Tom Rowntree, Vice President of Global Luxury Brands IHG

Posted in News, People on 13 December, 2018

Can Faik meets InterContinental Hotel Group’s Tom Rowntree, Vice President of Global Luxury Brands, to discover what the future holds for one of the biggest companies in the hospitality market…

At IHG, they are committed to delivering True Hospitality for everyone. IHG believe in making their guests feel welcome and valued, wherever they are in the world.

Each of its hotel brands caters to guests in their own distinct way. And its reach spans the globe.

What was your background in hospitality prior to working for IHG?

When I was a teenager I used to sell weddings. I loved seeing a bride walk into a ballroom and her eyes light up. This was my inspiration; I loved the idea of selling memories and that is why I went into Hospitality. I graduated from Business School and went straight into hotels working in sales and marketing roles. I then joined IHG, where I’ve been for 20 years, working across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In addition to leading our luxury and boutique brands, I have also spent time working at InterContinental Muscat (Oman) and InterContinental Abu Dhabi (UAE).

What is your position within IHG?

I am Vice President of Global Luxury Brands. This role involves me overseeing our luxury brand portfolio which includes Regent, InterContinental and Kimpton. The focus of this role is to grow our luxury brand offering across the multiple markets where we operate. It’s about developing, delivering and continuing to evolve our brand portfolio around the world, ranging from establishing our design philosophy and service interaction, to the marketing communication of our brands.

What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?

We have a portfolio of 15 strong hotel brands and we continue to innovate and refresh these brands to make sure they remain relevant for different travellers.

InterContinental Hotels & Resorts has over 70 years of international know-how and from that comes an inherent understanding of the cultural needs of our guests. Whether they’re from Europe, the UK, the US or the Middle East, we understand their key cultural motivators so we tailor authentic experiences for them. There’s a big difference between being personal and personalised, the difference is that being personal means tailoring an experience to the individual and that is 100% reliant on empathy – it’s what we really strive for  at InterContinental.

We’re also focused on taking our luxury brands to new markets and growing our business. For Kimpton, there is huge potential to expand the brand globally and we’ve recently had signings in new cities including Bangkok, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Paris, to name a few. This expansion of our global footprint in high-growth luxury and upscale segments is gaining momentum, with IHG now the leading luxury operator in the UK, following the announcement earlier this year of an agreement with Covivio (formerly Foncière des Régions), to rebrand and operate 12 high-quality open hotels in the UK and one pipeline hotel from the Principal and De Vere brand portfolio.

Tell me about the newly opened Kimpton Fitzroy London Hotel, and what we can expect from your first UK property?

Kimpton Fitzroy London, the first UK hotel for the brand opened in London’s Bloomsbury neighbourhood at the end of October, in an iconic heritage building which originally opened in Russell Square in 1898. The hotel is named after the original architect of the hotel, Charles Fitzroy Doll; a titan of British architecture in the Victorian and Edwardian eras who specialised in designing hotels. Today, the Kimpton Fitzroy London stands for vision and craft, history and modernity, and luxury and timelessness. The hotel also further honours the name with Fitz’s bar, the hotel’s glamorous cocktail bar.

This hotel will bring a new luxury approach to the UK– inclusive casual luxury as opposed to museum-like spaces. Each Kimpton hotel is design-led yet individual in style and a defining trait for the brand is the focus on heartfelt human connections. We want guests to feel comfortable to be themselves at Kimpton; they don’t need to keep their voice down in the lobby, or wear a suit jacket to dinner, our approach is to offer a luxury experience without the fuss,we like to say it’s white-glove treatment, without the gloves! At Kimpton Fitzroy London you can enjoy the glamour of a historic iconic building but still be yourself, meet with friends, enjoy a laugh and connect in a human way with hotel staff.

What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?

Continuing the brand’s expansion in key cities across Europe, IHG will open three more Kimpton hotels in the UK (Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester) throughout 2019. IHG will also open Kimpton Barcelona in 2019, Kimpton Paris in 2020 and Kimpton Frankfurt in 2023 with more European signings in the pipeline. In the next few months, Kimpton Da An Hotel in Taipei will also open its doors, the first hotel for the brand in Asia.

In July, IHG acquired the majority stake in Regent Hotels & Resorts which had six open and three pipeline hotels. We have just re-launched Regent at HICAP and in fact we won the HICAP acquisition of the year award. Regent has set the standard for luxury hotels over four decades and the relaunch comes complete with new brand hallmarks and design philosophy, a specially created service style, and a striking visual identity. Our first signing, Regent Kuala Lumpur, has just been announced and Regent’s new brand positioning has been created to deliver on a bold ambition – to become world-renowned for unmatched opulence and celebrated for bold ideas. We now have plans to grow the brand to more than 40 hotels in key global gateway cities. One of these is the InterContinental Hong Kong which will return to its former glory as a Regent hotel in 2021, following major renovations.

