IHG Hotels & Resorts ended 2023 with plenty to brag about — roaringly successful openings for its Regent brand in the south of France and Hong Kong, a planned refresh of the storied InterContinental brand, and a hefty pipeline of new hotels to add to its ultraluxury Six Senses brand.
But there was a bit of wistfulness to be had, too. Many of those hotels are outside the U.S., and some in the travel orbit — present company included — couldn’t help but wonder if any of this high-end halo from IHG would ever shine on American shores.
The company’s new CEO of the Americas is here to say it most certainly will.
“Growth is our agenda, globally as well as here in the Americas,” said Jolyon Bulley, IHG’s CEO of the Americas, in an interview with TPG at last month’s Americas Lodging Investment Summit.
Bringing ultraluxury to the US
Bulley notes IHG’s newer “mainstream” brands like Avid, Atwell Suites and the recently launched Garner are likely to see the most growth in terms of new hotel count. But luxury brands like Regent, Six Senses and InterContinental — which has an overall brand “evolution” underway — still play a very important role for IHG.
“[Luxury] creates halo for our portfolio of brands, and it creates experiences across the world, which we believe will be unique to those brands as well,” Bulley said. “Growing in all segments is really important. Growing our loyalty customers is really important but [so is] being very thoughtful in regards to where we distribute our brands: 1— in the markets where we know that customers are and 2— in the markets where we can attract customers from their source.”
For a while, IHG topped out at InterContinental on the luxury front while its bread and butter in terms of brand recognition were more affordable brands like Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. But the company punched through the ultraluxury ceiling in recent years thanks to acquisitions of Six Senses and Regent, bringing a new swath of very high-end travelers into its orbit.
Former IHG CEO Keith Barr likened the company’s brand building in recent years to filling in the rungs of a ladder: A partnership with Iberostar enabled IHG to provide its loyalty members with options in the increasingly popular all-inclusive space.
Launching the Vignette Collection tapped into the growing orbit of high-end “soft brands,” a collection of hotels that reside in a company’s reservation and loyalty network but have far more independence in terms of design and amenities compared to a hard brand like InterContinental.
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Many of the high-profile luxury openings that have taken place following the Six Senses and Regent acquisitions and under IHG’s tutelage include Regent Hong Kong, Regent Phu Quoc and Carlton Cannes, a Regent Hotel. Six Senses Ibiza, Six Senses Rome and Six Senses Crans-Montana in Switzerland have been some of the high-profile openings for the wellness-oriented brand in the last couple of years.
U.S. IHG loyalists might feel a tad left out since, well, none of those are exactly a short-haul flight away. But good things come to those who wait.
Bulley not only knows the U.S. — he previously served as chief operating officer for the region — he also knows luxury and was previously CEO of IHG’s Greater China region, which encompasses many cities where Regent and Six Senses thrive as renowned ultraluxury brands.
The first Six Senses in the Americas is slated to open later this year in Grenada while Regent Santa Monica, a highly anticipated return of the brand to the U.S., is expected to open its doors sometime this summer.
While a Six Senses is no longer in the immediate future for New York City, there is one in the works to the north in the Hudson River Valley. Six Senses Napa Valley is expected to open in 2026 along with Six Senses Xala on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
Expect more from each ultraluxury brand.
“Regent is a priority. The opening in Santa Monica will help reintroduce it [to the U.S.],” Bulley said. “Regent is about getting into the key city locations, and some of those are difficult because the barriers of entry are high, either in construction or conversions. But our priority with Regent is to have an urban play and, where the opportunity allows it, in a much more niche resort area. Whereas it’s contrasted with Six Senses, which is much more in leisure resort, iconic destinations and then potentially some selected urban destinations.”
InterContinental gets a little nip and tuck
Regent and Six Senses might be the shiny new ultraluxury darlings of the IHG portfolio, but the company is underway with a brand refresh at InterContinental. In the Americas, that has meant renovations of InterContinental properties in Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C.
“We called our InterContinental refresh ‘Elevate,’ and that’s elevating the physical product of the brand and elevating the guest experience, elevating the reputation, elevating the marketing and areas where we will build that reputation,” Bulley said.
New hotels in San Diego and Houston as well as an upcoming opening just outside Seattle signal InterContinental still very much plays a role in IHG’s offerings for those with hefty travel budgets. The brand also debuted a new resort in Dominica last year while an InterContinental in Grenada, near the upcoming Six Senses La Sagesse, is slated to open next year.
“Owners have come out of the pandemic. They’ve committed to the brand. They understand what our brand strategy is, so we’re very fortunate to have that,” Bulley said. “Plus, with the new InterContinentals opening, that’s going to make a big difference to the overall legacy and reputation of the brand in the U.S.”
Future opportunities with IHG One Rewards
IHG revamped its IHG One Rewards loyalty program in 2022 and added perks like free breakfast for top-tier elites and milestone rewards. But don’t think IHG is done tinkering around with the program.
Similar to their competitors, IHG sees opportunity to offer more to those with the highest status. But that’s going to have to mean far more than just free breakfast at the Crowne Plaza.
“We’re also working on our luxury and lifestyle mindset because the mainstream customer is about earning points and redeeming points. They can go all the way up through the Six Senses or they can stay at the brand they like,” Bulley said. “The luxury customer is more about experience and recognition and less on the points. How we skew the program to accommodate that category is some of the work we’re doing.”
While there might be a lot of attention on Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt in terms of luxury and lifestyle hotels, IHG still has plenty of bragging rights on its own here. Kimpton is seen as the founding player in the boutique hotel movement, and the brand is clearly evolving as boutique hotels are now better known as “lifestyle hotels” — those that lean into bespoke design as well as bars and restaurants that locals and guests alike want to frequent.
TPG did a bit of a Kimpton hop ahead of ALIS, spending a night at the Kimpton Everly Hotel in Hollywood and dining at Ladyhawk by Charbel Hayek, a restaurant at the Kimpton La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood. Based on the crowds, it doesn’t appear as though Kimpton has a hard time winning over the locals of Southern California.
The Kimpton Everly featured a winter chalet experience with fun cocktails like iced martinis alongside spoonfuls of caviar. Throw in live music on a Saturday night, and the party seemed to never end (but was also soundproofed and contained to downstairs while I could get a nice bit of time with my book in the soaking tub and shut eye while trying to get on West Coast time).
Ladyhawk at the Kimpton La Peer was a feast of Mediterranean fare like grilled octopus — when the waitress said it was the best in town, I scoffed. Upon sampling, I began to see she might have a point — and a za’atar man’oushe comprised of 48-hour fermented dough and topped with tomatoes, labneh and herbs. As you can tell, this isn’t just shoehorning a restaurant with some local beers into the lobby and trying to pass this off as a place locals could go.
Both properties had destination dining and events that show Kimpton isn’t just resting on its laurels as the birthplace of cool hotel vibes.
Both hotels also had chic rooftop and courtyard bars that I was already envisioning as places where we might see a “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” scene take place one day. After all, who doesn’t love a negroni with a side of Erika Jayne-Sutton Stracke melodrama and a chic lifestyle hotel as the backdrop?
Though, I don’t know if IHG sees that as quite the selling point that I do.