Q&A: CMO, Americas of Intercontinental Hotels Group

Holiday Inn keycards

Holiday Inn has been spending the last few months reinventing its hotels. The program is part of a global re-branding and expansion that includes 1,000 new properties, a new logo and a raft of new ads. The U.S.-market spots by McCann Erickson's New York office feature NASCAR pit crews and Major League Baseball grounds maintenance crews feverishly updating a hotel room. They tout the company's plans to have all of its 3,300 global properties redesigned with things like new beds, bathroom architecture, and lobbies by next year.

Last week, Holiday Inn celebrated that it had gotten a third of the way there -- with the re-launch of its 1,200th hotel -- with an unusual card trick. The company, a division of Atlanta-based Intercontinental Hotels Group, brought famed card stacker Bryan Berg (whose work you may have seen on a Lexus car commercial some months back) to New York's South Street Seaport, where he built a 400-square-foot model Holiday Inn hotel entirely out of room-key cards. The life-sized key-card hotel, complete with guest bedroom, bathroom and lobby, also promotes "Key to Change" -- a new promotion offering a grand prize of an all-expenses-paid trip to any of one of Holiday Inn's 3,300 properties around the world.



The first 250 guests who attended the "Key Card Hotel" grand opening got a free night stay at any Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express around the world. Consumers can also visit to enter the Key to Change promotion for a chance to win free nights at a Holiday Inn.

Eric Pearson of IHG Eric Pearson, CMO, Americas of Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), spoke about the program and about the hospitality business in general with Marketing Daily.

Q: How did you get this key-card idea?

A: We all travel quite a bit and come home with key cards, so we tossed around the idea, and thought about Brian and the things he's done. We thought it was a great way to showcase the brand in an interactive way and the changes we are making. The plan is to keep it [in New York] through [Sept.] 21, then we will ship it to corporate headquarters in Atlanta.

Q: Have you done similar grassroots efforts to get out the word about Holiday Inn's re-branding and redesign?

A: We did the world's biggest bed-jump promotion in Central Park, which had events coinciding around the world in Shanghai, London, and Paris; that was another opportunity to showcase the fact that we are rolling out major changes. So this is the next installment; we are over a third of the way through our journey to re-launch and refresh.

Q: Does Holiday Inn have its sights on growth markets?

A: Obviously, growth markets vary around the world. The U.S. continues to be a growth market. We have 2,700 properties in the Americas alone. And China is a growth market for us as well. Now more than ever, in this economy, consumers are looking for value. Not just leisure consumers, but corporate travelers as well. IHG and Holiday Inn are benefiting because we dominate in that segment, and also because we are going through our relaunch. People ask, "Why now; why not wait [to relaunch] until the economy improves?" Because, ironically, this is the best time to go through this transition, because now consumers are expecting and looking for value. It's the perfect time.

Q: How do you measure how effective the relaunch has been so far?

A: We measure two big things: How well our hotels perform overall and customer feedback. Our hotels that have gone through conversion are experiencing a 5% improvement [in customer feedback and performance]. The hospitality industry has had one of the worst years on record, but we have seen performance improve on our converted hotels. And we are seeing improvement in overall customer satisfaction.

Q: Now that you have been running the NASCAR and MLB ads, what's next?

A: Phase one was to let consumers know that Holiday Inn is going through a change. Now, as we get to critical mass, we will really reinforce the experience and detail the specific product improvements we are making in online, TV and print. The whole intention is to begin to drive trial -- to get consumers to think of it as their next hotel stay, since we think the product speaks for itself.

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