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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | January 30, 2013

Last year was a busy year for Hotel Indigo, InterContinental Hotel Group's boutique chain. The company opened 14 such properties around the globe, including the 132-room Hotel Indigo New Orleans in that city's Garden District, and the 100-room Hotel Indigo London Kensington–Earl's Court, achieving the remarkable milestone of 50 properties in less than 10 years. For a look at how this upstart portfolio has quietly honed its brand image since the launch of its flagship hotel, the Hotel Indigo Atlanta, in 2004, and its expansion strategy for the next several years, The Hotel Insider sat down with Mary Dogan, the chain's director of brand management, the Americas.

Q. What was the initial branding strategy behind Hotel Indigo?

A. The key thing for us is that they have their own neighborhood story to tell. It's not about a prototype. It's about the right market. The average Hotel Indigo property has about 125 rooms, but our Santa Barbara property, which is our smallest, has just 41, and the Savannah [Ga.] property we are currently in the process of converting will have 252. We are definitely a boutique hotel, but anchored with the power of IHG, and that is what differentiates us in the market and propels us ahead of the competition. We are so particular about having the right product.

Q. Has the brand concept changed at all since the first property opened in Atlanta?
A. The concept in 2004, the initial strategy behind the brand, was creating a midscale, lifestyle hotel. It was something very new to the industry, because it was something branded. But here are some key differences between a lifestyle hotel and a boutique hotel. I think we have truly defined Hotel Indigo as a boutique hotel chain. Our DNA, so to speak, remains consistent across the board. All of our hotels have hard surface flooring, spa-inspired showers, complimentary Wi-Fi, 24-hour fitness and business centers. That said, each hotel has its own unique design, because they are very-much inspired by their neighborhood location, right down to the décor, artwork, the type of cocktail they serve. If you're in town for only 24 hours for a meeting, even if you never get one hour outside, we want you to experience that neighborhood through our hotels. We tell a story that only the locals will know, not something you get from a travel book. We give our hotels tremendous flexibility in their food and beverage programs, with one important requirement — they must be locally sourced foods, which circles back to being an integral part of the neighborhood. That is how we remain a consistent, relevant brand.

Q. What are Hotel Indigo's international expansion plans?
A. IHG's long-term brand strategy was always to take it global and move it up the chain as it matured. It is a very thoughtful long-term strategy, and we are starting to see it come to fruition. In 2009 we were at a place and time to give it wings and opened our first hotel in London. We now have three hotels in London and two in Berlin, and we will open one later this year in Hong Kong and St. Petersburg, Russia. In all, we have 52 properties in our global-development pipeline, including Madrid, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; and Phuket, Thailand, which will be our first resort property. Most of our expansion is through new-builds, not conversions, which says a lot about the strength of the brand when it comes to investment dollars.

Q. Will we see more Hotel Indigo's in key U.S. markets?

A. Absolutely. I have seen the designs for both our Philadelphia and Wilmington [N.C.] rooms. Philadelphia, which will have 150 rooms, is a conversion, and the Wilmington hotel, which is directly adjacent to the convention center, is a nine-story, 125-room new-build, which is part of a huge riverfront development project. We will break ground on both projects later this year and expect to open by the end of 2014. We are also opening our second hotel in New York City later this year on the Lower East Side.