ORLANDO, Florida—Misconceptions from international consumers and dissatisfaction from domestic travelers are the driving forces behind InterContinental Hotels Group’s new initiatives to freshen up its Crowne Plaza brand.
“We have conducted extensive, hands-on research both with focus groups all over the world and within our hotels,” said Janis Cannon, VP of global brand management for IHG’s Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo brands, Thursday at the IHG Americas conference in Orlando, Florida.
In addition, IHG executives have visited nearly every Crowne Plaza in the U.S. and Canada to help understand some of the issues from guests who said they would never consider staying at a Crowne Plaza.
As a result of those consultations at individual Crowne Plaza properties, the executive team identified approximately 9,000 deficiencies across the brand, said Gina LaBarre, VP of brand delivery for the Americas division of IHG.
The good news is that most of the properties have begun the process to fix those issues, LaBarre said.
To establish more consistency throughout the brand, IHG executives used their research to refresh several concepts most important to their target consumer: arrival and check-in, guestroom amenities, food and beverage, and fitness and recreation.
The idea, Cannon said, was to build on existing initiatives at no cost or very little cost to owners. “(The new initiatives) had to be easy to implement and easy to execute.”
Check-in and arrival
As the arrival and check-in process are one of the most crucial points of a guest’s travel journey, the brand’s new “lobby host” position will be important, executive said.
“This is going to be a go-to person that any guest has throughout their stay,” Cannon said. “What this does is put the guest in control when they stay at a Crowne Plaza.”
Guests have provided feedback that the concierge position often feels stuffy and old-fashioned, so this is a great alternative to that, she said. The new position is a one-stop contact. The lobby host will provide guests with anything they need, which lets the consumer know Crowne Plaza is catering to business travelers.
In addition, digital check-in kiosks will give guests the option of checking in themselves or interacting with a traditional front-desk associate.
Food and beverage
Business travelers are on the go, and that means their meals often have to be quick as well, Cannon said.
Prioritizing food orders to get travelers fresh menu items in a short time span will show business travelers that Crowne Plaza has the same priorities as they do, she said.
“If we can provide them a guarantee of 15 minutes or less … and that the food is fast and fresh, we can drive more traffic to our restaurant,” she said.
Functional business connectivity might seem like an obvious amenity, but those items aren’t always readily available for travelers, Cannon said.
“Things like free Wi-Fi and one-click printing, for guests that come out of the U.S., international plug-ins … those are things we have to deliver,” she said.
Those connectivity upgrades puts the guest back in the driver’s seat, Cannon said.
A new area in the lobby with items such as exercise maps, fresh towels, bowls of fresh fruit and water will make it easier for business travelers to keep up with their health and wellness routines, Cannon said.
Executives had owners in mind when creating the new standard, she said. The items to be placed in the lobby are items that are already in the hotel.
And as for workout equipment, owners only will have to purchase a small inventory of kits that guests can rent and take up to their rooms.
Most hotels are already in compliance with Crowne Plaza’s new refreshed look, which was designed to make its hotels more appealing, LaBarre said. This includes the switch to plum-colored items in place of the brand’s former signature color of maroon.
For those not in compliance, the deadline stands in July.
IHG removed 16 Crowne Plaza hotels from its system during the first half of 2012 and is looking to remove 25 additional properties within the next two to three years, executives said. The brand has 52 hotels in the development pipeline.
“This means that IHG is making a financial commitment to the brand by foregoing royalties from these properties,” LaBarre said.
The company also is showing its commitment to making Crowne Plaza a unique part of the upscale marketplace by developing a better meetings experience, she said. “Meeting planners tell us that our strength as a brand lies in planning … but they told us we could provide a better value for the price.”
As a way to show its commitment to the brand, this year IHG is funding “Green Engage,” a sustainability program that helps Crowne Plaza hotels run more efficiently, LaBarre said. Owners of other brands in the IHG portfolio are required to pay a fee.
There are still a lot that needs to be improved to bring Crowne Plaza hotels up to par. But so far, “we’ve accomplished a great deal as we’ve been working together to freshen up our brand.”