IHG’s ambitious regional expansion

IHG’s ambitious regional expansion

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Bastien Blanc, VP Operations, Middle East and North Africa, IHG

Bastien Blanc, VP Operations, Middle East and North Africa, IHG talks about the brand’s regional expansion plans and the many ways new technologies are helping this growth.

What are some of the most recent projects being or planned to be implemented?

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 hotel (voco Dubai) in the Middle East. Globally launched in June 2018, 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 comprising 1,200 rooms will be a landmark hotel for IHG. Additionally, we have rolled-out IHG’s cloud-based technology platform IHG Concerto, across our entire network. 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.

The pickier guests become, the harder hotel operators work to accommodate ever-changing demands, thoughts?

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 increasingly focused on delivering 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 the IHG brand is using to set itself apart from the competition?

Technology 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 guest needs more efficiently through global programs such as seamless mobile checkouts, technology touches upon each milestone in the guest experience.

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As mentioned above, IHG recently rolled out the industry’s most sophisticated cloud-based platform, IHG Concerto, across all markets. Eventually, the reservation system will play a big part in IHG’s direct sales strategy with the technology enabling the hotels to offer different rates, products and services via different channels. It will enable guests to build the kind of stay they want and for us to offer stay options and amenities according to past booking guest preferences. In addition, guests will be able to directly book specific rooms and select preferences, for example booking top floor, corner room, extra-large room, late check-out and lounge access are among other amenities.

What are the plans pertaining to IHG’s evolving brand portfolio, what are some of the promising countries the brand is considering breaking into and why?

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 51% of Regent Hotels & 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 exploring 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.

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