For IHG, it's all about winning

LAS VEGAS — InterContinental Hotels Group has no problem saying it's the No. 1 hotel company in the world. Turns out, its actions might match the rhetoric.

The hotel group is here this week for its 2014 IHG Americas Investors and Leadership Conference at The Sands Expo Center, having invited around 4,000 owners and operators to discuss the direction of the group as 2014 gives way to 2015.

According to IHG CEO Richard Solomons, the key to higher revenues and overall ROI is creating a winning culture, as he called it. "Winning is an all-the-time thing," he said, in regard to besting competitors. "We set the ambition to be number one in everything we do."

In order to achieve this, Solomons outlined what he described as the "Winning Model," which is based on five tenets:

1) Preferred guest experiences delivered through people
2) Building and leveraging scale
3) Strong brand portfolio and loyalty program
4) Effective channel management
5) Superior owner proposition

"Everything on the wheel is connected to everything else," Solomons said. "They drive off each other. Great brands without great channel management won't deliver great results."

Strategies and Plans
Kirk Kinsell, IHG's president of the Americas, drilled down even further, outlining strategies and plans. One of them was about giving owners a new choice in how they equip their properties. Beginning in January, IHG is offering owners a new procurement solution called IHG Marketplace, which Kinsell called a a one-stop shop for technology, FF&E and other services. "Benefit from our scale, "he said. "We are big, you should benefit from  low costs."

He also touched on Crowne Plaza's new next-generation guestroom, which you can read about in full, here.

When it comes down to it, Kinsell said, it's all about "helping your hotels make more money."

"Ours is a cyclical business," Kinsell added. "We are at good time in the cycle. Maybe look back and say it was a great time. And now the is time to invest. To feel confident to raise rates and raise revenue."

Keith Barr, IHG's chief commercial officer, along with Oliver Bonke, chief commercial officer, Americas, updated the audience on initiatives IHG was taking this year and next to drive more business to IHG-branded hotels.

One of the biggest ways was by driving more direct business and ending shady practices by OTAs and wholesalers. Specifically, OTAs and wholesalers distributing b2b rates to consumers. "Those are not supposed top be publicly sold," Barr said. "We have a new Wholesale Umbrella Agreement. It penalizes companies that do this. We need to stop this practice. It's not an easy task but one we are committed to."

IHG will also be committed to creating a new digital experience for its brands. "Content is king," Barr said. "We want to make sure our brands and websites are the best. It starts with delivering a consistent experience."

Bonke talked about marketing and how it's about "getting new customers to know about our brands," he said, adding that IHG had recently created a new Lifestyle Brands Group, consisting of InterContinental, Indio and Even, and headed by Jason Moskal. Word is IHG will also leverage its Even brand gym and extend it across other brands.

Crowne Plaza is also a huge point of emphasis. "We are committed and invested," Bonke said. IHG is reportedly investing $50 million toward it. "Capital commitments to retain key assets," he said. "And remove poor performers."

For its extended-stay brands, IHG will double its marketing spend for Staybridge and Candlewood.

He added that IHG's five priorities this year are: Crowne Plaza; more marketing for all brands, loyalty, sales and pushing direct bookings.
Last, GDS and direct connection fees will be lower in 2015, by 2 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

The conference also marked the passing of the chairmanship of the IHG Owners' Association torch, as Bugsy Patel gave way to Kerry Ranson, president and COO of Expotel Hospitality.

The Kemmons Wilson Award was given to Mike Leven, president and COO of Las Vegas Sands Corp.