Blu(e) skies ahead for Radisson’s upper-upscale brand

MINNEAPOLIS—Radisson Blu, an upper-upscale brand of Radisson Hotel Group, headquartered here, emerged on the hospitality scene in 2009. However, its origins began many decades before.

In 1960, Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) created a hotel division, SAS International Hotels. The Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark—created by architect Arne Jacobsen—launched that year as the group’s debut property.

Fast forward to the 1990s, when SAS formed a co-branding partnership with Carlson Hotels Worldwide, Radisson’s parent, to create the Radisson SAS brand.

In 2009, Radisson SAS, which had more than 150 properties in its portfolio throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at the time, changed its name to Radisson Blu.

“The long-term partnership with SAS had come to an end,” noted Eric De Neef, EVP & global chief commercial officer, Radisson Hotel Group. “The award-winning, upper-upscale Radisson SAS hotel brand was updated to Radisson Blu—a simple, design-conscious new name that both respected and built on the SAS ‘blue box’ heritage. It was a move that signified the brand’s true, contemporary position while representing the dynamic ambitions for the brand’s future.”

As of the second quarter of this year, the Radisson Blu brand has 323 hotels, with 80 in development. It ranks as Europe’s top upper-upscale brand (by hotels and rooms), according to MKG Hospitality, a distinction it has held since 2010.

“Radisson Blu saw an organic growth in Europe. Today, it is present in every key European market,” said De Neef. “It has a loyal audience and a great reputation, especially among business travelers, and can pride itself for stylish spaces, small details and a personalized service creating memorable moments. Radisson Blu still features the best of Scandinavian design, which is one of the most important interior design trends all across Europe—the hotels are perfect, contemporary destinations for design lovers.”

He continued, “Design has always set Radisson Blu apart, dating back to the first hotel, the stunning Royal Hotel in Copenhagen—which was truly the world’s first designer hotel, created by legendary architect Arne Jacobsen for SAS. Today, design remains core to the brand while delivering positive and personalized service—following the ethos ‘Yes I Can!’—in stylish spaces. By paying close attention to the small details that make a big difference, it inspires unforgettable, different experiences with every stay.”

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago

Two years after becoming Radisson Blu, the brand came to the U.S. in the form of the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago. The 334-room property occupies the first 18 floors of the 81-story, mixed-use Aqua Tower in the city’s downtown area.

“The award-winning Aqua Tower was designed by internationally acclaimed architect Jeanne Gang and is the largest skyscraper designed by a female architect. The design and location were the perfect fit for the brand’s entrance into North America,” noted De Neef. “Situated near the confluence of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River in the Lakeshore East Development, the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel is surrounded by Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions, including Millennium Park, Navy Pier and the fabulous shopping of Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.”

Radisson’s hometown of Minneapolis touts two Radisson Blu properties, including the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown, which converted from the Radisson Plaza Hotel Minneapolis, the first-ever Radisson hotel.

“Minneapolis is a key market in the U.S., and the hotel provided the perfect conversion opportunity for the brand as part of its expansion in North America,” said De Neef. “We upgraded the property after an extensive refurbishment and are proud to now have two Radisson Blu hotels in Minneapolis—the hotel downtown and the hotel at Mall of America. This also allows us to use commercial synergies.”

For 23 years, Radisson Blu and Radisson’s other brands in Europe were headed by Kurt Ritter, the longest-serving CEO within the international hospitality industry, according to De Neef. Today, the brand and group are under the leadership of Federico J. González Tejera, who joined the company in 2017 and serves as president and CEO of Radisson Hospitality AB, chair of the global steering committee for Radisson Hotel Group, and board director of Radisson Hospitality Inc.

In 2017, Radisson Blu launched Blu Planet for meetings, making meetings carbon-free at its hotels worldwide. That program has evolved into Radisson Meetings, a global meetings and events offering launched this year that will be available across Radisson Hotel Group’s seven hotel brands.

“Radisson Meetings is developed around the three core elements of successful events—Personal, Professional and Memorable—while being 100% carbon neutral through Offsetting,” said De Neef, who stated at the time of the launch that the “IT infrastructure and distribution platform are core elements helping…deliver our brand promise.”

Late last year, Radisson was acquired by a consortium led by Chinese hotel giant Jin Jiang International Co. Ltd. In June, the Radisson Blu Hotel, Frankfurt in Germany became the first co-branded property since the acquisition.

“We are keen on offering the leading hotel brands from Radisson Hotel Group to guests, owners and talent around the world,” said González Tejera in June. “The launch of the first co-branded hotel with Jin Jiang International is an important milestone in reaching this goal. The co-branded hotels have a bright future, with the potential to extend to more than 30 properties across EMEA.”

According to the company, Chinese-speaking guests and travelers will find a range of features at the co-branded hotel designed and curated to make them feel at home. Menus and welcome cards are available in Chinese, and there are tea kettles and a choice of Chinese teas in the guestrooms.

Radisson Blu is constantly growing. This year, the brand opened hotels in such diverse countries as Canada, China, Poland, Switzerland, Czech Republic and the United Arab Emirates, among others. Future openings have been slated for locales such as Aruba, Italy, New Zealand, Egypt and Russia. In the U.S., the Radisson Blu Hotel Fargo, a conversion of a former Radisson property, is expected to open next year. It will be the fourth Radisson Blu location domestically. HB


1960: The Royal Hotel in Copenhagen is launched in Denmark. SAS International Hotels is born.

1994: SAS International Hotels signs a master franchise agreement with Carlson Hotels Worldwide to manage the Radisson brand in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and to form the co-branded partnership of Radisson SAS.

2002: As a result of the success of Radisson SAS, SAS International Hotels becomes Rezidor SAS Hospitality, an autonomous hotel management company.

2006: Radisson SAS becomes one of the world’s fastest-growing and successful hotel brands with more than 150 properties in 40-plus countries. Renamed The Rezidor Hotel Group, the company is floated on the Stockholm Stock Exchange with the Radisson SAS hotel brand as a key asset.

2009: Radisson SAS is rebranded to Radisson Blu.

2010: Radisson Blu becomes the largest upper-upscale hotel brand in Europe.

2011: The Radisson Blu brand debuts in North America with the opening of the flagship, Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago.

2012: Carlson and Rezidor go to the market as Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group.

2016: Radisson Blu enters Latin America with the Radisson Blu Belo Horizonte in Brazil.

2018: Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group rebrands to Radisson Hotel Group. Jin Jiang International Holdings Co. Ltd. acquires Radisson Hotel Group.

2019: Radisson Blu Hotel, Frankfurt in Germany has become the first property to be co-branded by Radisson Hotel Group and Jin Jiang International.

To see content in magazine format, click here.