Thomas Rowntree, vice president brand management luxury and upscale brands, Europe for the InterContinental Hotels Group came by Luxury Travel Advisor's New York offices to talk about the brand, new openings (especially in Europe) and the nature of luxury.
InterContinental has opened two new European hotels in the past year (the InterContinental Westminster in London and the InterContinental Hotel Marseille - Hotel Dieu in the south of France), and will open a new hotel in Davos, Switzerland, in time for the World Economic Conference in December. (This hotel, he noted, would be good for both ski travelers who want to avoid the St. Moritz and Gstaad scenes, and for business and MICE travelers.) Farther out, a third London hotel will open by the O2. In total, the brand has 51 new hotels in the pipeline, and Rowntree believes that there is always space for another hotel in the key cities.
But keeping the brand relevant in the face of changing values is a challenge, Rowntree acknowledged. To keep up with the times, the hotel pays careful attention to guest feedback (“You know those questionnaires in guest rooms?” Rowntree asked. “We take them very seriously.”) and looks at overall trends beyond the hotel scene.
InterContinental teamed up with ?What If!, an “innovation company,” to look at the way people use space in their home and translate it to the hotel scene. While each hotel will use the findings from the study in different ways, some solutions are already being applied in the upcoming Berlin and Moscow hotels, and will soon be implemented in older ones as well. The company, Rowntree noted, wants the shift to be gradual rather than sudden. “The best idea is evolution rather than revolution,” he added.
“Guests want to connect to experiences,” Rowntree continued. “They want to get involved. And we have the opportunity to build connections.” By focusing on a guest's “journey” in a hotel, from the moment they step through the front doors to the time they walk out, the hotel can make the experience the best it can be. “For couples and individual travelers, they want to be 'publicly private,'” Rowntree said. “People sit in a public lobby but they listen to their own music on an iPod, or they read. They want a private experience.” Similarly, they want individual experiences as well, with lobbies and restaurants that reflect the destination rather than being uniform throughout the brand.
“In a world that's increasingly globalized, life is increasingly personalized,” he noted. Brands need to be global, he acknowledged, but individual hotels must be able to provide each individual guest with an individual experience. “That's luxury,” he added.