By Colleen Isherwood
TORONTO/MONTREAL — Colleen Keating, who recently became COO of IHG, sat down with another Colleen [Isherwood — remarkable only because there aren't that many of us] at Toronto's new Kimpton Hotel last month. They discussed Keating's Canadian connections, her familiarization tour of IHG properties, and her vision for her new role.
At the time, Keating had been on the job for just over three months. “What I've enjoyed most is travelling a lot, seeing our hotels and meeting our colleagues and owners. I'm getting to know IHG's specific portfolio of brands — looking at ways to bring those brands to life. I've spent a lot of time in Canada — this is my second trip in 90 days!”
Keating most recently served as EVP of operations for Davidson Hotels & Resorts. Prior to that, she spent 17 years with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, rising to the position of SVP franchise operations, North America. She was with IHG for three years before that — 1997 to 2000, as director of sales and marketing for Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, in Warwick, Rhode Island.
In her new role at IHG, Keating will
be responsible for leading the operations for 3,800 IHG hotels across the U.S.
and Canada, further strengthening and cultivating relationships with owners,
and overseeing franchisee performance support. As part of IHG's Americas Regional Leadership Team, Keating is based in Atlanta, at IHG's regional headquarters.
Her first Canadian trip as COO was to the Toronto Owners' Summit; and her second was to Toronto and Montreal. In Montreal, she visited the InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express.
“It was great to see and experience our portfolio in Montreal and meet our colleagues,” she said, adding that she had responsibility for Montreal in one of her prior roles. She met with a representative of Tourism Montreal, and was interested in how much business has changed, in terms of both the feeder markets and the convention landscape.
“Canada is one of IHG's top 10 priority markets, with more than 180 hotels, including the first Kimpton in Toronto,” she said. “Canada is a great growth market for us.”
Keating told CLN her experience with Davidson Hotels and Resorts gave her a franchisee perspective, as Davidson is one of the most pre-eminent U.S. third party management companies in the upper upscale segment, operating on behalf of franchisees.
At Starwood, she started in sales and marketing, and got deep top-line experience as general manager, area manager and regional manager, managing Starwood's largest region. Her many years with Starwood gave her experience working with a global hotel company of scale.
One of the interesting entries on her C.V. is time spent as an executive committee member
and chair of the Massachusetts Lodging Association and on the board of
management trustees for Unite HERE Local 26, among many other boards and
“I served as chair for a number of years,” she told CLN. Part of that position entailed work with The Massachusetts Lodging Association Education Foundation (MLAEF), which provides a wide variety of educational resources and programming to develop a qualified hospitality workforce.
Keating said she was drawn to IHG for three reasons. First, she was inspired by the company's growth strategy. Second, she believes the company has a remarkable portfolio of highly differentiated brands. And third, she feels that IHG's great culture enables them to attract top talent to deliver great experiences and drive owner returns.
As a child, Keating spent family vacations with her relatives in Ontario — her dad went to prep school and the first few years of college at University of Toronto. She has relatives in Kitchener, London and Chatham, Ontario. She planned to get together with her father while she was in Canada.
Building a blue-ribbon team
Keating set out three priorities for her new job: talent, operational excellence and brands.
“Talent is the No. 1, most important responsibility. I want to build a blue-ribbon team — blue ribbon meaning the very best — and give them an environment where they can flourish and reach their full potential.” By that she means that when they develop and hire people, they will focus on talent, provide the tools of support and respect, and be culturally sensitive. “It's all about us getting to know the new team, and giving them the resources for success.”
“Operational excellence is about bringing our brands to life in a way that enhances the guest experience, provides associates with a great environment to work in and increases the owner's value proposition. Then our revenues will grow,” Keating said.
“A great guest experience results in greater share of wallet, a growing loyalty proposition, growing revenues and providing owners with greater returns. They will want to do more deals with us, and help us put more properties in places people want to travel. We have more than 100 million people enrolled in our loyalty program — that's amazing,” she said.
IHG's 13 highly-differentiated brands are solidly in place, and brands such as Holiday Inn Express and Kimpton have had record years for signings, said Keating.
The avid brand is less than a year old, but the first one opened in Oklahoma City, and four are planned for Canada, in Belleville, Vaughan, Kingston and Brockville, Ont.
There's continued growth with InterContinental, the world's largest luxury brand, including 12 hotels in the U.K.
And the Crowne Plaza Accelerate Program has earmarked $200 million to transform the brand throughout the Americas. “We've had incredible ownership and guest feedback, and a lift in guest satisfaction scores.”
The Formula Blue Holiday Inn Express redesign is providing momentum for the brand; and the H4 redesign is well underway at Holiday Inn.
“We achieved a competitive milestone last year, with one million rooms open or in the pipeline — a testimonial to the strength of the brand portfolio,” Keating said.