Successful luxury brands are generally built on heritage, our opportunity with Regent is that we can benefit from the legacy and strong brand equity to reawaken the brand for future generations. We plan to protect what made the brand special and build on that for the future. Regent Hotels has a clear ambition: to create the world’s most prestigious luxury hotels, in beautiful locations across the globe. To become a world-renowned name synonymous with the height of opulence and celebrated for bold new ideas, and that is exactly what we will focus on with this brand.

How do hotel trends differ – if at all – between hotels in the US, Asia and Europe?

We see growth in the traditional luxury segment, growth in the Chinese luxury segment and growth in millennial spend who already account for 45% of the total luxury segment (not only hotels). Although there are different trends by market, one thing is true of them all – a desire to broaden one’s horizons through experiences. This trend is consistent to all luxury travellers, regardless of age or culture. Luxury travellers are becoming more discerning and experimental in their travels, preferring more emotional, innovative experiences over extravagant journeys, and they seek personalised and authentic experiences that are delivered seamlessly.

The shift to spending on the experiential rather than material goods is driving the future of luxury travel, with global consumers increasingly spending on experiences rather than luxury possessions. We’re also seeing cultural exploration through cuisine, gastronomic experiences have become the preferred travel activity, overtaking shopping, among affluent individuals inSingapore, India, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea, with 77% keen on trying out local cuisine and savouring local produce. For all our luxury brands, our restaurant and bar offer is a crucial part of the guest experience and this is an area we continue to put a great deal of focus.

Can you tell me about your latest suite to launch at your Park Lane property, The Capital Suite as it’s the first Business suite of its kind?

The Capital Suite at InterContinental London Park Lane offers intelligent design,allowing various areas of the suite to be separated based on the guests’ needs and desires, in addition to a separate entrance into the hotel and a private lift.The new suite, situated on the first floor, is the ultimate haven for the international business traveller, with a full-size boardroom, luxurious private office and multiple en-suite bedrooms. Guests of the suite can enjoy complimentary access to Club InterContinental on the 7th floor with a stunning view overLondon.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?

Luxury brands are embracing more colour in the designs. It’s the opposite thinking to keeping everything neutral and instead it’s about a courageous, bold approach to the use of colour. You’ll see this coming through with the new designs being developed for Regent.

Luxury travellers are also clearly looking for a ‘home away from home’ and hotels are becoming more apartment like. We see our hotel design becoming more residential and homely but retaining the modern luxury which is so intrinsic to the InterContinental brand. You can see this even more so within our Kimpton properties – as a design-led brand each hotel works with local designers to bring the brand personality to life in that property, whether that’s with big statement pieces or small touches throughout the hotel. To make guests feel as though they really “live there”, Kimpton’s hotel in Amsterdam, Kimpton De Witt, features public spaces with a real ‘living room’ feel with stylish comfortable chairs and sofas, coffee table books, a large fireplace, etc.

How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?

Design is a critical element for hotels, and one of the components that guests seek out when choosing hotels is design. They’re seeking to be surrounded by design that makes them feel at home or inspires them. Travel has a great role in the development of people’s personal style.

For Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, the goal is to create beautiful spaces which are appropriate for the city. The approach is to incorporate strong statement pieces and design features within a spacious backdrop. InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is committed to sensitively restoring grand pieces of architectural history, merging contemporary design with heritage while preserving original features.

What is next for IHG as in new luxury openings?

This is very exciting time for IHG and our luxury portfolio. We have just reached a major milestone opening the 200th InterContinental hotel globally, and we will welcome a new InterContinental flagship – InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland. The luxury hotel, mostly below ground, is located in a former quarry in southwestern Shanghai. Of the hotel’s 18 floors, 16 will be built underground and two will be submerged inside a 33-foot-deep aquarium. Every room in the 336-room address (aside from those underwater) will feature a balcony with views of purpose-built waterfalls spilling down the quarry walls. In contrast to the traditional architectural concept of building high-rises, InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland adopts an unconventional design of extending space beneath ground by truly reflecting the natural landscape of the quarry. The architectural plan was also designed to reduce the impact on the environment by keeping most construction within the disused pit.

InterContinental Lyon Hôtel Dieu is also due to open in the second half of next year. Located right on the bank of the river Rhône, the property is currently being converted from Lyon’s former Hôtel Dieu, one of the oldest hospitals inFrance. It forms part of a listed group of buildings that date back to the 17th century. It is currently the largest renovation project of a listed historic monument in France.

We are committed to building a stronger luxury portfolio for IHG. We see clear demand from our owners and guests, and we know it will provide an important halo effect for our entire portfolio and loyalty proposition. We are delighted to be adding Regent to the IHG family and we will continue to look for small, asset-light luxury brands with similar positioning that can be transformed.

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