Jolyon Bulley became IHG's CEO of the Americas in July. He aims to bring a “China speed” pace to luxury and lifestyle hotel growth in the group’s largest region.
Skift spoke with Bulley about IHG’s strategy this week during the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS) in Los Angeles.
Bulley spent the past five years doubling the hotel group’s portfolio in China. He aims to bring that same rapid metabolism with him — he calls it “China Speed.”
Leaning into Luxury and Lifestyle
IHG’s half-dozen luxury and lifestyle brands represent 22% of its global pipeline for hotel development — almost double the share of five years ago.
“I see huge growth for us in the Americas,” Bulley said. “All I need now is to get some of these wonderful properties to open up and show our offer to the market.”
One obstacle to growth: IHG hasn’t had a strong reputation among owners for luxury in North and South America. True, flagship brand InterContinental remains the largest luxury brand in the world, with 216 properties. Yet it stagnated in the 2000s and early 2010s.
Bulley has helped lead a revival. IHG is modernizing the brand’s restaurants, bars, and decor to appeal to younger travelers. About 90 InterContinentals are in the works. Renovations are taking place at hotels in Atlanta, Chicago, and Miami.
Regent was another brand Bulley’s team refreshed. The first Regent in the U.S. has been plagued with delays but is set to open in Santa Monica Beach this year.
IHG bought Six Senses in 2019. Eight recent signings will triple the portfolio to 38. In the U.S., it has signed a deal to create a resort with branded residences in Napa Valley.
Luxury and Lifestyle Hotel Talent
As IHG scales up in luxury and lifestyle, it must add employees with operations, strategy, and hotel development expertise. Bulley’s priority has been on skill building and career development within IHG. For example, it has been making it easier for staff to see potential career progressions.
“They can now see that the aspirations they’ve had before can be realized, either within a brand or across the brands,” Bulley said.
At the senior level, Bulley championed a re-organization that consolidated leadership for the group’s luxury and lifestyle hotels for a coherent strategy. In March, for instance, IHG will move Leanne Harwood from her role in leading growth in Japan to senior vice president and managing director of luxury and lifestyle brands in the Americas.
“There’s a short-term tactic of growing your capability by acquiring talent,” Bulley said. “But the long-term path is growing it.”
The move is part of a multi-year overhaul in structure.
Another example: Kathleen Reidenbach had been chief commercial officer of Kimpton, a lifestyle brand, where she focused just on that brand’s growth. IHG then elevated her to senior vice president of marketing and commercial, luxury and lifestyle, Americas. Reidenbach now has her eyes on the six IHG luxury and lifestyle brands.
“We’ve put up an umbrella across the luxury and lifestyle category so we can be much more efficient on back-end decisions and avoiding redundancies and make sure each brand is learning from the others,” Bulley said. “The structure is also about making sure that we don’t confuse the customer or the owners and that each brand has its distinct swim lane.”
Moving at ‘China Speed’
Bulley hopes to leverage his experience as IHG’s CEO for Greater China, the group’s second-largest market after North America.
“From the point of view of the consumer landscape there, economic development has led to a rising up of the middle class and an acceleration of digital technology adoption that requires players to be nimble,” Bulley said. “You’ve got to have agility, speed, flexibility, and decisiveness. I’ll bring some of those Chinese elements and my own leadership traits to help us move faster in the Americas.”
Bulley said that investors have tended to focus on IHG’s lucrative business in scaling up hotel development in China, which is mostly a domestic travel market.
However, the outbound travel market, which was about 150 million a year before the pandemic, is just as important because it’s a long-term play for IHG, he said.
By getting Chinese travelers familiar with its brands and by making its overseas hotels friendly to Chinese travelers, such as by accepting their preferred modes of payment, IHG may be setting itself up for decades of growth.
“There are nuances in serving the outbound Chinese traveler,” Bulley said. “We’re investing in serving these travelers better than anyone else at target hotels and destinations.”
For context, read: Every One of IHG’s Hotel Brands, Explained.
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Photo credit: Jolyon Bulley, IHG Americas CEO, at a fall 2023 hotel deal signing in New York City. Source: IHG.