IHG Hotels and Resorts is rapidly expanding with recent deals such as Holiday Inns in Riyadh’s Olaya District and Khobar, and Intercontinental Resort Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. These ventures are a testament to the company’s growth trajectory, fueled by favorable market conditions.
In this interview with Haitham Mattar, Managing Director, IMEA, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Economy Middle East delves into the core strategies employed by the company to revitalize the hospitality and tourism markets, as well as explore technology and sustainability trends shaping the industry.
What is your perspective on the current state of the hospitality industry globally, and in the Middle East specifically?
Over the past year, our hotels worldwide, including those in the Middle East, experienced a substantial increase in business due to a consistent rise in occupancy rates. This year, we are observing a similar trend, as travel continues to be a top priority for many individuals.
Several countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, are presently undergoing significant changes to diversify their economies and enhance their tourism offerings for a diverse range of global audiences. In response to this increasing demand, we are committed to accelerating our growth and expanding our presence in the region.
What steps have you taken to incorporate sustainability practices into your operations?
We embrace the responsibility and opportunity to create a constructive impact and contribute to shaping the future of responsible tourism. In 2021, we introduced a 10-year action plan named “Journey to Tomorrow,” aimed at generating a positive impact on our employees, communities, and the environment.
During the upcoming decade, we will prioritize reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption, eradicating single-use products, or seeking recyclable alternatives, minimizing food waste, and collaborating with regional stakeholders to address water sustainability challenges.
How does the hospitality industry respond to changes in consumer spending patterns during times of economic uncertainty?
We will always face macroeconomic challenges that require navigation. However, despite significant sector disruptions, we have returned to pre-pandemic levels of performance in many markets and forecast increasing demand in the years to come.
To address recent challenges, we have utilized trends such as staycations and weekend leisure travel demand by implementing targeted campaigns and promotions across multiple categories. Furthermore, IHG offers various brands across different segments with price points catering to different guest profiles; from those seeking luxurious experiences to others looking for smart, efficient stays.
In addition to implementing hygiene and safety protocols, we have also developed hotel recovery toolkits and targeted marketing campaigns. We maintain regular communication with our GMs and owners, provide financial and operational guidance, and offer a range of measures to help reduce costs and preserve cash.
What role do government policy and regulation play in shaping the performance of the hospitality industry?
In the Middle East, we collaborate with governments, trade bodies, and peers to safeguard the interests of its people, hotels, owners, and the industry as a whole.
IHG’s CEO, Keith Barr, is a member of the Executive Committee of the World Travel & Tourism Council and, together with other senior leaders at IHG, regularly participates in prominent conferences to encourage the travel industry and governments to collaborate for the common good. In November 2022, Keith attended the WTTC’s Global Summit in Riyadh, along with government ministers and a select group of industry leaders to discuss the importance of cooperation between the public and private sectors, and investment in sustainability, talent, and connectivity between destinations.
Following the launch of Journey to Tomorrow in 2021 and our White Paper on transitioning hotels to net-zero carbon, we shared our findings with peers to promote industry-wide decarbonization. Additionally, we are currently engaged in discussions with governments across EMEAA.
Read more: Will 2023 tourist numbers in Dubai surpass pre-pandemic levels?
Is Egypt an important market for IHG as you expand?
The Egyptian government’s global marketing drive is expected to further increase tourist flow in the next few years and support occupancy rates.
Egypt is a year-round destination that attracts a diverse mix of leisure and corporate travelers. New projects in the gas, petroleum, transportation, and telecommunications sectors are also boosting the inflow of business travelers.
In addition, government investments, including the new national museum and the opening of new international airports, are expected to drive continued growth in the country. Megaprojects such as the New Administrative Capital, resorts development on the North Coast, and mixed-use master plans contribute to the country’s business and tourism offerings.
We recently opened our first Crowne Plaza hotel in Egypt and announced the debut of our lifestyle brand, Hotel Indigo, across several cities. We also signed agreements for other brands, including InterContinental, voco, and Holiday Inn.
Have your investments in technology generated better returns in terms of bookings and client loyalty?
In today’s world of seamless experiences, our digital capabilities are essential for our guests and owners.
IHG Concerto, our cloud-based platform, is critical to the work we’re doing in this space, serving as the foundation for much of how we’re creating digital advantages. It allows us to integrate core hotel applications into one powerful platform, delivering enhanced guest, owner, and colleague experiences. With regular releases of new functionality, Concerto enables us to scale and innovate quickly.
Guests can seamlessly select add-ons and tailor their stays, and pricing adjusts based on selected attributes. Customers will be able to see whether a room has additional square footage or an excellent view when they book and choose the best option to suit their needs. We have also developed a next-generation mobile app to provide a superior guest experience.
What specific qualifications and experience do you bring with you?
I have more than 25 years of experience and have had the opportunity to work across hospitality, destination marketing, and the public sector in the Middle East. The tourism sector and hospitality industries are intertwined and are dependent on each other. Both require a strong focus on customer service and an ability to deliver high-quality experiences that meet and exceed guest expectations. I’ve seen how a strong hotel sector can create memorable travel experiences for guests and elevate the profile of a destination.
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