Skift Take

InterContinental Hotels Group has bought or created a slew of brands in recent years. But CEO Keith Barr insists it's not a step to take lightly.

As his company prepares to launch a new all-suite brand, InterContinental Hotels Group CEO Keith Barr had some frank talk for the industry.

“I think you can have too many brands,” he said Tuesday during the first session of Skift Forum Europe in London. “Because I think if you have brands which don’t truly mean something … it’s just a sign on a building.”

Barr said he has a long list of names that his company has registered that could become new brands, but they would be pointless without a serious investment of time and research.

“You have to work harder today than ever before to make sure that your brands really stand for something, and that promise is incredibly important,” he said.

Barr used Avid, a midscale brand launched two years ago, as an example: IHG spent a year examining the segment it was trying to reach, what the core customers needed, and how it could differentiate itself before announcing it two years ago. Since then, 170 hotels have signed on in 18–20 months.

“That will be the next Holiday Inn Express for us,” he said. The benefit of adding targeted new brands, he said, is making sure owners and guest never have to work with a competitor. IHG has launched or acquired five brands in two years — more than in the previous decade, Barr said.

The new all-suite brand will be unveiled in two weeks. But Barr said it’s meant to cater to guests staying three to five nights who want more space than a traditional room, some kitchen and dining room features, and communal areas.

“It’s very appealing because it fits a unique niche between the traditional extended stay and traditional select service experience,” he said. “We didn’t have a product for that.”

And while IHG isn’t making big moves in homesharing like the one that competitor Marriott just announced, Barr said the new brand could fill some of the same needs for customers.

“We do believe that’s why the segment has actually taken off so much is that it gives you a different physical experience than a traditional hotel room, which was being met by homesharing,” he said.

Barr said he doesn’t expect IHG to regain its title as the world’s largest hotel company, a title now held by Marriott.

“Someone asked me, ‘Do you want to be the biggest?’ I said, I want to be the best,” he said.

To do that, he said the company is focusing on becoming more agile, making some culture shifts, and moving more quickly on product innovation, technology, and acquisitions.

Asked by Skift Senior Hospitality Editor Deanna Ting — somewhat in jest — when the company plans to buy AccorHotels, Barr said the speculation heats up regularly.

“I can never comment about specific M&A,” he said. “But there’s always going to be speculation because scale really does matter in this industry.”

He added: “Happy to say we’ve got enough scale for today.”

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Tags: ihg, sfe2019, skift forum europe

Photo credit: Skift Senior Hospitality Editor Deanna Ting, left, speaks to IHG CEO Keith Barr at Skift Forum Europe in London. Russell Harper / Skift

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