Karin Sheppard, Managing Director for IHG across its Europea business, looks back over the last months of the Group's activity. Above all, she shares her commitment as leader of a company that occupies 4th place in the world hotel rankings. Having a positive impact on destinations is is the satisfactory plus for her.

Travel has great days ahead

It's my pleasure to have you here at the Carlton. I'm thinking back to last year when we reopened the doors as a Regent Hotel. It's just fantastic to see the hotel looking so splendid and welcoming the world to the Regent Carlton once again.

I think it's really interesting to reflect on how well the industry has recovered from the pandemic. One of the fundamentals that investors talk about here is the confidence that has built for all of us on the long-term outlook. When we compare to 2019, the leisure segment is 30% ahead. Initially, we thought this might have been a bit of pent-up demand, but the fact is that people who lived through recent events have concluded that travel must be part of their lives, and we are benefiting from that globally.

Corporate travel, which we always knew would take longer, is nearly back to 2019 levels. If you look at it as an investor and examine different segments within real estate, it is not surprising that at MIPIM there's a lot of talk about the hotel sector and what it can do for investors. We can see the long-term potential and markets around the world that are at the early stage of development, with strong GDP growth and a growing middle class, which will drive travel. Our brands are still in their infancy, so there is strong long-term potential for all of us. There is continued belief that this is a highly investable sector with strong returns.

The relationship with owners and customers

Both are really important and core to our strategy. We think about what is right for the guest and what is right for the owners, and the magic happens when you get it right for both.

For the guests, our job is to continue to look at trends and ensure that our brands are fit for purpose. If I think about some of our strongest, most prevalent brands like Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, we have invested in making sure they stay current by having new programs that owners have invested in to ensure the design is up to date and the service offer is relevant. Existing brands will always have the job of continuing to evolve and stay relevant.

Then we look at where we might have gaps where there are guest expectations that we do not meet today. We've seen that with some of the brands we've launched, like Vignette Collection. In the luxury space, just as we cherish the more established brands like InterContinental and Regent, there is a need for a collection brand where we can identify individual properties with a lot of flair and individuality that some luxury travelers seek and bring them into the power of our systems. This has led to the launch of some beautiful properties across Europe, with more to come. From the guest perspective, finding gaps and evolving our existing brands are crucial.

If you then look at the owners, they equally come to us asking about the investment proposition. They appreciate that we continue to evolve the brands they have already invested in and that we offer new options. In addition to Vignette, another interesting example is voco, a brand we launched in 2019, seeing a market need for a brand in our portfolio suitable for conversions. Since then, the market has shifted even more toward conversions, and now we have well over 100 voco hotels around the world, either open or in the pipeline, making it highly successful and a new opportunity for us.

Implementing value for the owners

Owners then ask how we will deliver returns. Significant work in the last couple of years includes our loyalty program, IHG One Rewards, which we have relaunched with enhanced benefits for guests while balancing optimal returns for owners, driving strong contributions to owner hotels.

The next major rollout is a complete overhaul of our technology systems, ensuring we have the best revenue management systems, easy-to-train solutions in hotels that deliver extra profit for owners. Keeping guests happy and ensuring owners are satisfied with returns is an ongoing cycle. We must stay alert to trends, listen to owners, and work with them in partnership.

The central role of employees and the impact on destinations

One of the areas I love most about what I do is seeing the impact of our hotels on local communities. Opening a Holiday Inn in a small city can significantly impact the community, providing a place to gather and celebrate, creating jobs, and benefiting the wider economy. For us, the Journey to Tomorrow is about the positive impact we can have on local communities, people, and the planet. In terms of people, our deep belief is that this business is about people. To ensure our people are at their best, we need to invest in learning and development programs, attract the right talent, and help them grow. The hotel industry is a place where you can start in an entry-level position and one day run a global company. This gives me goosebumps as it is quite special.

Regarding the environment, owners are increasingly concerned about reducing their carbon footprint, and we are very focused on that. We provide tools to help hotels decarbonize existing properties and develop new models to achieve net-zero carbon footprints for new builds. We are working with some of the best thought leaders, investors, and owners to be on this journey with us. Communities, people, and care for the planet are essential to our responsible growth. We aim to leave a positive impact for the short and long term.

We were the first global hotel company to pledge to remove miniature plastic amenities from our hotels worldwide. This decision has had an enormous impact on reducing our plastic footprint. I love when we take a stance, commit to it, and work with our owners to achieve it within the committed timelines. It is a small example with a big impact.

Industry participation in addressing bigger issues like carbon reduction is very fulfilling, and we are much better off working with the industry to define goals and measure progress. On the people front, I am passionate about building a more inclusive business. We have made progress in female leader representation and in having a more ethnically diverse leadership population worldwide. Recently, I traveled to Thailand, where nearly half of the general managers are female, a significant shift. These small but significant signs of progress collectively make IHG a better place to work and partner with.

I have a fundamental belief that having a diverse team around you, with different cultures, upbringings, experiences, and genders, leads to better decision-making. Diverse perspectives bring richer conversations and better outcomes. Research has proven that companies embracing diversity outperform financially. It also means we can attract talent from a broader pool, as people look at a company’s representation to gauge how they will feel working there. Diversity positively impacts attracting talent and delivering better outcomes.

We also focus on training and hiring disabled people, as we believe in the hotel industry's ability to include a wide range of people. Everyone has talent; we just need to find the right role. We work with programs that bring ex-offenders into the hotel industry, offering them a second chance. Hotels provide an environment where team support helps individuals progress. We look at different talent pools, including the young generation and the more aged population, to create jobs for the future. We reimagine part-time work, offer flexible schedules, and create opportunities for mothers returning to work. By rethinking our traditional approach, we can bring a wider range of talent into the industry and support those previously disadvantaged in job applications.

InterContinental Hotels Group

InterContinental Hotels Group

Hotel Group

  • InterContinental Hotels Group United Kingdom
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