IHG's Joel Eisemann talks owned-assets strategy, pockets of growth

InterContinental Hotels Group is busy these days: selling off assets to shore up its balance sheet, rolling out a new brand devoted to wellness and focusing its attention on global expansion. Joel Eisemann, IHG’s chief development officer for the Americas, is at the forefront of this growth. He clued Hotel Management into what the strategy is for IHG moving forward in the Americas, how it will be shaped and delivered and the particular brands it is concentrating on to make it all a success.

1) Within the Americas region, IHG has announced several new projects so far this year in Latin America. Can you outline the company’s development plans in this region?
Latin America is a very important and strategic market for IHG. In fact, the InterContinental brand began in Belém, Brazil in 1946 and was the first international brand in that country, as well as one of the first in the region. The region is more politically and economically stable, especially in Brazil, Colombia, Chile and, most recently, Peru. As a result, there is increasing investment in the region and more people traveling to and within the region. Hence, the demand for lodging, especially quality lodging, has increased. IHG has aggressive plans to continue our expansion in Latin America.

2) Canada has seen several new projects from IHG this year as well. What are your growth plans for Canada?    
IHG has always been very focused on growth for Canada, which is currently our second-largest market in the Americas region. As a result, we have a number of outstanding projects that are underway. Recently, IHG announced an exciting agreement with Maplewood, a joint venture between Driftwood Hospitality Management and Pacrim Hospitality, which will introduce 15 new Candlewood Suites hotels to Canada.    

3) In terms of ownership, where do you see IHG headed over the next few years? The company just sold a majority of the InterContinental New York Barclay and will continue to manage it, and earlier made similar moves with the InterContinental Mark Hopkins. Do you see similar transactions happening with other company-owned assets?    
IHG’s strategy is to be brand heavy and asset light; we continue to invest in developing our brands like the iconic InterContinental Hotels & Resorts while reducing our real estate holdings. And, as you point out, we have sold our majority stakes in two landmark InterContinental hotels in the U.S. this year—The Barclay and the Mark Hopkins San Francisco. Our plan is to stay the course on our business model strategy, which we’ve executed consistently and successfully over the past decade, benefiting our shareholders and owners.

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4) As leisure travel picks up, we see more interest in the resort segment. What are the company’s plans for developing the Holiday Inn Resort brand in the Americas? Any new markets or projects to share?     
IHG has 38 Holiday Inn Resort hotels open globally. We are committed to growing the Holiday Inn Resort hotels portfolio in the Americas, primarily through conversions. Examples of some of our projects are as follows. In late 2013, the 98-room Deadwood Mountain Grand, a Holiday Inn Resort, opened in Deadwood, S.D. The Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica is slated to open in summer 2014. Properties in our pipeline for the brand include the 150-room Fontanel, a Holiday Inn Resort to be developed 15 minutes from downtown Nashville, Tenn.

5) IHG has seen lots of activity in New York City over the past 12 months. Isn’t this market saturated? What should the industry know about developing hotels in the NYC region that makes it so attractive to IHG?    
New York City is an extremely dynamic lodging market with strong demand from a variety of market segments: business, transient, leisure and groups. Further, it’s a major destination for international travelers. As a result, we will continue to focus on growing our presence in New York City, including through our new, wellness-focused Even Hotels brand, which has three hotels in the pipeline to open in the market.

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