HN talks with two of IHG’s prominent regional figures to learn about the Group’s academic services and affiliations offered to its employees, as well as the expansion strategies and technologies incorporated to further advance the entire guest experience.
Be our guest
Bastien Blanc, VP Operations, MENA InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) discusses the brand’s regional expansion strategies and the role technology plays in improving the guest experience across the group’s various concepts.
As VP of operations responsible for 91 hotels in the region, what are some of IHG’s most exciting projects?
2019 has been an exciting year for us so far and we have already seen a number of significant collaborations, projects and technological developments take the lead for IHG. From introducing new brands to key markets in the Middle East, to making industry leading technological advancements, we have been making significant progress and growing significantly across the region.
Some of the developments this year that we are most excited about include the opening of the first voco Hotels – voco Dubai- in the Middle East. Globally launched in June 2019, voco, is IHG’s new upscale lifestyle hotel brand. voco combines the informality and charm of an individual hotel, with the quality and reassurance of a global brand and promises guests an experience that is reliably different. In line with our growth ambition in Saudi Arabia, earlier this year, we signed the world’s largest Crowne Plaza in Makkah. Scheduled to open in December 2019, the new hotel will boast 1,200 rooms and constitute a landmark for IHG.
Additionally, we have rolled-out, across our entire estates, IHG Concerto, a cloud-based technology platform. Developed in conjunction with Amadeus, IHG Concerto is designed to future-proof IHG’s technology platform, creating efficiencies and providing scalability, coupled with the ability to optimize pricing and drive greater levels of guest satisfaction.
Hotel operators are working harder than ever to accommodate ever-changing demands, so what are some of the most difficult obstacles faced?
As the guests’ expectations continue to evolve, it can be challenging for the companies to stay relevant. In order to cater to increasing guests’ needs, we’re focused more on delivering truly personalized guest experiences. With the growing value of personalization and the desire for unique travel experiences, it’s critical we put effort into culturally adapting to the different markets we operate in. This includes understanding the fast-changing nature of concepts such as family and community, as they are evolving with the expansion of online and virtual worlds, particularly in the Middle East.
Additionally, we continue to leverage technology to enhance the guest experience. For each of our brands, we look at how we can deliver a superior experience across the entire ‘Guest Journey’. We look at quality technological solutions and digital content and how these platforms can help us generate, convert and retain demand for our hotels.
How has technology affected the hospitality experience and what are some of the most innovative tools IHG is using to set itself apart?
Technological innovation is a core part of our business across the world and underpins everything we do to enhance the guest experience and drive revenue for owners. From connecting with guests on a personal level through sophisticated programmatic campaigns, and design-led websites inspiring travel decisions to responding to guests’ needs more efficiently through global programs such as seamless mobile checkouts, technology touches upon each milestone in the guest experience.
As previously mentioned IHG Concerto, will eventually optimize the reservation system, which already plays a big part in our direct sales strategy. As a result, this will enable hotels to offer different rates, products and services via different channels. It will also enable guests to build the kind of stay they want, as well as afford us the ability to offer stay options and amenities according to past booking preferences of returning guests. In addition, guests will be able to directly book specific rooms and select their favorite preferences.
What are the plans pertaining to IHG’s evolving brand portfolio and what new countries are being considered for future expansion?
The majority of our growth in the region will continue to be driven predominantly by the UAE and KSA. We don’t expect this to change in the short term, however, we are seeing opportunities more broadly across the region, particularly in Oman and Egypt.
Following the opening of voco Dubai. We have also signed voco hotels in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, marking the brand’s debut in these countries. This year, we will introduce Hotel Indigo, our boutique brand in the region with the opening of Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown. In Saudi Arabia, we are expanding our presence in the mid-segment in key cities such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Madinah, Makkah, Dammam and Al Khobar where we see a gap in the demand and supply for quality, branded midscale accommodation. In line with this, last year, we signed an MDA with Al Hokair Group to debut the brand and roll out 10 Holiday Inn Express hotels across KSA.
To strengthen our presence in the luxury segment, in July 2018, we acquired a 51% stake in Regent Hotels and Resorts, which has been an excellent addition to our portfolio. We have seen great interest in the brand in the Middle East and with the right partners and right locations, we soon expect to have representation in the region. Additionally, in February 2019, we announced the acquisition of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, one of the world’s leading operators of luxury hotels, resorts and spas, and we look forward to explore further opportunities for the brand in the Middle East. We are also delighted to see Kimpton expand globally and are actively exploring opportunities to bring the brand to the region.
Forging a brighter path
How is your hotel chain training the current and next generation of hoteliers?
InterContinental Hotels Group has an academy affiliated to 14 local universities and institutes enabling a hands-on training program to students who wish to enroll on a full-time basis. As for the current employees at Phoenicia, we are very invested in training and development, which is why we offer a wide range of classes tailored to every department.
Do you have any association with other educational school or in-house programs?
As part of IHG program, InterContinental Phoenicia Beirut has a partnership with Harvard Management and eCornell. Employees can benefit from different courses offered by these renowned institutions and graduates will be certified at the successful completion of requirements at the end of every course.
How are you preparing the employees for their new position/their advancement?
Newcomers attend a 3-day onboarding program in order to familiarize themselves with brand values and hotel standards. In each department, a member of the team is appointed as training ambassador and is responsible for handling newcomers so they can feel comfortable with their new work environment and learn more about the hotel and the different team members. On a similar note, during the year, several programs are suggested to employees depending on their position. The Future Leaders program allows the employees to reach a managerial level after two years of training. Leading Others is another program dedicated to supervisors and managers. The Cross Training Exposure program is part of the personnel’s development and is available to regional IHG employees. It is a program where the employee can choose to discover the department that he would like to join upon promotion. Finally, Succession Planning and Performance Management are key programs that are attended by our teams’ members throughout the year.Add to Favorites