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InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) Chief Executive Officer Keith Barr is three months into his new role at the company and is thinking about the milestones IHG will have reached by the time his one-year anniversary as CEO rolls around next July.
Barr, who took the reins of the company in July after former CEO Richard Solomons stepped down in June, is fresh off a round-the-world tour that involved meeting 1,200 IHG employees. He said he was recently at an employee town hall meeting when he was asked: “After a year of being CEO, what will success look like?”
Barr said that mobile check-outs, rather than mobile check-ins which have been a focus for many hotels in recent years, and the award-winning IHG app, for example, will be key in improving the guest experience. “We just started doing mobile check-outs and have had 250,000 checkouts so far,” said Barr, speaking at Skift Global Forum in New York City on Sept. 26. “It’s removed a friction point.”
Success will mean “it’s just going to be easier to get things done,” Barr said while referring to the company’s plans to implement more consumer-facing and backend technology in its more than 750,000 hotels rooms around the world.
“While we’re all getting bigger, you need to move even faster,” he said. “I think there’s a lot we can do with tech that isn’t transparent to the customer. Customers won’t directly see that.”
More automation, along with personalization, is also in the pipeline, said Barr. “We need to be giving more tech to our front desk and other staff,” he said. “We’re building more and more functionality to engage with customers that way. We have 250,000 rooms in development and you need to automate more and more.”
IHG finally revealed the name of its new lifestyle brand Avid last month and based on its initial description, such as the ability for guests to choose a specific room or room zone before they arrive at the hotel and stream content onto in-room TVs, it sounds like Barr’s vision is certainly needed if Avid and IHG’s other brands want to succeed in an increasingly digital world.
Barr Brings Experience in China
Barr was CEO of IHG’s Greater China region from 2009-2013 before being appointed chief commercial officer and later CEO. His appointment as CEO will certainly help the company continue to grow in the world’s largest domestic and outbound travel market.
IHG has more than 300 hotels in China, said Barr, and the company has had a presence in the country for more than 30 years. The company had the highest percentage of year-over-year room growth in Greater China (8.8 percent) in 2016 compared to all other regions.
The company feels it has a competitive advantage in China because of its history in the region, said Barr. He said the company also knows the ins and outs of consumer behavior there.
“In China, you shouldn’t even be thinking about desktop,” he said. “Things that take a decade in the West can take 18 months in China.”