"No end of unforgettable experiences lie ahead of you." - Kenneth Macpherson, Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa
It has been the most challenging period any of us have ever encountered, either professionally or personally, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and the future is bright for hospitality.
I know how hard the past 18 months have been for you all as you’ve been studying hard and preparing yourselves for what you’re intending to be a long and fruitful career in the best industry in the world, while having to deal with the sudden unpredictability and many new scenarios the pandemic has brought.
These challenges have come thick and fast for all of us, and especially in hospitality, where our teams have worked so tirelessly in our hotels around the world. In many markets, the path to recovery remains a bumpy one (Australia’s recent lockdowns providing a salient reminder that we’re not out of the woods yet), but my optimism for our future remains unabated and continues to grow as each vaccine programme is rolled out across the globe. Every dose is moving the world a little closer to travelling freely and safely again, helping lift restrictions, rebuilding economic activity and reviving consumer confidence. Momentum is growing, and as the recovery strengthens, we’ll continue to do all we can to help our hotels and our people succeed.
With vaccinations comes confidence, and with confidence comes… travel. Staycations will turn into overseas holidays as soon as restrictions allow, while headlines in the media claiming “business travel is over” have already proven to be vastly exaggerated. Business travel may change, but many organisations rely on travelling to succeed, and after a period of such limited human interaction, we can all see the value and importance of connecting as teams and with customers.
Rest assured, these aren’t hollow words – the data backs it up. At the initial peak of the pandemic, occupancy levels dropped to the lowest we’ve seen, but they’re now bouncing back. Our hotels in Greater China, where trains and planes are full again, recovered first, and now in the Americas nearly all of our hotels are open with more and more people booking vacations, and warm weather destinations filling up. In many parts of the UAE, family celebrations, weddings and big conferences are being planned again, and since the start of this summer’s reopening programme in the UK – just as we’d already seen in Australia – our hotels have been inundated with domestic bookings.
Our doors are opening again in many markets, and our industry is still growing. At IHG, we opened 285 hotels in 2020 despite the crisis – including fantastic properties in iconic locations such as New York, Paris, Dubai, Bangkok and Sydney – and signed almost one a day, in what was an incredible team effort. And we’ve followed it up with another 56 openings and 92 signings in the first quarter of 2021, too. This shows the optimism that owners have for our industry.
When we think of our guests, the key drivers behind hospitality’s pre-pandemic boom remain. The expanding middle class, an increase in disposable income, low cost travel, and people’s desire to stay in branded hotels and gain great value through loyalty programmes. Nothing there has changed – it was all just put on hold.
With so much to look forward to at IHG we need talented people to join us and be a part of our story to provide True Hospitality for Good. It’s our people who make the difference to whether a guest has a good stay or a great stay, or whether they come back again in the future. It’s our people who make our hotels a real part of their local community, and it’s our people who create our culture, one which will allow us to invest in, develop and support you in your careers, while recognising the values you hold true. Our industry now stands for more than it has ever done. Diversity, equity, inclusion, creating a sense of belonging, and caring for our people, communities and planet. They’re all integral to everything we do and that’s why, at IHG, we have a purpose and strategy that puts them at the heart of our business, and our ambitions.
I want to end by offering you some advice. As you continue to plot your way in the world of hospitality, remember that there’s never been a time like now to join our industry. We’re seeing pent-up demand all over the world, and as we work through the recovery, you have a real chance to play a part in reshaping the future of travel. Follow your passion and you’ll see a world of opportunity open up, whether you work in a hotel or a corporate function, or perhaps move between the two, like so many of our talented people at IHG have done.
No end of unforgettable experiences lie ahead of you. The pandemic may mean you take a different route than expected, and perhaps it’ll take a little longer to get where you want to go – but you’ll get out of it everything you put into it, and not regret a moment.
Good luck, and best wishes.
No end of unforgettable experiences lie ahead of you.
Kenneth Macpherson, Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa