Skift Take

Loyalty programs are being retooled to cater to increased demand among leisure travelers. To stand out from the competition, hotel brands are making loyalty even more rewarding by adding new brands and experiences to their portfolios.

This sponsored content was created in collaboration with a Skift partner.

Perks and rewards go a long way toward reinforcing customer loyalty, but a loyalty program can’t gain traction without a geographically diverse portfolio that encompasses a range of hotel brands, providing today’s savvy business travelers or leisure-minded consumers with a choice of experiences to match whatever reason they might be traveling.

That’s why global portfolio growth is a key component of IHG Hotels & Resorts’ new loyalty strategy. Having more IHG destinations and hotels to choose from fuels richer, more rewarding travel programs for business-to-business buyers and more personalized choices and experiences for their travelers and clients.

IHG Hotels & Resorts is repositioning itself in the industry with new brands, partnerships, and expansions to enhance its global portfolio, including luxury and lifestyle offerings. The reimagined IHG One Rewards loyalty program encompasses 17 brands and more than 6,000 destinations around the world, offering more choice, value, and benefits than ever before.

SkiftX spoke with Julienne Smith, chief development officer for the Americas at IHG, about the company’s extensive growth strategy, emerging guest expectations, and what it means to establish an internal culture of growth at the company.

SkiftX: What are IHG’s priorities from a growth perspective?

Julienne Smith: Holistically, we remain strategically focused on strengthening and expanding our portfolio across all 17 of our brands. We’ve pursued a more aggressive expansion in recent years through brand launches and pipeline optimization — with a particular focus on our upscale and luxury segments — which has enabled us to build our presence in previously untapped markets and deliver more robust options for our guests and owners. So far, this approach is generating strong returns. We’ve opened nearly 150 hotels through Q3 2022 alone and signed nearly 300 hotels into our global pipeline during the same window.

Converting existing properties to IHG-branded properties remains a key component of our recent and future growth. In fact, conversions represent nearly one-third of our total 2022 signings and openings to date, fueled by growing owner demand for access to our revenue-generating systems and marketing and loyalty programs. As a result, we’re fine-tuning and even introducing brands that are conducive to both conversion and new build, such as voco hotels, which launched in the UK in 2018 and expanded to the U.S. in 2020, and Vignette Collection, which launched globally in 2021.

We’re also seeing a revived interest in dual-branded hotels, with nearly 80 currently open or in our pipeline. Previously, dual-branded properties involved two separate entities sharing a pool or parking lot. Now, dual branding offers an opportunity for owners to streamline resources and right-size properties while providing guests with broader choice. We’ve already opened several new joint properties this year — including our first Avid Hotels and Holiday Inn & Suites dual brand in suburban Nashville — and are seeing a nice pipeline for our recently launched Avid Hotels and Candlewood Suites prototype.

SkiftX: From a development standpoint, how does customer feedback influence IHG’s growth strategy?

Smith: While our hotel guests are our ultimate customers, our owners represent our primary customer base. We only have ownership interest in a small share of our total hotel portfolio, with the rest operating within a franchise model. To that end, we recognize the importance of supporting our owners in navigating this unique and unprecedented era.

As travel’s recovery continues, we understand the need to define a clearer intersection between generating a stronger owner return and providing a richer guest experience. One way we’re delivering on this compromise is through new prototypes that require less land and come together at reduced material costs, all while introducing new services and amenities that meet guests’ desires to stay where and how they see fit. For example, we recently refreshed our EVEN Hotels model to reduce construction costs for owners while ultimately streamlining operational efficiencies and generating new potential for premium rates through in-room fitness experiences.

Additionally, we’re remaining agile to ensure our current and future properties evolve alongside our guests’ expectations and emerging trends. Just look at the extended stay space — the rise in blended travel has guests seeking longer stays, but craving more flexibility, modernity, and a communal feel. In response, we created our Atwell Suites brand, which opened its first hotels in Denver and Miami earlier this year. Atwell Suites offers accommodating spaces that bridge guests’ transitions between work, play, and relaxation, and our pipeline includes more than 20 hotels in high-demand U.S. travel markets, including a projected early 2023 opening in Austin.

SkiftX: How is IHG celebrating some of the milestones within the portfolio, and what do these milestones mean for IHG’s future?

Smith: In recent years, we’ve worked hard to strengthen our portfolio and reaffirm our leadership position through brand introduction and refinement. Since 2017, we have added six brands — Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, Regent Hotels & Resorts, Vignette Collection, voco hotels, Avid Hotels, and Atwell Suites — to our portfolio while also investing in our legacy brands. With a more complete and modern portfolio, we’re making IHG hotels more attractive for current and prospective owners.

In June 2022, we celebrated the opening of our 6,000th global hotel with programs that honored and rewarded the owners and guests who helped us reach this exciting benchmark. We unveiled our “6,000 Club” — a collection of newly opened hotels that showcase the best of our brands — and commemorated the occasion by surprising select guests with IHG One Rewards points. We also announced a series of exciting multi-year sports and entertainment partnerships for IHG One Rewards members that will build connections and create memories, including programs with Major League Soccer, European Professional Club Rugby, and music festivals across the U.S. and UK.

Our guests look to us for opportunities to pursue bold exploration and cultural discovery, and we welcome key moments in time to give back and thank them for helping us pioneer luxury travel. With more than 1,800 hotels in our global pipeline, we’re looking forward to our next chapter of growth and the celebration of milestones to come.

SkiftX: What are your personal priorities in preparing your team for the future and establishing a culture of growth?

Smith: Hospitality is ripe with growth and learning opportunities for young professionals, and our industry overall can continue to reimagine how we sell ourselves as a destination for the next generation of great leaders. To do so, we must emphasize sponsorship — or the process of inviting those early in their careers to take part in our experiences and discover first-hand where they might fit — as much as mentorship. I remember how much the connections that I made, and in some cases were made for me, helped shape my early career, and I feel a responsibility to pay that good fortune back and empower those who could someday be hotel development game changers.

I also recognize the importance of diversity in upholding our organization’s growth, ensuring that our team better reflects the look and makeup of the owners and guests we serve. Historically, development has lacked the female leadership more common in other areas of hospitality. I believe that women who aspire to own and develop hotels should have the opportunity to do so. Through involvement with groups such as AHLA’s ForWard initiative and She Has a Deal, I’m honored to help women and underrepresented people in our industry grow and unlock their potential.

For more information about IHG’s new loyalty program, visit the IHG One Rewards landing page.

This content was created collaboratively by IHG Hotels & Resorts and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

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Tags: customer experience, ihg, intercontinental hotel group, loyalty, rewards, SkiftX Showcase: Hospitality, travel rewards

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