Skift Take

For global companies, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to growth. IHG is demonstrating that with its perspective on microeconomics, calculated technological investments, and by maintaining high brand standards.

The company’s full name may be InterContinental Hotels Group, but CEO Keith Barr believes there’s no one approach that works internationally for running its 6,000 properties.

“We run a different playbook around the world depending on what we’re seeing on the microeconomic scale and with geopolitical issues,” said Barr in discussion with Senior Hospitality Editor Sean O’Neill at Skift Global Forum on Tuesday. “I let my Americas team run the Americas business, the Europe team run the Europe business, and so on.”

“The challenges are always slightly different, the solutions are always different — if you try to sit in the corporate office and say there’s a one-size-fits-all approach, you’re gonna fail. So you need to have great people in the markets, working with the business owners.”

IHG has expanded to include 17 brands in 100 countries since Barr took over as CEO in 2017 — growth that includes infrastructure improvements, such as renovations, to its hotels. But construction isn’t the only area where there’s been infrastructure investment.

“Businesses today have to continue to make higher walls and deeper moats when it comes to cybersecurity, because it continues to evolve and change,” Barr said. “We invest in this space and will continue to do so.”

That’s a prudent approach given a hack earlier this month into IHG’s technology took down its information technology systems for two days. While Barr said no customer data appears to have been breached and no ransomware was planted, he remains cautious given recent hacking incidents involving Uber, Samsung, and the makers of video game Grand Theft Auto.

So where IHG has seen recent wins on the tech side? Barr cites a next-generation app that he believes, in addition to enhancing customer engagement and brand loyalty, has made bookings easier. The company’s digital revenues are up 30 percent compared to 2019 in part due to one-click technology that enables IHG to easily rebook the same property for guests often staying in the same hotel.

That’s particularly important for IHG, with Barr seeing the company continuing a brand evolution he believes is a lot more complete than when he assumed the role of CEO. 

“I said then, ‘There are customers who want to stay with us, and we don’t have a brand,’ for them to stay at,” Barr said.

“We need to complete the portfolio. It’s like rungs on a ladder — when you’re missing rungs on that ladder it’s really hard to go up that ladder and down.”

Despite some growing pains in the company, Barr stated he had seen major progress in IHG’s brand strategy, especially in tandem with a refreshed loyalty program that has more than 100 million members and has added, year-on-year, 11 million more.

“We said ‘Let’s go big or go home.’ Satisfaction is up. Early indications are great,” he said.

CORRECTION: We’ve corrected the number of loyalty members in IHG’s program.

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Tags: hotel, ihg, intercontinental hotel group, sgf2022, skift global forum, Skift Global Forum 2022, skift live, skiftlive

Photo credit: IHG CEO Keith Barr on stage with Senior Hospitality Editor Sean O'Neill at Skift Global Forum September 20, 2022 in New York City Neil Van NIekerk / Skift