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CNBC Transcript: Richard Solomons, CEO, InterContinental Hotels Group


Following is the transcript of a CNBC interview with Richard Solomons, CEO, of InterContinental Hotels Group. The interview was broadcast on CNBC on 26 April 2017.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview".

Interviewed by Bernie Lo, Anchor, CNBC.

Bernie Lo: You must see a fable land in China to keep doing this, but I got to ask you Zhangjiakou, in 30 years I've never heard of it but you found it and decided to open up a hotel there. Why?

Solomons: I did find it right, and I'm headed there after this interview. It's the site of the 2020 to Winter Olympics, and this is going to be the first international hotel open there, the Hualuxe which is our newest brand in China. So we're very excited about it.

Bernie: That makes a lot of sense then. I mean you're planning way ahead of the legions and throngs of travelers that are going to be arriving there. But 300 hotels in an industry where the common complaint is we can't get enough talent, we can't find enough people. We can do the hardware; it's the software that's the hard part. How do you deal with that?

Solomons: Well look Bernie, you talk about thinking ahead and planning ahead and you know we actually first came to China in 1984. That was our first hotel in Beijing by 2008. We got to 100 hotels by 2013. We were 200 and now just four years later we're at 300. So we're building the business planning a long way ahead. And as you say actually building the hotels the hardware is not easy but it's something we can do.

On the software side, that's really where IHG comes in. That's why they want us to run the hotels, manage the hotels for them. And we have processes, we have procedures. But more importantly we have training and recruitment programs.

And in China alone we have over 40 academies where we educate people into hospitality, offer them job opportunities and bring them into hotels. So you're right it's a really important piece. The experience is a really important piece, and it's something we're very, very focused on, and have been in all our time here in China. And I think it's been a big part of our success.

Bernie: How many within the Internet, and now with you know with the 300 outlet in China that spans how many brands, I mean how many logos, how many brands are you are you managing across the China portfolio now?

Solomons: Well it's really six brands in China. So with Intercontinental we have 40. We have just nearly 80 of Crowne Plaza, one of our upscale big meetings brand. Holiday Inn with Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express we now between them have well over a 150 hotels. So we're quite concentrated.

We don't believe in having too many brands.

Some of our competitors have way more brands, but actually having scale in brands driving away in this driving preference, making sure that our customers know where those brands are, around the country is very important. So we have a relatively limited number and Hualuxe which is the one we're opening is our latest brand that we devised in China for Chinese travelers.

So real consumer insight, real consumer understanding. We saw an opportunity for a new brand that really offer Chinese hospitality but with all the attributes of an international brand family. So it's a good portfolio we're very proud of. And not only do we open our 300 today but we have another 240 in our pipeline in which most are under construction. So a lot more growth opportunity.

Bernie: And how are you going about marketing? You know all these new outlets and making sure that you're matching the traveler with what they're looking for. And we obviously in this day and age you can't just create a website, and you know as they say build a better mousetrap and hope that they come, you've got to be proactive you've got to get out there, you've got to deploy social media somehow. You got to get out there and do it. So what sort of a concerted campaign or what sort of a program do you have to make all that coming together?

Solomons: No, it's a very good point, and clearly it's something that we focus a lot on as a big brand family. So we do an awful lot locally here in China. We may be a global business, but China is actually our second largest market our fastest growing market. So we have over 500 people in our office here in Shanghai and we have we have more people here in Beijing. And we market locally to local companies big corporate accounts. We run a lot of social campaigns over here. A lot of actually digital campaigns, we had a very successful one for four Crowne Plaza. And very importantly we have our loyalty program IHG Rewards Club. So globally we have over 100 million enrolled members, and we have many millions in Greater China alone, and that's a great way to interact with our customers. And indeed in China actually we have a very successful app, that we also have around the world, but we have the highest percentage of bookings on that app is in greater China compared to anywhere else in the world. So it's an array of things that you have to have to be as you point out where your customers want to be, and enable them to book how they want to book.