brittain, CEO of Whitbread; and Richard Solomons, CEO of IHG. (Richard Solomons and Alison Brittain at IHIF)

BERLIN, Germany—Richard Solomons, the CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, is a cool customer. When his company was rumored to be the target of a takeover back in 2014, he remained stoic, never showing his hand.

IHG was never gobbled up by another company; instead, it made an acquisition of its own in Kimpton and launched an upscale wellness brand in Even. Yet, still, pundits predict some type of large-scale M&A happening involving IHG. 

On Monday, here at the InterContinental Berlin, Solomons showed his hand, but didn't quite overplay it.

During a panel session in tandem with Alison Brittain, the CEO of Whitbread, Solomons told the audience that as its flagship Holiday Inn brand balloons, "we see opportunity for adding a mid-market brand."

Whether this would be via acquisition or organic growth, Solomons was shy to say, but reminded the audience that, "We have bought in the past."

At close to 3,000 hotels globally, Holiday Inn is one of the biggest hotel chains in the world.

"Adding brands is something we might do where we see gaps in the market," Solomons continued. "It's about focusing on guests, which is very important, but also on owners. If consumers are changing, e might need to move to a new brand."

Nothing is imminent, Solomons said. Instead, IHG is focusing on its Crowne Plaza refresh in the Americas, the continued roll out of new public space and guestroom designs across the Holiday Inn brand family and a focus on digital initiatives, including mobile check out and IHG Connect, its guest Internet solution.

Beyond Brands

Solomons is now in his 6th year at the helm of IHG, and he has pioneered the asset-light approach that is now favored by most publicly traded hotel companies. He said that asset-light was one of three main drivers for the company. "It's about returns," he said. "Our expertise is in brand management. When you own real estate, then you are in competition with our own third-party owners and that is not helpful. We are focused now what we should be: supporting third-party owners, not competing with them."

Technology, Solomons said, was a second driver, and some he said IHG needed to be on top of, and adding, "We are a hotel company, not a software business." To that end, IHG partners with companies like Amadeus, on its global reservations system.

Solomons said the mobile space is currently most interesting to him.

He rounded out his drivers with focusing on guests and customer segmentation. "We have to hone our brands around guests," he said. 

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