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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 9, 2012

houstongallNine months ago at its annual conference, InterContinental Hotels Group executives told several hundred owners and employees gathered in Las Vegas that it would be taking a hard-line, "move up or move out" approach in order to effectively reposition its 390 Crowne Plaza hotels worldwide. The problem: The brand's standards had slipped, and Crowne Plaza was no longer a competitor in the upper, full-scale category vs. such stalwarts as Marriott, Hyatt and Sheraton. Today it's no longer talk, because the purging has begun in earnest, as IHG rolls out its "Rest to Best" strategy as part of a global repositioning of the brand.

Just days ago, during a second-quarter earnings call from London, IHG CEO Richard Solomons said Crowne Plaza was the hotel company's "highest priority," particularly in North America, where the brand has substantially underperformed due to inconsistency in physical standards and service. So far, said Solomons, 16 substandard properties, all in North America, have been removed from the chain's system, with another 25 expected to follow. To underscore the importance of IHG's commitment to the brand, Solomon said that in 2013, the company planned to use its own capital "to make sure we add and retain Crowne Plaza hotels in the right locations, with the right assets to build awareness and showcase the brand properly."

To revamp Crowne Plaza's image, IHG will take the same multiyear approach it did in relaunching its Holiday Inn brand. That three-year (2007-2010), $3 billion investment saw the company remove 1,400 underperforming and aging only hotels from its system and add 1,800 new ones. It was a process that not only brought down the average age of the Holiday Inn product to 10 years, giving the brand a substantial facelift in the freshness category, it also resulted in increased guest satisfaction scores, better financial performance, and a renewed interest from investors and developers. Last month, for the second straight year, Holiday Inn snagged top honors for guest satisfaction scores in the midscale, full-service category in the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study.

IHG is hoping it can work the same magic with Crowne Plaza, which currently generates $3.5 billion in gross annual revenues for the company. While each hotel will be examined on a case-by-case basis with an eye to creating a more consistent, quality-driven global portfolio, the brand's key defining areas of revamp and upgrade will be in the design, soft goods (such as bedding), and staff training and service standards. Five new Crowne Plaza hotels opened in the second quarter of this year: the Crowne Plaza Houston Galleria (with 355 guest rooms and 14,000 square feet of meeting space), plus one in Turkey, two in China, and one in Thailand. What's more, 90 Crowne Plaza hotels are currently in the global pipeline.