IHG steadily building impressive luxury hotels collection: Benjamin Hu

by | 23 Feb 2020 | Interview, People

Benjamin Hu, Director of Design, IHG, was a delegate at TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR Shanghai in Dec 2019. (Photo by Rahul Venkit)

After consolidating its luxury hotels collection with Regent, Six Senses, Kimpton and InterContinental, IHG is looking to expand in the mid-scale hotel sector in China, says its Director of Design Benjamin Hu.

One luxury brand at a time, the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has over the years built a collection of high-end hotels, which are now a force to reckon with.

On the sidelines of TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR Shanghai 2019, IHG’s Director of Design Benjamin Hu spoke exclusively with TOPHOTELNEWS on how the hotel group is better prepared than ever to compete with the likes of Marriott in the luxury sector, having recently acquired Regent Hotels and Six Senses.

On IHG’s focus on luxury hotels and its plans in China

Hu: At IHG, we introduced our 2X growth strategy in the beginning of 2019, which is to basically double the pace of our growth over three years. We move fast, talk straight and we’re one team.

We’ve also strengthened our focus on luxury brands. With that strategy, we acquired Regent Hotels and Six Senses. Now we can compete with the likes of Marriott as our luxury hotels sector is shaping up nicely with Kimpton, InterContinental, Six Senses and Regent.

In China, however, our focus is also on the mid-scale hotel sector as it has enormous potential.
IHG is investing hugely into mid-scale developments and also new brands in sectors like select service, upper mid-scale and also probably some entry-level upscale properties. We are looking at huge opportunities. In China, I think the future is hotel franchises.

How does the design element fit into IHG’s growth?

Hu: The design aspect is all about the guest experience. Each brand should have its unique identity. To be frank, there are some hotels in the market that you can put any brand to it, but we don’t want to do that. IHG has very clear brand guidelines and design philosophy. The design philosophy not only tells you about styles but also color pallets, guest experiences and mood boards.

How is hotel design changing due to owner expectations?

Hu: These days, whether it’s front of house or back of the house, every inch of space matters. The owner will start challenging you and ask you: What’s our ROI? So, designers need to give owners and hotel consultants a framework to work with, leaving space for flexibility and creativity. Apart from that, brand standards and design philosophies need to adapt as hotel spaces become a lot more flexible. We try to do a lot of hybrid spaces: flexible meeting spaces for example or looking at how to combine restaurants with different functions. These things are very important these days.

Is China a good playground for hotel design and experimentation?

Hu: Since China’s so big, and we have many cities, certain markets may be more conservative. But if you look at Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, people are modern and love to try new things. I always say: Shanghai’s not China — it’s international.

Even though some Chinese guests are a bit conservative, perhaps culturally, I would say in a lot of aspects, like technology, China is leading. So this technology can be exploited in different ways from hotel bookings to operations such as house-keeping. It has many advantages.

Which new IHG brands should we look out for?

Hu: Three years ago, I worked on a few brands like Holiday Express which features next-generation design. Now, I’m working on the Even hotels brand. Even is a brand that originated in the U.S. and we’re trying to bring it into China. We started around late 2018 and have signed more than 10 hotels in China already. We’re still trying to find the right concept and strike the right balance in the product that appeals to millennials, offering flexible functionality and a really good return for investment for owners.

Thoughts on TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR

Hu: I think my highlights are meeting different industry people, be it consultants, owners and investors. Then, the change-table sessions. I also enjoyed the panel discussion and presentations which had valuable information.

Benjamin Hu was a delegate at TOPHOTELWORLDTOUR Shanghai 2019. To attend, address or sponsor our boutique hospitality networking events around the world in 2020, contact TOPHOTELPROJECTS Head of Global Events & Conferences Kayley van der Velde.

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