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Do Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons have an IHG and Regent problem?


When I first started covering the hotel industry years ago, you’d hear the insult that big brands like Marriott International and IHG Hotels & Resorts couldn’t successfully own a luxury or lifestyle brand.

Kimpton wasn’t the same since IHG took over, cynics would jeer. The late Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson even admitted partnering with nightlife and hotel legend Ian Schrager on Edition Hotels partially because “If we opened exactly the same box without Ian … Would we have gotten the same reception from the market? I think the answer is no.”

It’s because of this that I always viewed IHG’s takeover of Six Senses and Regent with a bit of skepticism. IHG needed the ultraluxury additions to its brand lineup, but would this boost to IHG mean a weakening in luxury status for the two takeover targets?

Regent Phu Quoc. CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

After visiting three Regent properties over the last month, it certainly seems to be a new day for luxury and lifestyle over at IHG — one that indicates the hotel giant is more than capable of running ultraluxury brands. That poses a major threat to IHG competitors like Marriott, Four Seasons, Hilton and Hyatt.

“Luxury and lifestyle brands are a strategic focus for us,” said Tom Rowntree, IHG’s vice president of global luxury and lifestyle brands, at the Regent Hong Kong last month. “Part of that is important from a loyalty perspective. We have a customer base seeking that. We have our loyalty members wanting us to have these aspirational brands within our offering.”

“What I’m really excited about is, up until about 2015, InterContinental was our only luxury brand,” he said. “What we have done is we built out a portfolio of five very distinct brands.”

Kimpton, the Vignette Collection, Six Senses and Regent have all been added since then.

Regent Hong Kong. CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

What’s in store for Regent under IHG’s influence

The last two years delivered the first batch of Regent hotels where IHG was essentially involved from the start of development: Regent Phu Quoc in Vietnam, Regent Hong Kong and Carlton Cannes, a Regent Hotel, in southern France. An additional hotel, Regent Santa Monica Beach in Southern California, is slated to open next year.

Jane Mackie — senior vice president of luxury, lifestyle and premium brands at IHG — told TPG at the International Luxury Travel Market conference in Cannes earlier this month that the vibe of a Regent hotel is meant to be 50% serenity, 40% unexpected harmony and 10% decadence.

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“The decadence can be played up however a hotel wants,” Mackie said while giving property-specific experiential offerings as an example. “We don’t apologize for decadence. It’s giving the hotels permission to amp that up.”

CARLTON CANNES, A REGENT HOTEL/IHG

The hotels follow brand standards and mantras like “personal haven,” meant to provide spacious rooms that are supposed to be retreats you actually want to hang out in all day instead of just a place to sleep and shower. Guest rooms in Hong Kong and Cannes showcase incredible waterfront views with daybeds in front of the windows.

In Phu Quoc, most villas and suites feature private pools while all come with ample living and entertaining space. Regent Phu Quoc also got particularly high marks for its highly attentive staff, delicious food offerings at restaurants like Oku, a Japanese-French omakase venue, and Rice Market, home to a palatial buffet featuring everything from dumplings and banh mi to fresh-squeezed juices and pastries.

While Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai outside Hoi An is a TPG staff favorite, it’s easy to see the Regent Phu Quoc quickly attaining a similar lofty perch — especially as Phu Quoc’s airport gets more service beyond discount air carriers.

Regent’s “With Compliments” brand standard provides extras like complimentary snacks and drinks from the hotel minibar. IHG also rolled out experiential offerings like “Taste Studio” that are meant to attract a following from travelers who book a stay around a specific event.

During my stay at Regent Phu Quoc, this was displayed in the form of an art-inspired dinner with video projections across the table (adding an immersive layer to courses of lobster and marbled steak) and a musical performance by the Vietnam National Academy of Music.

“The way that we built the brand is so that it flexes and comes alive in its own unique way,” Rowntree said.

Why other brands should be worried

It wasn’t too long ago when IHG wasn’t seen in the same luxury and lifestyle category as its competitors like Marriott or Hyatt. The company reportedly lost out on an attempt to acquire Starwood before Marriott swooped in at the end of 2015.

But today, it seems like IHG has an enviable position. Its rapid ascent in the ultraluxury and lifestyle space includes the launch of new brands like the Vignette Collection and the addition of brands with smaller footprints like Regent that don’t have as much product inconsistency as, say, St. Regis or Ritz-Carlton, where our readers and reporters have found amazing hotels but also ones that that need a little refresh and renovation.

“If you want to be perceived as the best, you can’t have a lot, and you have to really hold them to the highest standards,” Mackie said of IHG’s outlook on ultraluxury.

Regent Phu Quoc. CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY

IHG isn’t immune from brand inconsistency problems, either. InterContinental Hotels & Resorts similarly has its mix of shining stars and properties in need of a little TLC. The company acknowledged this earlier this year by announcing a brand revamp for InterContinental.

But even that can be seen as a sign that IHG is taking its luxury push seriously.

As a six-time winner of “Most Improved Player” trophies over the span of my childhood Little League career, I know that label can be seen as an insult.

But in the case of IHG and its luxury division, it’s a worthy distinction anyone should be happy to receive. The initial batch of IHG-influenced Regent Hotels & Resorts proves just that.

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