It takes a lot to build a new brand, and Jennifer Gribble, VP, global Holiday Inn Express, Avid Hotels and mainstream growth at IHG, was able to see her hard work come to fruition with the opening of the first Avid Hotel location in Oklahoma City this August.
“As I look back, I am just incredibly proud,” said Gribble. “I am proud of the team that has worked on this brand, our owner advisory board and our first sponsor, Champion Hotels, because all three were such a big part of driving the momentum we have with Avid Hotels. With regard to the team, building a brand is a big endeavor. It isn’t a one-person show. It takes a lot people. The team needs to be highly collaborative and communicative. This team has delivered against really ambitious goals, and they have really listened. Listening has been so critical to getting Avid Hotels right for both guests and owners.”
Avid was first announced in September 2017. “I was managing the Holiday Inn Express brand in the Americas, and as we looked across the limited-service, midscale space, we saw an opportunity for another brand, given strong consumer demand in a particular part of the segment,” she said. “Because I had experience in the segment as a whole, it felt like a good opportunity to work on that challenge for the company, so I took on the development effort.”
The strong consumer need created a demand for the brand. “This is obviously important to franchisees as a key factor in driving performance,” said Gribble. “We heard guests say that they didn’t have a good option in this segment; brands were not meeting their needs and were inconsistent in their delivery. After further research, we saw there was a big opportunity—about $20 billion annually—if we could better deliver against others in the segment. We created four differentiators, and by doing this, we fulfilled that need that we see, which is going to create strong demand. That is a real key thing that sets us apart.”
The brand was built using owner feedback. “Having strong owner engagement was really important in building Avid Hotels, and we were fortunate to have an owner advisory board that gave us direct candid feedback,” said Gribble. “It really helped shape the brand in a way that made it easy to build, operate and maintain.”
Gribble said that the brand has gained a lot of attention from owners. “It is important for franchisees to see a brand that is scaling quickly because scale drives awareness, which has an impact on performance,” she said. “This brand is scaling very quickly with more than 150 executed agreements. We started with a launch in the U.S., and continue to grow in Canada, Mexico and we just recently expanded to Germany. We have executed an MDA for 15 hotels in that market over the next five years.”
In addition to her responsibilities for Avid, she was recently tasked with overseeing the Holiday Inn Express brand on a global scale. The brand recently underwent a complete breakfast refresh. “[The refresh] is bringing fresh design to the front of house, improved technology in the back, and new product offerings, including fresh meat and egg products,” she said. “As a result of this major transformation, we’ve seen a strong increase in guest satisfaction scores around breakfast—a brand differentiator that is critically important for the Holiday Inn Express guest. To date, nearly 1,400 hotels have adopted this new refresh and, by the end of the year, we will have around 78% of Holiday Inn Express hotels in the U.S. to have the new Express Start Breakfast solution. As we look forward, we are continuing to focus on breakfast innovation for the brand globally.”
The brand is also focused on improving the sleep experience globally. “In the U.S., we are currently implementing a new sleep experience that includes fluffy duvets, new linens and updated pillows (with choice of soft and firm),” she said.
For 2019, Gribble said that the brand will have a “strong” focus on telling guests about these changes. “We’ll [use]multi-channel marketing to drive guest preference and choice, while ultimately delivering strong performance returns to owners,” she said.
Gribble has been with IHG for 15 years, after starting her career at Midwest Express Airlines. “I quickly learned that a career in a field where you are passionate makes each day a whole lot more interesting and enjoyable,” she said. “On top of that, I had a huge passion for the travel industry as a whole, so growing up, I was very lucky. My parents valued travel and exploring new places, and that desire to travel has always stayed with me. From that point forward, I pursued a career in the travel industry.”
She transitioned to IHG as an e-commerce manager. “I was responsible for the loyalty websites globally. I had that opportunity, and eventually I managed our websites for some of our brands; I got really close to the brand world, and I had a desire to continue to work within brands,” she said. “I found it really interesting to listen to people and get consumer insights, and how those insights influence how you create a brand. I moved forward in the brand space for the last 10 years.” HB