Voco blends personalization with big-brand reliability

DENHAM, UNITED KINGDOM—InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has launched Voco, its new upscale brand focusing on conversion opportunities, working with high-quality individual and locally branded hotels. Voco aims to combine unique and personalized experiences with the reliability that guests expect from a large-scale brand company.

“Balancing the reliable with the different is key to the success of this brand, which is why we call our way of doing things, ‘reliably different,’” said Karin Sheppard, managing director, Europe, IHG. “For our guests, we provide them with the reliability of a trusted name above the door and a guaranteed upscale experience. We bring the ‘different’ alive by making sure we keep the individual spirit of each hotel alive. Importantly, the brand has the versatility to flex across softer hotel touchpoints and allows us to be sympathetic toward an existing hotel’s character so that becoming a Voco hotel doesn’t mean becoming one of the same. We retain and celebrate the individual spirit and elements that make an existing hotel successful.”

Sheppard explained that along with keeping the existing hotel’s individuality and integrity alive throughout the convergence process, the idea behind Voco will be embracing a wider range of asset-types. This includes “heritage” properties as well as urban and destination locations. “We take the best of what the hotel is already offering with the added layer of a highly distinctive brand identity and signature hallmarks,” she said.

For IHG’s existing upscale brands—Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo—Crowne Plaza appeals more to business travelers, while Voco is positioned to attract both business and leisure guests, adding diversity to IHG’s portfolio and growth in the upscale segment.

“It’s a segment of the industry that is only set to grow, currently worth $40 billion and is expected to grow by a further $20 billion by 2025,” said Sheppard. “Voco opens up new opportunities for growth for IHG. The brand complements our brands in the upscale segment, sitting alongside Crowne Plaza and Hotel Indigo, and allows us to unlock opportunities that we might not have been able to go after previously.”

The brand plans to open more than 200 Voco locations in the next 10 years, with one hotel already signed in Australia. The Watermark Hotel & Spa Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Australia is due to open under the Voco name in late 2018. SB&G, IHG’s long-standing partner that currently owns five other IHG hotels in Australia, is to acquire the property.

“The signing ahead of the brand launch is a testament to the strength and scale of our systems and trust in our ability to deliver great brands,” Sheppard said. “We’ve worked alongside an owner advisory board to develop this brand so we are confident that it is a compelling owner offer. Initial owner engagement has been very positive and early momentum is already building.”

Sheppard explained the rebrand process to be pragmatic and sympathetic, working closely with property owners and taking every aspect into consideration, seeing where extra investment is needed and where it will add value. She said this functions on a case-by-case basis, with every property being different with regard to location and culture.

“We want to take the best of what a hotel is already offering with the added layer of our highly distinctive brand identity and signature hallmarks,” she said. “We’ve simplified and accelerated the hotel conversion process, making it quicker and easier for owners to become part of the IHG family and driving stronger returns once they do. And, a focus on delivering our signature standards and hallmarks, means less downtime during the conversion process and missed revenue opportunities.”

What truly sets Voco apart from other IHG brands though are the unique and immersive guest experiences. These include three new “memorable moments,” including “Come on in,” where guests receive a locally curated welcome gift from reception. “Check-in sets the tone for the rest of the stay, and it’s a moment where a small, unexpected gesture can have a really memorable impact,” Sheppard said. “Guests appreciate a warm, efficient service style that makes them feel like more than just a room number.” These gifts highlight local culture and add a personal touch to an otherwise routine experience.

There’s also “Me-time,” which encourages guests to relax for themselves with cozy bedding, bathroom amenities, aerated showers, Smart TVs and WiFi. “The sleep experience in particular is an area where guests are looking for something that’s both familiar and luxurious—‘like home, but better,’” Sheppard said.

Lastly, “Voco life” introduces bar and lounge space for guests to eat and drink together at all points during the day. “Insights tell us that travelers choosing independent or smaller brand hotels are often choosing them for an occasion or a more special event. For these travelers, the bar/lounge is the ‘social hub’ of the hotel, serving many purposes across the day,” Sheppard explained. “During the morning and at breakfast time, our guests expect a great coffee experience, and will often linger and spend time to catch up and connect. Toward the afternoon, hotels are often a gathering point for friends and groups convening for a social occasion. During the evenings, guests want the option of casual, grazing, sometimes a shared food offering, a range of locally inspired options, as well as classics done differently and something to talk about afterward.” HB