ATLANTA—What could make more sense than having the founder of an international airline company with the serendipitous name of Juan Terry Trippe launch a hotel brand?
In 1946, that’s exactly what Trippe did, creating InterContinental Hotel Corp.—reportedly with input from then recently deceased President Franklin D. Roosevelt—as an adjunct division to his Pan American World Airways, likely reasoning when people fly, they need a place to stay. It’s also likely he could not imagine just how germane that thinking would become in the future.
While the nugget of the idea came in ’46, it wasn’t until 1949 that the first InterContinental Hotel opened in Belém, Brazil. With the boom years of the 1950s, travel became what many considered a right rather than an aspiration, and airlines, motels and hotels grew to meet the demand.
While they enjoyed robust times, Trippe’s travel “partners” did not grow old together. PanAm, “born” in 1927 and once the largest international carrier in the United States, collapsed in December 1991 after years of various financial discord.
On the other hand, the South American hotel brand, now known as InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and a part of U.K.-based IHG’s portfolio, is celebrating its 71st birthday in 2017, growing to 190 luxury properties open and operating worldwide with 63 in the pipeline as of Sept. 30.
According to Jason Moskal, VP, brand management, lifestyle brands, for the Americas region of IHG, the brand has morphed strategically over the years.
“To stay ahead of the changing guest dynamics, we have a healthy pulse on our audience and are aware of emerging trends in the industry. For example, we recently rolled out our Worldly Classics Cocktail program, inviting our guests to experience the world one cocktail at a time through a menu of classic cocktails with a truly global, InterContinental twist inspired by our hotels around the world,” he said.
Such offerings resonate with the brand’s guests, and, as a global entity, it strives to make international travel more alluring, noted the executive. “We serve well-traveled individuals looking for experiences that elevate the everyday and unlock new perspectives. When traveling, they seek authentic cultural experiences with the expectation of a consistent standard of excellence where they stay,” said Moskal.
While luxury connotes leisure and is something the brand’s guests embrace, the team behind the brand isn’t resting on its laurels despite robust performance.
“On the heels of a successful Q3, we have a vigorous growth strategy in place to continue the momentum we have experienced this past year with several hotel openings, including the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown; the InterContinental Washington, DC-The Wharf; the InterContinental Hanoi Landmark72; the InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay; and the InterContinental Perth City Centre,” Moskal said. “We’re also renovating heritage properties, such as InterContinental Willard in Washington, DC, and the InterContinental Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, with modern design that continues to pay tribute to each property’s rich history.”
Just as in the beginning, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is putting hotels where its often largely affluent guests want to put their heads in beds. Right now, there is strong portfolio growth worldwide, with some 17,091 rooms in the pipeline.
“We are experiencing the most growth activity in the Asia and Middle East region with 25 hotels and 5,886 rooms in the pipeline and in the Greater China region with 27 hotels and 8,785 rooms in the pipeline,” said Moskal.
In the United States, the brand is experiencing growth in several key markets like Houston, Minneapolis and San Diego, adding to the options for travelers and locals alike who already are drawn to the brand in many top 10 markets, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.
The brand offers a range of experiences for its guests across the globe, depending upon location, but Moskal was quick to point out there’s an overarching principle that runs like a connective thread among them all.
“The InterContinental Hotels & Resorts brand is designed to provide our guests with worldly and discreet luxury travel experiences through a global service culture. From the ultra-modern InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown to the heritage properties like the InterContinental Paris Le Grand hotel, the InterContinental brand has a range of experiences and destinations for our guests. One key area that remains consistent throughout is our unique ability to provide the combination of local cultural perspective through an international lens.”
Industry wisdom says that taking on a luxury-hotel project often has owners and developers reminding themselves that high risk means high rewards as they go about finding markets that will support a high-end brand. In terms of development, both domestically and internationally, Moskal said new properties are coming online from current owners as well as owners new to IHG, from high-net-worth individuals to major institutional real estate investors. “We have a healthy pipeline, both domestically and internationally, for the year ahead and beyond. Our development team is constantly working with owners, investors and developers around the world to generate interest and new projects for this luxury brand,” said the executive. He added there’s a continuing focus on “true global gateway markets that are vital to the world’s financial and economic success,” and considers the comp set as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, JW Marriott and Grand Hyatt.
