What I’d always considered, until recently, a second-tier franchisor, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group proved last week during the Carlson Global Hotel Business Conference it is quickly becoming a strong player in hotel brand game.
The number of properties in Carlson Rezidor’s portfolio is growing at a rapid pace—the company had 336 hotels in 1993; 847 in 2003; finished 2011 with 1,077 and today boasts 1,319. Country Inn & Suites is the company’s largest brand with 484 hotels in operation at the end of 2011; Radisson Blu featured 229 and Radisson 192.
However, the company’s pipeline is clearly centered on the growth of the Radisson brand, which like several of its competitors (Sheraton, Crowne Plaza) was lost in the upscale space. There are 76 Radisson Blus in development today and, unlike other flagship brands that emerged during a downturn, Carlson’s Radisson Blu brand is hitting the U.S. market with perfect timing. The company is deploying a tried-and-true strategy for its iconic brand: using joint-venture equity to get new, fresh projects out of the ground in key destination markets.
There’s now a Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago and a handful of Radisson Blu hotels in London. When international travelers visit the United States, they’re looking for a familiar brand and Radisson Blu will offer that. The one question that remains: When will there be a New York property?
Speaking of international travel, the multiculturalism aspect of Carlson Rezidor’s executive team is down-right impressive. Despite the fact Carlson is headquartered in Minneapolis, mingling with the company’s top brass gives off the presence and feel of a truly global organization.
Hubert Joly, born and raised in France, is Carlson’s president and CEO and sits on the board of directors for Rezidor. Thorsten Kirschke, born in Hannover, Germany, oversees the brands in the Americas region. While the third generation of the Carlson family remains actively involved in ownership and restated their commitment to the company during last week’s brand conference, they’re wise to turn management of the company over to leaders with such global awareness.
To further illustrate the company’s commitment to global growth, it appears Carlson Rezidor is strategic in picking high-class destinations for its annual brand conferences.
Although the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas is caught up amid a financial mess—owners Kerzner International owe more than US$2 billion and have exceeded their allowed extensions—that certainly didn’t show during Carlson Rezidor’s 2012 Global Business Conference last week. The workforce of nearly 8,000 employees went out of their way to set examples of world-class service for the 1,300 Carlson franchisees in attendance.
And rumor has it that next year’s brand conference will be taking place in Rezidor’s back yard—somewhere in northern Europe—to emphasize the importance of the Rezidor relationship. Hope to see you there!