‘Quality cannot be inspected or controlled’

IHG’s Rey Alcocer tells SHALU CHANDRAN quality is the consistent delivery of the optimum promised by the brand
Alcocer: delivering high quality standards

For the last 14 years Rey Alcocer, IHG’s new senior vice-president of hotel operations and franchising for the Middle East and Africa Region, has been dedicated to the design and integration of hotel systems to execute the principles of business excellence; in particular those relating to the practical measuring and improving of the critical success factors in hotels; and to the development and implementation of operational programmes that assure a superior and consistent execution.

He moved to his new position on July 1 and has operational responsibility for the growing franchise estate in the division as well as for the implementation, execution and maintenance of a new hotel opening system to guide the successful and timely opening of hotels. He will also be responsible for the Staybridge Suites operations as we expand this brand in MEA. In addition, he will support in other operational projects to help improve IHG’s planning, coordination and performance in MEA, while continuing to support the group’s Total Quality Management efforts in EMEA and Asia Pacific.
Excerpts from an interview:

IHG has announced plans to open 7000 new rooms in the Middle East in the next three years. What can we expect to see? How much of this will be part of this InterContinental and Crowne Plaza portfolios? After the Dubai Festival City (DFC) properties, what can we expect to see?
Currenly we have 74 properties in the Middle East and Africa, across all our brands except the Staybridge Suites, which is yet to open. By the end of 2010, we will double that number. We are very much on track to achieve that and need to work very hard and make that number even bigger. Unlike the past, the company’s strategy is to focus on growth for all our brands and as a result in the Middle East, we took a second look at the opportunity to bring in brands that were not present like Staybridge and Express by Holiday Inn. We are also looking at new business models. Traditionally the region has always looked at management contracts. But we have a huge strength in franchising, we do this in the UK and Europe and now in the Middle East. By the end of next year we will have double digit hotels that will be franchised hotels and will be a new business model for us and I think is going to support the growth and development that we want to see. We are looking to franchise primarily for the Holiday Inn and Express brand.

What is the kind of investment we would see from IHG?
For the current IHG business model, the investment is going to be more about investing resources in creating great support for the brands and the management systems. Because we are going into franchising, we will not see equity investment.

There is a lot of focus on the mid-market segment now. Do you see potential for this, and what kind of potential do these brands have?
As we become global, travel has becoming more accessible for most people and that creates opportunities for travel and a market for those who would rather not spend money for an upscale hotel. We need to cater to that market as well, and that’s the strength of our company – we can cater from the mid-scale limited service like the Holiday Inn to an InterContinental.  With the sudden influx of people coming to the Middle East and Dubai, there will always be a market for that segment.

How will the new Staybridge Suites be different from the InterContinental Residence Suites?
The InterContinental suites are a five-star type of accommodation, typically for long stays but with a certain level of support and amenities you expect from a top scale luxury hotel. Staybridge accommodation is meant for somebody not necessarily interested in a hotel environment but more as a residential home environment were they have the opportunity to even do some cooking. I’m not saying that Staybridge offers limited service but compared to a normal hotel it is.

When will we see the first Staybridge suites open in the region?
We have three planned for this region, in Kuwait, Cairo, and Dubai, all opening next year. We are also under discussion  for expanding into other new regions. The opportunities will come in places where visitors will want to stay for longer periods, be it business or leisure. And of course it will be the longer you stay the lesser you pay, so it will certainly be appealing for families.

Bookings are now open at the DFC InterContinental Residence Suites. How would you rate the interest so far?
Since the official launch of the InterContinental Residence Suites in July this year, the interest has been fantastic. Enquiries are coming from Europe, Japan as well as the GCC. The property confirmed its first room booking, months ahead of the hotel launch in November 2007.

What about Express by Holiday Inn? What has been its response since its opening?
Even before we opened, we’ve has so many enquiries for the Express! This is the perfect brand for a lot of companies that are looking for a limited service, mid scale product, just right for the market. In a city like Dubai, it’s no longer just the directors and managers who travel on their five-star budgets. There are a number of people that comes with a mid scale budget and that demand needs to be satisfied, and this is why we have great expectations for Express because it has filled that gap successfully in other parts of the world and now we will in the Middle East.
You also have charge of a hotel opening system to guide the successful and timely opening of hotels. Tell us about it?
Opening a hotel is a very complex process and involves several challenges with respect to the rules and regulation of the place, the human factor of getting employees and the brands. Keeping in mind the huge growth plan for IHG in this region, we need to renovate the way we open hotels. There is a system, yes, but it is not always in time, so we have accumulated a body of lessons and we have tried to put a system that takes advantage of the technology and the lessons that we have learnt and derived from opening many hotels around the world. We want to create a platform that will guide everyone from the owner, the project managers, the construction workers, the general managers on every aspect from human resources, promotional side and everything else that would facilitate managing the complex process of opening a hotel.
It is all about going out ahead of time, and planning the activities properly to project manage it in such a way that the human resource manager or the general manager would know when to begin.

From mid-market to five-star luxuries – will we see a change in the marketing strategy for IHG?
Today, with the launch of two new brands – Express and Staybridge – in this region, there will a lot of marketing efforts dedicated to create awareness of what these brands reflect. In terms of the InterContinental, there is going be a big splash with the opening of our flagship property at the Festival City. The Crown Plaza is currently engaged into various tie ups with golf tournaments, and the Holiday Inn, which is such a historical brand is now looking at keeping themselves vibrant in the eyes of the customer. In the next couple of years you will see a re-energised brand with all the marketing that will come along from that sampling.

How do you define quality control – is it about a 300-count bed sheet or services provided?
Quality control suggests controlling quality, and you cannot inspect or control quality. Some hotel companies make sure the rooms are clean by having housekeeping clean it and then the manager inspect it – which is quality controlling. We don’t believe in that. We work very hard to make sure that the housekeeping attendant will clean the room without the need of having any further supervision.
We believe in quality improvement but not control.  So how do I define quality? I define quality by delivering the standard – whether it is in your thread count or otherwise, but it is what it should be and it is clean, proper and adequate. The consistent delivery of the optimum way of the system of what the brand promises is to me what quality is all about. It could be your hardware but also the human side, which is what, is going to be the differentiation of the brand. So we work hard on those elements. We are investing heavily into training programs to optimise the process that will impact you as a guest.