IHG launches Voco Hotel Brand – another conversion brand enters the fray…

International Hotels Group (IHG) is continuing to grow their portfolio. After acquiring the Regent brand in the luxury segment and buying a number of upscale hotels in the UK, IHG is now launching the voco upscale soft brand, focusing on hotel conversions. Several of the new UK properties will become part of voco and the first hotel to open outside Europe will be the Watermark at the Gold Coast in Australia! What can you expect from the voco brand and should you be exited?

IHG’s largest brand is their Holiday Inn Express limited service, mid-scale brand. They have identified the upscale segment as a growth opportunity in their portfolio, to support their InterContinental and Kimpton brands. They see the segment grow from $40 billion to $60  billion by 2025 – plenty of room to grow. 
I welcome more upscale hotels in the IHG portfolio – they are great for aspirational redemptions: You can collect reward points at mid-scale hotels and redeem at upscale hotels for special occasions, saving you some cash in the process.

Watermark Hotel Gold Coast Exterior

IHG is launching voco as a soft-brand focusing on hotel conversions. They describe voco as “perfect mix of reliability and difference.The important things you can depend on, with things that make staying in a hotel different each time.“. I’m not buying that marketing speak and I’m not a fan of conversion brands. They are mainly good for the property and the hotel company: The hotel will leverage IHG’s systems and loyalty program in return for a management fee. They don’t have to follow tight brand standards and need little investment to join. Frequently, hotels that are having trouble to compete will sign up in the hopes of higher revenue and profit. 
The good news for traveler is that they will be able to earn and redeem points at more unique feeling properties. The bad news is that they won’t know what to expect from the hotel and they’ll pay higher prices than at comparable, truly independent hotels. 

Watermark Gold Coast Room

How will voco differentiate itself? voco has identified three things as critical to the hotel experience and plans to address them:
Come on in: voco promises a warm welcome, a swift check-in and a welcome treat (DoubleTree cookies anybody?)
Me Time: voco includes cosy beds and bedding, luxury bathroom amenities and aerated showers, as well as fast WiFi (thank you!)
voco life: all voco hotels will have barista coffee, hot breakfast buffets, all day restaurants and a bar!

As always the documentation for future voco owners is more descriptive. You can expect upscale rooms in good condition of at least 22-30sqm, with premium bedding and black-out blinds. Rooms will be tech-friendly with at least 5Mbps WiFi speed, the ability to charge three devices (thank god!) and 42in TVs.
You can find out more about IHG’s new brand in the voco brand book!

Bottomline: IHG launches voco as another soft-brand to compete with Hilton’s Curio Collection and Marriott’s Autograph Collection. While it makes sense for hotel companies and hotel owners, it’s a mixed bag for travelers and I recommend caution. If the property is in the right location, gets great online reviews and is available at competitive prices, I will be happy to consider it to earn or redeem reward points. But I won’t blindly book a voco (or Curio or AC) hotel without reviewing online reviews and I recommend you don’t either! 
I will try to check a voco hotel out if it fits my travel plans and will let you know what I find. What’s your experience with soft brands – do you prefer them over the same-same chain hotels or do you avoid them.
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