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The BIG Interview: Matt Luscombe, chief commerical officer, IHG Europe

Zoe 13 December 2013

Matt LuscombeMatt Luscombe, chief commercial officer, Europe, InterContinental Hotels Group, explains how hard work and dedication go into making the internationally acclaimed brand a success

I started my career in consulting and joined IHG to help define the company’s global strategy – building its brands, talented people and delivery systems – soon after it became a global standalone hotel company listed on the UK and US stock markets 10 years ago. I loved the company and the industry and so I stayed on, working first in operations and eventually running our European Franchise business for almost five years. I now run IHG’s sales and marketing across the Europe region, with responsibility for our brands and our commercial performance across Europe, which I’ve done for the last three years.

We have more than 600 hotels open across Europe and nearly 100 more in the pipeline, across a number of diverse countries, each with its own rich culture and qualities. Ensuring that every one of those hotels delivers an outstanding and consistent experience, and that it’s outperforming the competition, across so many different cities and countries, is both a great challenge and a great honour. It is one of the reasons that the neighbourhood story concept at the heart of our successful new Hotel Indigo brand fits well into European cities, as each hotel is designed to brings to life the unique, vibrant culture, character and history of its surrounding neighbourhood.

Ultimately, my job is to create fantastic, memorable and special experiences for our guests, whenever and wherever they stay with us.

We listen closely to our guests and work hard to enrich and improve what our hotel offer to meet their needs. For example, our guests told us repeatedly how important it is to be able to connect with their loved ones when travelling away from home. So, with the launch of our enhanced and renamed loyalty programme IHG Rewards Club, we built in new benefits that they want most including free internet access. We are the first and only hotel group to have offered free internet, globally, to all loyalty programme members.

We are also experts at creating and shaping brands specifically to meet our consumers’ needs: Hotel Indigo was the industry’s first branded boutique and was based on our insight that savvy individualists value a boutique hotel experience and enjoy feeling connected to the neighbourhood where they’re staying; Hualuxe Hotels & Resorts is the first upscale international travel brand aimed at the Chinese traveller, and our new EVEN Hotels are designed around wellness for those that want to stay active and eat well when travelling.

With more than 4,600 hotels around the world, in over 100 countries and territories, the scale and diversity of IHG’s trusted family of brands offers advantages that no other hotel company can match.

IHG is an interesting combination of new – the company has only existed for eleven years – and old. We operate some of the longest-standing, largest and most famous hotel brands in the world, including 60 years of Holiday Inn, 66 years of InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and 30 years of Crowne Plaza.

Although the IHG brand is very well known in the hotel industry and within the investment community, there is still work to be done to help our guests make the link between our different hotel brands. Our 10th anniversary this year gives us the opportunity to do just that – celebrating the innovation, reliability and integrity that are at the heart of IHG, and strengthening the link between the nine brands in our portfolio.

We’ve also started to put more emphasis on communicating our family of brands under the IHG umbrella, and you’ll see more of that in our advertising going forwards. In July, we re-launched our loyalty programme which is the largest in the world with its new name, IHG Rewards Club – a badge of responsibility, trust and confidence for our growing family of brands.

As well as IHG Rewards Club, we are using the IHG brand as an endorser in all of our communications to help reinforce the breadth of the brand family and drive preference. We hope this move will encourage our members to stay at different brands across our portfolio, increasing our cross-sell revenue.

I’m proud that IHG is not just known for its hotel brands, but is also well-recognised as an award-winning employer of choice and a trusted, consistent partner to individuals, businesses and communities. We came third in the 2013 Sunday Times 25 Best Big Companies to Work For, and we have just announced the signing of our latest three IHG Academies – our programme which provides motivated, engaged people to work in our hotels.

Last year, we commissioned an independent report from The Futures Company to identify the main insights set to shape and impact travel over the next ten years so that we can continue to innovate, unlock new opportunities for growth and drive our business forward.

The report identified a number of emerging categories of travellers such as ‘laptop and latte workers’, a new breed of business traveller who is often young and for whom the typical nine to five working environment and business centre atmosphere is a thing of the past. They prefer creative coffee house-style environments where they can be inspired by meeting other travellers while they work on their own laptops and smartphones. Understanding and meeting these emerging needs is critical, such as with our new free internet offering for IHG Rewards Club Elite members and with the new ‘open lobby’ concept that we’ve introduced in a number of Holiday Inn hotels which transforms the front desk, business centre and lounge into one open integrated space for everyone to enjoy.

The online hotel experience has also been developing exponentially. We’re focused on innovation that allows us to leverage technology to deliver a superior guest experience. Our mobile strategy that enables guests to check into a hotel using a mobile device has been very successful. In just three years, our revenues from mobile device bookings globally have grown from $2.4m in 2009 to more than $300m in 2012, helping us to win share as guests change the way they book hotels.

While the macroeconomic climate in many parts of Europe has been challenging for our industry, 2012 and the first half of 2013 have been excellent for IHG in Europe and demonstrates that there are opportunities for the industry to perform strongly in the right markets with the right experience for our guests.

The UK continues to be one of the most important markets in the European hotel industry. In 2012, we grew the number of signings YOY and we also opened the InterContinental London-Westminster, our first new InterContinental Hotel in London in more than 36 years.

In important, emerging hotel markets, such as Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, there is a significant opportunity in the midscale segment and amongst business travellers – a need that Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express are perfectly set up to meet.

We have the resources and systems to do what no hotel could do on its own – offer targeted campaigns based on guest preferences, marketed to the right audience, with the right message. Our goal is to strike the perfect balance between our company’s scale and global potential with our brands’ industry-leading local market relevance. This communications strategy ensures our communications remain relevant and personal to our consumers.

In September we launched our first integrated campaign to support our thriving Holiday Inn Express brand in its key growth markets in Europe – the UK and Germany. Launched in 1991, the Holiday Inn Express brand is one of the largest and fastest growing brands in the hotel industry, opening hotels at a rate of two per week on average. The new campaign is designed to appeal to smart travellers, offering them a great night’s rest while helping them to be productive on the go.

Our priority at IHG is to deliver brands that are preferred by our guests, and we often talk about doing that by making our brands ‘bigger, better and stronger’. By bigger, we will improve the footprint of hotels we have across key cities in Europe – we’re the second largest hotel company in the region by number of rooms, but there’s still a huge opportunity for growth. By better, we will ensure that every one of our brands continues to innovate and delight our guests, and every one of our hotels continues to deliver on our brand promise. By stronger, we will reinvest in our brands, spending more on innovation, more on marketing and more on the commercial support that enables our hotels to thrive and our guests to have the very best experience every time they stay with us.