Breaking Travel News interview: Gerardo Murray, vice president, distribution, Mexico, Latin America
InterContinental Hotels & Resorts was recently recognised Mexico & Central America’s Leading Hotel Brand by the World Travel Awards, with Breaking Travel News editor Chris O’Toole here chatting with IHG vice president Gerardo Murray to discover what separates the company from the competition.
Breaking Travel News: Perhaps we could begin with an overview of the past few months for InterContinental Hotel Group in Central and South America? Are there any key openings you are keen to share with our readers?
Gerardo Murray: IHG Latin America has had a very busy year.
In January, we opened the Holiday Inn Express Marilia in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In March, we opened the modern Crowne Plaza Panama Airport, which is the first branded Crowne Plaza property in Latin America to be built less than a mile away from an airport.
Colombia has experienced the most exciting growth in the region with a number of additions in 2015.
These include the InterContinental Cartagena de Indias; The Holiday Inn Cucuta (the first Holiday Inn in that city); the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Bogota Zona Financiera; and the Holiday Inn Express Cartagena Bocagrande.
Colombia is indeed a ‘hot-spot’ for development in the region.
As of now, in 2016 we have plans to open seven hotels throughout Central and South America, including a Crowne Plaza in Buenos Aires, Holiday Inn properties in Brazil, a Holiday Inn Express in Barranquilla Colombia and an InterContinental in Santo Domingo.
Mexico is a key market for IHG and it has experienced tremendous growth in 2015. We opened seven mid-scale and extended stay IHG properties in Mexico, but we expect Mexico to grow even more in 2016 with more than 15 hotels in the pipeline.
BTN: Which markets do you see growing most rapidly in 2016? Brazil and Argentina seem to be entering a period of economic slowdown, for example, while Mexico is on the up? Where do you see the brightest future for the hospitality sector?
GM: Indeed Mexico is on the up and we anticipate positive, consistent growth.
While Brazil is having its economic challenges, we still see great opportunity in the country, in particular for our midscale brands, for which there is still not sufficient supply to meet the country’s Gdemand, particularly in secondary and tertiary cities.
We are hopeful that Argentina will begin to enter a period of recovery and consequently afford us new opportunities throughout that process, as investment confidence increases in the hotel sector.
Since our view has always been long-term, something our owners appreciate, we have learned to benefit from these cycles and create opportunities from them.
With that being said, we have strong line development plans, such as doubling our size in Colombia, and in Mexico we have more than two dozen hotels in the process of opening within the next 30 months.
IHG is the largest hotel company in Mexico, with 131 hotels and 20,684 rooms open and there is still room for growth.
Thanks to the confidence of owners/franchisees who invest in our brands, we provide many options to diversify their hotel products, providing opportunities from resorts to pure-business destinations.
This is one of our hallmarks.
IHG’s commitment towards the owners is to provide unparalleled expertise, and value their business relationship, coupled with the opportunities for solid returns on their investments, which makes them loyal to IHG.
BTN: Which segments of the market do you see developing? Are you keen to focus on the luxury end of the scale, or are you focusing on expanding those brands in the middle of your portfolio?
GM: While Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean each provide vast opportunities for our brands, there is no doubt that as a whole, our midscale brands are the fastest-growing in the region.
Travellers who look to these brands, such as our Holiday Inn family of brands, understand the value proposition, and look for properties that are modern, clean and uncomplicated.
These mid-scale brands are ideal for both business and leisure travellers therefore appealing to a wider market, in particular the growing middle-class segment that has helped shape the region’s economy.
However, we are also looking at developing hotels for the luxury and the discerning traveller looking for unique and authentic experiences in new destinations.
As I mentioned earlier we just opened the InterContinental Cartagena de Indias and we will soon be opening the InterContientnal Santo Domingo.
BTN: I note the Staybridge Suites brand is expanding in Mexico, with the opening of a new property in Puebla? Do you see this long-stay option growing in significance for IHG in the region?
GM: We see great potential for the Staybridge Suites extended stay brand, particularly in locations like Mexico with growing, evolving economies.
As intra-regional travel increases, more businesses opening, the need for the extended stay product will continue to grow and evolve.
I anticipate very positive demand for extended stay products over the next five to ten years in countries like Mexico, who are ever-evolving centres of economic growth, attracting regional headquarter companies and similar organisations that would have a need for this wonderful product.
The Staybridge Suites brand is also ideal for families, as it offers a residential-style environment that is convenient and adaptable to those needs.
BTN: InterContinental Hotels & Resorts was recently recognised Mexico & Central America’s Leading Hotel Brand by the World Travel Awards. Can you tell us how it feels to have taken this title, and how useful you think accolades of this nature are in building the IHG brand in the region?
GM: It is a tremendous honour for the InterContinental Hotels & Resorts brand to be named the Leading Hotel Brand in Mexico and Central America for the fifth time.
This recognition highlights our commitment to providing our guests with extraordinary experiences each and every time they stay with us.
We believe that we have secured many loyal guests that love everything we offer including the IHG Rewards Club program.
With IHG Rewards Club program, guests can earn access to the wide breadth of offerings, including free nights at our more than 4,700 hotels worldwide, airline tickets with our more than 40 affiliated airlines, mobile-check-in and true personalized service; not just at our InterContinental hotels but at all of our varying hotel brands.
Additionally, InterContinental Hotels is the international hotel brand with the longest history in the industry that was born in Latin America in 1946.
It has continuously evolved into one of the region’s great brands, with grand significance in each country in which it has a presence.
InterContinental Hotels & Resorts connects well-travelled guests to what’s special about a destination, so they enjoy authentic experiences that enrich lives on an international scale.
There are currently 182 InterContinental worldwide and 28 InterContinental locations across Latin America, the Caribbean and Mexico. So yes, we were extremely happy and proud of this great honour.