Time to play another game of "Is it a boutique hotel or a condom brand?" We won't go that far here, but we wonder if IHG will be willing to inject a bit more personality and more of a story into its newest brand.
IHG CEO of the Americas, Elie Maalouf, spoke to Skift about the new brand, the chain’s 13th, and described it as “championing the everyday traveler at an everyday price,” and catering to a $20 billion market of more than 14 million travelers.
When asked what he wanted consumers to associate with the brand, Maalouf said the word he hoped would come to mind is “confident.” His descriptors echoed what IHG senior vice president of brands and marketing Heather Balsey told Skift in June, about how this brand would be “fresh, fair, and frank,” and “completely rethinks what a hotel in this space should stand for.”
Signature features of the new hotel brand include the following:
- All hotels will be newbuilds, designed for spaces of 1.5 acres, with 95 to 100 rooms, and a minimum of three stories.
- Hotels have modern exteriors with open, airy retail-inspired entries, with a canopy and red stairwell.
- There is an emphasis on communal spaces.
- Complimentary breakfast and a grab-and-go marketplace.
- IHG Connect Wi-Fi service, touted as some of the fastest and most reliable around.
- The ability for guests to choose a specific room or room zone before they arrive at the hotel, thanks to IHG’s new cloud-based guest reservation system. “At Avid Hotels, they will be able to check into a specific room or specific zones of rooms,” Maalouf said. “Eventually we’ll have more and more features like this with all of our IHG brands, and this brand will have it from the beginning.” Industry-wide, the only other major hotel company offering a similar type of feature is Hilton.
- There are only two room types: king (220 square feet) and queen (275 square feet).
- All rooms feature bathrooms that are shower-only.
- All rooms have dedicated workspaces and a “clean, modern design that’s not just fresh and modern but also elegant and stylish,” according to Maalouf
- Guests can stream/cast content onto their in-room TVs.
- The brand’s logo is the first to feature IHG’s master brand mark, “An IHG Hotel.”
“There’s nothing like it in the space today,” Maalouf claimed.
He said that within the IHG portfolio the only other midscale brand is Candlewood Suites, which is a “pure extended stay brand and not a transient brand.” He added, “It doesn’t address the market we’re going after.”
More of the Same?
But is that really the case here? Or is this yet another generic modern midscale hotel brand for the more budget-minded traveler? Moreover, is this brand different enough from IHG’s own Holiday Inn Express brand, which is classified as an upper midscale brand, according to STR?
Maalouf pointed to IHG’s experience with Holiday Inn Express as proof that the company can successfully launch new brands. Maalouf also said Avid Hotels was clearly different from Holiday Inn Express.
“[Avid Hotels] is truly different from Holiday Inn Express,” he said. “There’s no swimming pool or formal meeting space. The focus is on cold breakfast and the price point is $10 to $15 less than the Holiday Inn Express. There’s a smaller construction cost for owners, too.”
Maalouf also said that owner feedback was crucial in the development of Avid Hotels, and that the company consulted its owner advisory board to ensure that the new brand met the needs of property owners.
“There is a lot of interest from developers to be the first,” he said. “This is a mass market play across the region.”
Maalouf said IHG wanted to focus on debuting the brand in North America because it is “the largest hotel market in the world. This is the right place to do it. There is space for us in this market that we’re not addressing today.”
As for Avid Hotels’ competitive set, it includes such brands as Tru by Hilton and Marriott’s Moxy, a segment that Makarand Mody, assistant professor of hospitality marketing at the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration, said “is crowded in the sense that companies are in the process of creating brands for it.”
But the brands in the segment “are not fully established brands yet, and thus IHG is smart to be jumping onto the bandwagon,” Mody said.
The hotel industry has keen interest in growing this segment. For example, earlier this year, Trump Hotels and Hard Rock Hotels announced they would launch new midscale brands. Wyndham Hotel Group also recently acquired the midscale AmericInn brand.
Tru by Hilton, which debuted in January 2016, has performed exceedingly well in terms of its development pipeline. According to STR, it is the fastest new development pipeline in the history of the hotel industry.
Marriott is also expanding the growth of its Moxy brand, after announcing the brand’s launch in 2013. The first Moxy hotels opened mostly in Europe and Marriott is now focused on bringing the brand to the U.S. and other global regions.
Mody said that in comparison to those two brands, “Avid comes across as a dependable brand with a more functional appeal, an approach that seems consistent with IHG’s overall approach to branding. There are definitely design components for the new brand that address the needs of the modern traveler, but I think IHG, in general, appears to employ a safer approach in its branding and remains close to its core equity of dependable, value-driven brands.”
He added, “Tru and Moxy are unique in the Hilton and Marriott portfolios respectively: They are bolder and more differentiated than their other brands, while Avid seems like a natural extension of the IHG portfolio. Tru appears to have a more youthful and vibrant personality, while Moxy is unique in a fun, risqué kind of way. The latter two brands have more of a ‘play’ component to them. In that sense, Avid is indeed differentiated, but is that enough in an experience-driven world?”
In other words, IHG is testing the waters of being bolder with its design and style for Avid Hotels, something it also did with its Even Hotels brand, but it’s not being quite as bold as Marriott is with Moxy, or Hilton is with Tru, or as edgy as IHG’s own upscale Hotel Indigo brand.
Comparing Avid Hotels to IHG’s own Holiday Inn Express, Mody agreed with Maalouf, saying, “I do think that the [Avid] brand is different from the Holiday Inn Express from an aesthetics standpoint. Also, I think the service and experiential features of Avid Hotels are more aligned to the individual Millennial traveler, while Holiday Inn Express tends to cater toward a more family sensibility; however, IHG’s focus on value is common to the brands.”
Emphasizing that Avid Hotels is part of the IHG family of brands is also a “smart decision,” Mody noted, similar to how Hilton added “by Hilton” to its branding of Tru.
Avid’s first properties, IHG estimated, should be under construction by early 2018 and are expected to open in early 2019.
Below is a promotional video about Avid Hotels from IHG:
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Photo credit: A rendering of the prototype for the new Avid Hotels brand. The chain is IHG's 13th brand. InterContinental Hotels Group