Keeping the brand fresh also is a key component of operating in the luxury tier, where some of the qualifiers for that segment have changed over the years as well, with aspirational guests looking to enjoy new amenities along with more traditional offerings.
“Worldliness is ingrained in InterContinental Hotels & Resorts’ brand DNA. It is a key element that sets us apart from all of our competitors,” he said. “By elevating the guest experience, we believe this will improve brand equity and perceptions for the InterContinental brand in the luxury-hotel segment, while also differentiating the brand in a crowded marketplace. The program will be available at each property in the Americas beginning in 2018.”
Also resonating with hotel guests is the Club InterContinental initiative that introduced a new level of service to redefine luxury. “From making restaurant reservations while being chauffeur-driven from the airport to providing breakfast in the Club InterContinental lounge, guests are given the VIP treatment to enhance their luxury travel experience,” explained the executive.
Last year, the brand also launched an integrated marketing campaign, “Stories of the InterContinental Life,” showcasing “powerful experiences and immersive journeys” guests have experienced.
The brand’s ability to survive more than seven decades in an increasingly competitive lodging environment has not been lost on those who are steering its path, noted Moskal.
“Our success has been built on the enduring, collaborative and supportive relationships we have with our owners. Our developers and owners share our spirit, vision and passion for luxury travel. As the first international luxury hotel brand, we have implemented numerous initiatives to further the success and growth of the portfolio. What has resonated most with developers and owners is our commitment to responsible business. Using our Green Engagement tools, we have helped our hotels and resorts reduce energy consumption by up to 25%. Our developers and owners trust that each decision is made in an effort to advance and further the brand’s success,” he said.
The view from his own perspective is a similar one, noted Moskal.
“During my time with InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, I can honestly say, like many of our guests, I am blown away by the international know-how and attentiveness of the staff I experience at each property. Although different in size, style and location, the InterContinental promise always delivers, and that is what we will continue to do for many decades to come,” he said.
“From the inception of the brand and throughout more than 70 years, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts has celebrated many historic and transformative milestones [see sidebar]; however, I believe that our continuous commitment to being a pioneer in luxury travel encourages us to continually innovate to keep pace with the constantly evolving, ever-changing world of luxury travel,” said Moskal. HB
1949: The first InterContinental Hotels property opens in Belém, Brazil.
1963: Martin Luther King Jr. writes his inspirational speech, “I Have a Dream,” at The Willard in Washington, DC.
1970s: InterContinental assumes operations for the Mark Hopkins InterContinental in San Francisco.
1986: The Willard is restored, refurbished and re-opened as Willard InterContinental Washington.
1989: InterContinental Hotels & Resorts purchases what is now the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile.
2006: InterContinental Hotels & Resorts unveils two flagship properties: the InterContinental Boston and the completely renovated InterContinental London Park Lane.
2008: In February, InterContinental San Francisco opens; In May, InterContinental The Clement Monterey becomes the first hotel to be built in Monterey Bay, CA, in more than 20 years.
2010: In April, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts equips concierge teams with Apple iPads at four properties, including InterContinental New York Barclay, InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, InterContinental London Park Lane and InterContinental Hong Kong; in July, InterContinental New York Times Square opens as the brand’s flagship; in October, The Venetian and The Palazzo in Las Vegas are designated as InterContinental Alliance Resorts as IHG and Las Vegas Sands Corp. sign a strategic agreement; in December, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts launches an app for the iPad that allows consumers to explore authentic experiences and destinations through local concierge “Insider Guides.”
2016: The InterContinental Barclay in New York City re-opens its doors after a $180-million renovation; in May, IHG announces new-build InterContinental hotels for San Diego and Houston, both set to open in 2018.
2017: In June, the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown opens, marking the tallest building west of Chicago with 889 rooms, the brand’s largest hotel in the Americas; in October, The InterContinental Washington, DC-The Wharf opens, anchoring the new The Wharf waterfront destination development.