by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | November 7, 2013

The Hotel Insider attended this week's annual media event held by InterContinental Hotels & Resorts ( at a trendy hot spot on Manhattan's West Side, where general managers from many of the luxury chain's European and Americas properties gathered to mingle and dish on their properties' attributes. Tom Rowntree, the chain's vice president of luxury and upscale brands, Europe, made it clear that InterContinental would be beefing up its product in the coming months."Brands can't afford to rest on their laurels," he noted. "We are looking to incorporate things like new food-and-beverage concepts and special services, which we will soon begin testing in markets like Moscow and Berlin."

This year, InterContinental opened properties in Marseilles, France, and Lagos, Nigeria, and in a few weeks will open the 216-room InterContinental Davos in Switzerland, which will feature nine meeting rooms. At the media event, the chain announced plans to aggressively grow its portfolio by an additional 52 properties in the next five years. "We are at the gateway of increasing our luxury footprint in Europe and around the world, which we started with a vengeance a few years ago," said Rowntree, who also divulged that the company has sealed a deal to add a third hotel in London, the InterContinental O2, which is scheduled to open in 2016. Further, next year the chain will open properties in Cartagena, Colombia, and Sydney, Australia.

Driving InterContinental's approach to meeting business is the concept of providing an authentic local experience beyond the typical city guide book's top-10 hit list, Debbie Grant, director of brand management for the Americas, told me. "What we are trying to do is add value to meetings by providing a little bit of in-the-know, through our personal connections," she said. Interested in honey production? The chef at the InterContinental New York Barclay will give a tour of the hotel's private hives on the 15th floor and arrange for their beekeeper to give a talk and tasting during a meeting break. At the InterContinental London Park Lane, learn about the art of afternoon tea, or chat with the hotel's personal cheese purveyor while sampling a selection of locally produced varieties. And at the InterContinental Mexico City, attendees can learn about the rich history of mezcal (tequila's lesser-known sibling) while sipping some of the country's most highly prized (and never exported) blends.

I don't know about you, but for me, meetings just got a whole lot more exciting.