Q and A with Colleen Keating IHG

IHG has a new COO of the Americas, and she’s not one to sit behind a desk. Colleen Keating has been meeting with owners across the region, asking them about the challenges and opportunities they’re presented with on a daily basis.

Appointed in March, she began her role at IHG in April, bringing with her more than 25 years of operational leadership experience. She most recently served as operations EVP for Davidson Hotels & Resorts, and prior to that, she held management and sales leadership roles in several hotels for Starwood, Omni Hotels & Resorts, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Crowne Plaza.

Hotel Business sat down with the executive—who’s now overseeing operations for more than 3,800 IHG hotels across the United States and Canada—at this month’s NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York City to find out her goals for the year ahead.

What about IHG caught your attention? I wasn’t looking to make a career change when I was first presented with the potential opportunity to join IHG. In the process of exploring the role, I quickly uncovered the strength of IHG’s winning strategy, got to know the powerhouse portfolio of brands better, and discovered the special culture that exists here that convinced me that this was the right role at the right time at the right organization.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be joining the organization. IHG is delivering on its growth strategy, surpassing a landmark of one million rooms open and in the pipeline. With more than 5,300 hotels and 1,700 in pipeline, we have over 7,000 hotels open and under development worldwide across 13 highly differentiated mainstream, upscale and luxury brands.

What’s been your focus during your first couple of months at IHG? I have been traveling extensively across the U.S. and Canada to get to know our owners and colleagues, and to get to know our brands better through their eyes. Owners are one of our most important partners, and it’s been helpful to hear directly from them on the challenges and opportunities we jointly face to ensure IHG hotels deliver true hospitality to guests while delivering strong return for owners.

I have also spent time in IHG hotels across many markets. Colleagues in our hotels are the ones delivering on our brand promise—so spending time with them will continue to be a priority.

Where do you believe hotel operations can be improved? How do you plan to keep IHG aligned with your standards? Excellence in operations is what fuels our growth. We have to be laser-focused on bringing our brands to life in a way that enhances the esteem of the brand, guest experience, colleague pride and owner value proposition. When we deliver on this, we increase revenue, share of wallet, market share and our loyalty contribution—which, in turn, enhances owner returns. This leads to further growth—more IHG hotels in more markets where our guests want to be.

Why did you get into the hospitality space? My journey began in college when I went to school during the day and got my first job in hospitality at night. I quickly discovered my passion for working side by side with colleagues who had a shared commitment to serving others. I love the energy and pace of working in hotels and the fact that no day is ever the same. I’m able to be creative and innovative, and it’s provided an amazing career path for me.

What did you learn early on in your career that’s stayed with you to this day? I quickly learned the importance of building a blue-ribbon team, having the best talent and treating people well. Building a high-performing team with the right talent is the most important thing I can do as a leader. In fact, I keep a construction hat in my office as a constant reminder of the importance of my responsibility as a builder of teams.

I’m also a big believer in having the courage to take risks and be innovative. I routinely share a plaque with colleagues that says, “What would you attempt to do if you could not fail?”

What are some of your goals for the next year? Broadly, we must continue to elevate the performance of IHG hotels. Specifically, we are focused on a successful launch of Avid Hotels this year. We will open the first Avid in Oklahoma City in Q3 of this year. We also must continue to build on the strong momentum behind our Formula Blue design rollout at Holiday Inn Express hotels; our ongoing design evolution of Holiday Inn with our H4 design; and our multiyear initiatives that are driving performance of our Crowne Plazas. At the same time, we will continue to drive the growth of our lifestyle and luxury portfolio.

Why is hiring so difficult for many properties these days? Hotel colleagues should have a passion for taking care of others, a curiosity and desire to learn, demonstrate good judgment and instinctively do what’s right. Finding that person today can be a challenge, considering today’s environment—unemployment is at historic lows, and there are more open jobs today than unemployed people. On top of that, we face the challenge of staffing a 24/7 operation. While hotels are competing with other industries in recruiting and compensating for entry-level roles, one of the rare gifts of our industry is that people can start in an entry-level role early in their career and grow to very senior executive levels within our industry—not a claim many other industries can make.

You stay active in your community. Why is this important to you? I’m a firm believer that we have a moral obligation as individuals to support our communities. I feel fortunate to be able to have a career that I love and feel compelled to give back. Hotels are a part of the fabric of the cities and towns in which they operate, and it’s our responsibility to be actively engaged in supporting those communities. HB