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Angela Brav interview: IHG hotels pledge to ‘up their game' in food and beverage

17 March 2016 by

Angela Brav, chief executive, Europe, InterContinental Hotels Group, talks about the company's partnership with chef Theo Randall, the growth of the company following the sale of its last hotel and hopes of a new brand for the UK with Janet Harmer at IHIF in Berlin

Properties within the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) portfolio are to "up their game" in food and beverage in the coming year, led by the launch of a new Italian brand from chef Theo Randall.

The opening of Theo's Simple Italian in the 100-bedroom Hotel Indigo in Kensington, London, follows the recent refurbishment of Theo Randall's restaurant at IHG's flagship property, InterContinental London Park Lane, to celebrate the chef's 10-year tenure at the hotel.

Theo's Simple Italian offers a lighter and more straightforward version of Randall's Park Lane restaurant and is a concept that could be introduced into other Hotel Indigo properties if, according to Angela Brav, chief executive, Europe at IHG, it is right for the owner and location of the hotel.

Talking to The Caterer during last week's International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin, Brav said IHG is working harder at making improvements in the food and beverage offering across all of its brands, of which it has six in the UK across 313 hotels: InterContinental, Crown Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Staybridge Suites.

Brav, in particular, pointed towards the £3.5m investment by Kew Green Hotels in developing a burger and craft beer restaurant concept called Stock Burger Co in the 126-bedroom Holiday Inn Brighton. Kew Green owns and operates the hotel under a franchise agreement with IHG.

Stock Burger Co serves burgers made from 28-day-aged Glenarm Shorthorn beef, sourced from Hannan Meats in Northern Ireland, and craft beer supplied by Brighton Brewery Naked Beer Co. It was developed by Wayne Horo, director of food and beverage concept development Europe, IHG, and Mick Newton, director of food and beverage development at Kew Green Hotels.

"The concept has proved enormously successful so far and is really serving the best burgers," said Brav. "It is proving to be meeting people's needs. Could it be launched into every Holiday Inn? No, but I believe in some locations it would be perfect."

Brav said that hotel restaurants that don't pull in trade from the local community are no longer viable. "It is critical that we have food and beverage offerings that are relevant to both hotel guests and diners from outside the hotel, such as Theo's Simple Italian and Stock Burger Co," she explained.

When it comes to offering facilities that are more relevant to today's guests, Brav said that the open lobby concept, which is currently being installed into all 660 Holiday Inns across Europe, is both offering something that the local community is embracing, but is also bringing to life what was an under-used area of the hotels.

"The lobby was often empty through the day, which was not efficient within what is often an expensive piece of real estate. Now we have created a space where there is greater interaction between people and where food is served all day long."

After Holiday Inn and Hotel Indigo, the next brand to receive an overhaul of its food and beverage offer will be Crowne Plaza. No decision has been taken on what its positioning will be, but Brav said that she likes what has been done at the Crowne Plaza Gerrards Cross, which opened last year under a franchise agreement with the Cairn Hotel Group.

The 1269 Restaurant & Bar at the hotel specialises in 28-day-aged Buccleuch Estate beef, cooked on a Josper grill, and pairs food with a selection of more than 60 whiskies.

Growth in Europe is focused on the UK, Germany and Russia, primarily through the Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Hotel Indigo brands. There are currently 26 hotels in the pipeline in the UK and 113 in total across Europe.

The pipeline includes the first Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants-branded hotel for Europe in 2017, with the conversion of the 270-bedroom Crowne Plaza Amsterdam City Centre. IHG acquired the boutique Kimpton brand, which numbers 61 hotels worldwide, in January 2015 for £275m.

"We are in talks with owners about the opening of nine Kimpton hotels in Europe," said Brav, who also confirmed that London, Paris and Munich are just three of the cities under discussion. "Lifestyle and boutique hotels are the fastest-growing segment of the market and we are delighted that we now have two brands in that space - Hotel Indigo in the upper-upscale segment and Kimpton in the luxury segment."

Kimpton could be developed by the conversion of existing IHG hotels in both historic and contemporary buildings. While London is the focus in the UK, Brav said it could "stretch its legs" beyond the capital.

InterContinental opens second hotel in London

The flagship InterContinental brand now has two hotels again in the capital following the opening earlier this year of the 452-bedroom InterContinental London - The O2, at a cost of £121m, joining the 447-bedroom InterContinental London Park Lane. The loss to the IHG portfolio of the InterContinental Westminster (owned by Supreme Hotels and now rebranded as the Conrad London St James under a franchise agreement with Hilton Worldwide) in 2015, less than two years after the hotel launched, was explained by Brav as a "parting of the ways".

"There was a lot of talk at the time of the hotel being too close to the Park Lane property," she said. "The hotel was franchised and we don't generally franchise the InterContinental brand - we like to manage it directly ourselves."

However, the InterContinental London - The O2 is owned and operated under a 25-year franchise agreement with Arora Hotels, headed by Surinder Arora. "Surinder has experience of running luxury hotels through his franchise agreements with AccorHotels and two Sofitel properties," explains Brav. "The general manager of the hotel attends all our internal training seminars to ensure consistency of the brand.

"We believe the hotel will be a great success, providing accommodation for guests attending the O2 as well as being a great location for events and training with extensive conference facilities. It's not easy to drive to the hotel, but once you get there, it is a good location to keep everyone together."

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