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What can you expect as IHG’s InterContinental launches a ‘global brand evolution’?

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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.

InterContinental Boston

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.

InterContinental Paris Le Grand

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:

InterContinental Hotels Concierge Gallery

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.

InterContinental Barclay New York

”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’
InterContinental Bucharest

‘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).

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Comments (55)

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  • yorkieflyer says:

    Stuff and Nonsense. Concierge gallery sounds like a Tourist Information office and we all have a smart phone to Google. As for standardising F&B offerings, what an awful idea, a hotel’s somewhere to sleep in my view, invariably and certainly when on a leisure trip I want a culinary adventure which means eating out

  • LittleNick says:

    “offering a number of amenities and experiences which can be offered to guests as a packaged ‘micromoments’ experience.” No offence but I read this just as marketing fluff, what does this even mean in plain, simple practical english?

    • Julia says:

      They’re going to tell guests what there is available instead of the usual practise of hoping they just pick it up from brochures dotted around the place.

      This is a great idea. Often wanted to know if they do cookery experiences for local dishes but because they don’t tell anyone people don’t think they exist. Also like them to include designer clothes hire. Women don’t like to take their expensive goodies with them abroad but we still want to look fabulous !!!

      • LittleNick says:

        Ok that would be very useful and part of the experience of staying at an IC but does not really impact membership of the ambassador program and wouldn’t sway me to renewing. I wish there was maybe an ambassador+ Program for an increased fee perhaps with the ambassador benefits but covering the other brands (Kimpton/Regent/Six Senses etc) too.

  • Swifty says:

    Agree with most on here. I can get all that local advice from a local hotel, don’t need a concierge to try and sell me a massage for twice the going rate . The idea of a concierge to me is for (thick) people who don’t like exploring on their own. I haven’t renewed ambassador this year, because you can’t use it in the rest of the better hotels, and I have got the definite upgrade milestone anyway. Unless they’re going to add significant value to the paid programme Rob, which you said wasn’t happening, I see no point in that right now. I’m pretty sure if I was that bothered by my circadian rhythms id download an app. And have a smoothie for breakfast with ginger in it. Job done! I know I’m weighted to price and value conscious, but i would rather spend my money on experiences in local area than extras in hotel premises. The point of travel. So maybe not ideal customer to them.

    • Ian says:

      A concierge to me is someone who can book me a table at a restaurant that is hard to get into. Or can book tickets to a show etc.

      • Rob says:

        This is relatively easy if you’re in an expensive hotel. A restaurant will take a gamble on you being a higher spender than a random customer and let the concierge book you in.

  • Graham Turner says:

    I stopped using IHG after they ripped me off during Covid. They emailed to say bookings could be cancelled during Covid in 2020 for a full refund. They then refused to refund after I did cancel. Used to be a Royal Ambassador and they have had loads of business from me in the last 25 years. Hard to give loyalty after that…..

  • Peter says:

    I absolutely hate it when I travel halfway across the world just for 90% of the breakfast menu to be exactly the same as everywhere else.

  • newbz says:

    Love the scientifically backed food and beverage programme:

    “New initiatives include scientifically backed food and beverage programmes aimed at helping guests reduce travel fatigue while ensuring dining options reflect differing guest needs throughout the day.” (

    Sounds like a lot of corporate b/s…

  • Crafty says:

    They commissioned a strategic review, and chose only to implement the quick wins. Hence, the problem statement of IC’s strategic positioning remains entirely unaddressed.

    • Rob says:

      I’d be shocked if any third party strategic review came up with some of that stuff! It is really hard to create distinctive grown up hotel brands though, and anything novel is soon copied. IC isn’t even standardised in things like having a club lounge.

      Ambassador is, for its faults, a fairly compelling proposition if you use the BOGOF and I’m sure does move the needle at some properties. Giving free breakfast to a Diamond will also help drive IC leisure business as will – to a lesser extent – having a year of Club access as a milestone award at 40 nights.

      I still want to see a hotel group with decent personalisation. At Regent Cannes the other week I asked for a jug of fresh milk to be sent up for my coffee (it’s France, coffeee machines don’t come with milk sachets). Do you think I’d get that in my room if I went to another Regent next week? Or even if I went back to Cannes next week? Unlikely.

      There are lots of things we keep buying because we don’t want to restart a relationship (eg finding your way around a new supermarket, sticking with same optician or chiropodist) but – elite benefits aside – there is nothing like this with hotels. If I knew ICs would also have a specific sort of pillow already on my bed, wherever I was in the world, or a coffee machine with fresh milk etc then guests would be stickier.

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