InterContinental was arguably the daddy of the international, business driven hotel brands. It was founded by US airline Pan Am in 1946 as, oddly, a US Government initiative.
‘International’ standard hotels were seen as key for developing trade with Latin America but none of the major US hotel groups could be persuaded to expand. The Government provided Pan Am with the funds to develop the hotels itself, which also served as bases for cabin crew.
Jump forward 75+ years and InterContinental is one of the brands inside IHG Hotels & Resorts, with 215 sites now open and 93 in the pipeline.
Developments at IHG in recent years have led some to question what purpose InterContinental now serves.
IHG has acquired Regent, Six Senses and Kimpton to power its growth into the ‘luxury and lifestyle’ sectors. Regent, in particular, appears to serve the same market as InterContinental, and the Cannes and Hong Kong hotels have swapped over. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amsterdam also becomes a Regent after its current refurbishment. Six Senses is gearing up to open a London hotel despite its historic resort focus.
At the same time, InterContinental has added a number of beach resorts to its portfolio, blurring the image of a big city, business focused brand.
The InterContinental Ambassador loyalty programme is also beginning to look odd. It made sense when it was IHG’s only luxury brand, but it is strange to have a ‘paid for’ luxury loyalty scheme which only covers one of your four luxury brands. In fact, if you count the new Vignette Collection of independent luxury hotels, IHG now has five luxury brands.
InterContinental has unveiled a ‘global brand evolution’
Against the background to these market shifts, InterContinental has announced a number of new initiatives which are meant to help it carve out a distinctive spot in the market.
Whilst it is unspoken, the changes seem to assume that business travel isn’t coming back post pandemic, at least not five nights per week. With home office work meaning that ‘in person’ business meetings are increasing pushed into a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you need to broaden your appeal to fill a hotel seven nights per week.
I sat down last week with Tom Rowntree, who has the rather attractive job title of ‘Vice President of Luxury Brands’ at IHG, to learn more about the changes.
Introducing ‘the Concierge Gallery’
This is the new introduction that I think is most interesting.
When I was at One&Only Portonovi (not an IHG brand, brief review here) in Montenegro last year, I was particularly impressed by the concierge lounge. It wasn’t one person standing behind a desk. It was a proper glass walled room with sofas, bookshelves of relevant titles, a huge digital touchscreen where you could pull up information on the local area, lots of takeaway literature and a couple of staff who were on hand to book or advise on whatever you needed.
InterContinental is developing something similar and here’s a mock-up:
The ‘Concierge Gallery’ will:
more closely resemble a luxury boutique, bringing together interactive displays, library spaces and informative features, in some cases even art installations or designer pop-ups. From a design perspective, these social spaces will eschew the traditional desk in favor of a more interactive worktable allowing for more natural and engaging interactions between the guest and concierge
There will also be an increased use of messaging apps to improve access to concierge services, and the ability for staff members across the hotel to share their local recommendations with guests.
If done well this could offer real value and become a genuine differentiator.
”Travel fatigue’ is a new focus
InterContinental is rolling out a number of initiatives to reduce what it calls ‘travel fatigue’.
I think its fair to say that most jet lagged travellers would be happy with fully functioning blackout curtains, silent air conditioning systems and housekeeping staff who understood what a ‘do not disturb’ sign means. However, InterContinental is focusing on:
- a globally standardised list of food and drink items, added to existing menus, which are specifically chosen to reduce fatigue
- access to Timeshifter, a jet lag app which “enables travelers to use the latest circadian science to adjust quickly to new time zones”
- unpecified changes to guestrooms and other hotel spaces to ‘enhance the restorative process needed for travel fatigue’
‘Incredible Occasions’ – a new programme of in-hotel event options
It’s fair to say that most hotels don’t do a good job of upselling ancilliaries, especially in advance of arrival.
My wife is in Hamburg this weekend as it is her mother’s birthday. She booked an independent hotel, and – impressively – during the booking process was given the option of various add-ons including a birthday cake and flowers, both of which she purchased.
Few people would voluntarily ask a hotel if they could provide a birthday cake on arrival, but would happily pay for one if it was offered during booking or a pre-arrival email. The same goes for a chef’s table restaurant meal or similar treat.
InterContinental’s new ‘Incredible Occasions’ programme is aimed at offering a number of amenities and experiences which can be offered to guests as a packaged ‘micromoments’ experience.
In an increasingly crowded market for international big city business hotels – although remember that InterContinental can also be found in the Maldives, Bora Bora etc – these changes are intended to help InterContinental retain a niche. This potentially means a niche inside IHG’s ‘luxury and lifestyle’ sector portfolio as well as in the wider market.
If InterContinental really wants to solidify its niche positioning, however, some portfolio shuffling between Regent, Six Senses and InterContinental may have a greater impact.
Before you ask in the comments, I did ask Tom about any potential changes to Ambassador (none that he knows of) and any further rebrandings to Regent (apparently not, with Cannes and Hong Kong being ‘isolated examples’ – although the owners of Cannes also own Amsterdam and a few other key IC hotels).
IHG One Rewards update – December 2023:
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