1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Intercontinental Hotel Group’s (IHG) chief development officer for Europe Robert Shepherd talks to Tom Otley about the RFP process, meaningful deals for corporates and the appeal of boutique hotels to business travellers.
Hotel Indigo was launched in North America in 2004 with the first property opening in the UK in 2008. There are now 39 hotels now open and more than 50 in the pipeline. There are 15 hotels open in Europe and 13 in the pipeline.
The news about the Hotel Indigo brand seems to suggest that after a long pause, a few more of these hotels are opening – has the brand’s time come?
I think it has. People want to stay in these properties because the hotels are different. They are individual boutique hotels which are design-led and have a lifestyle focus. There’s a real momentum at the moment as we are about to open Madrid on Grand Via and have just opened St Petersburg.
So who stays in them?
Well trip purpose is probably as relevant as who they are. If they are in town for some meetings they might stay in a Crowne Plaza because the essence of that hotel brand is to ensure that the business travellers are successful in their business. Hotel Indigo is for the business traveller who is not carrying out his or her business in the hotel. So they might have one-on-one meetings in the hotel, but since the hotel doesn’t have the full business facilities of a Crowne Plaza, they would be going elsewhere in the city. Who it appeals to is someone who perhaps works in media, fashion or design, and who wants to feel like they have visited a city and experienced the local neighbourhood. The new Barbican property is in one of London's grooviest areas, one which is very much a part of the art scene in London, with a pop-up food market and will capture those authentic experiences.
What age range is that?
It’s 35-54, and these are people who want to stay at a hotel with some character. They could go to independent boutiques but with Hotel Indigo they know that IHG is behind it and standards, whether service or the safety elements are there in place and are consistent.
How do business travel buyers feel about Hotel Indigo, which charges a premium for being boutique and different?
Well, we make sure that our global sales teams work with our big corporate accounts to understand what their parameters are. We always pitch the entire portfolio and one of the beauties of Hotel Indigo is that we can get an Indigo property into locations which are very central and difficult for other brands to reach, because in mature cities it is difficult to find those sites. Hotel Indigo is a conversion and has a smaller room count so if someone wants to get location specific, then we have a property in the right place. But we have to work with our big corporates and agency partners, understand what their policy is and when we respond to the RFP we will respond with the brands they want to see in there. So in some cases they will only stay in a Hotel Indigo if they are going outside their travel policy, and that’s up to the individual traveller.
Does the brand offer free wifi?
It does, it has a global standard for free wifi. As far as the other IHG brands go, we announced last year that free Internet would be available to all IHG Rewards Club members during 2014. Free internet is available for all members when staying at any of IHG’s nine brands in Greater China, Asia, Middle East, Africa and the Americas. In Europe, free Internet is currently available for Elite members and will extend to all IHG Rewards Club members from July 2014."
Is the RFP process dead?
No, definitely not. We still work closely with our global accounts. Guests can book direct through the website or though our call centres, but for a large number of our corporate customers their preferred route is via a hotel booking agency or through the corporate travel agent. We also have a Business Club for companies to make their bookings and payments through, specifically for the bookers and Business Advantage which is an easy way for SMEs not just to pay for hotel accommodation, but to organise, book and manage it too, with a hotel account. They get preferential corporate rates and a reward scheme with your corporate hotel account.
Can corporates of whatever size still get meaningful deals in negotiations with IHG?
Yes they can, and the annually negotiated deal isn’t dying out. The RFP process is still there, but look at the market and economic conditions some of those corporate accounts have enjoyed quite some success in those annual negotiations in achieving some discounts because demand was at a level where it became more of a buyer’s market. But demand is at very high levels now, and all of our hotel owners built their hotels to make money and I think that some of the travellers see that there’s less discounting and pricing is starting to turn up a little.