Global Growth More Than Just Talk for Carlson Rezidor

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All the major hotel companies talk about global growth, but I don't think any of them say it with such an array of foreign accents like the executive team from Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group.

On Thursday morning in the Bahamas, sitting side by side on a panel at a press briefing were, from left, Gordon McKinnon, Carlson Rezidor's chief branding officer; Kurt Ritter, Rezidor's CEO; Hubert Joly, Carlson's CEO; Thorsten Kirschke, Carlson's chief operating officer; and Iype Abraham, the commercial development director for the Edwardian Group converting its portfolio of 13 Radissons in the London area to Blus.

The accents ranged from Scottish (McKinnon) to Swiss-German (Ritter) to German (Kirschke) to French (Joly) to British (Abraham). And what they were discussing was more than just talk. Carlson Rezidor may be based in Minnesota, but the company's focus is far more broad.

Of the company's portfolio of 165,802 rooms in operation, almost 60% reside outside North America. The company has always been focused on global growth, but that was accelerated with Joly's appointment as CEO in 2008 and even more now with the shift to Carlson Rezidor and the focus on growing Radisson Blu as part of its Ambition 2015 plan. Carlson Rezidor expects to open 37 hotels in the Americas this year, 37 more in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and another 16 in the Asia Pacific region. Seventy-six Radisson Blus are currently in some stage of development, 40 more than the Radissons in the pipeline and 30 more than Country Inn & Suites.

Despite that, Carlson Rezidor can't forget its small-town roots. Of the more than 1,300 attendees at this week's global business conference at Atlantis in the Bahamas, I would guess close to half represented Country Inn & Suites and Radisson franchisees in the U.S. With all the talk centered on global growth and Blu — “We're painting the world Blu,” Kirschke says — I wonder what the Country Inn & Suites owner in small-town Ohio thinks, or a non-Blu Radisson owner in the Dakotas.

I spoke with a few who wondered where they stood, and if those brands were still as important to the company. McKinnon said on stage during the opening general session Wednesday that although “it is the year of Blu, that doesn't mean we value the other brands any less.”

In the press briefing after, he said the executive team was very sensitive to those concerns, but the challenge was giving equal time to all the important topics at a massive event like the global business conference. He said Country Inn & Suites' time would come later this year, and it would soon get equal priority.

During the session, he offered an early look at “G4,” the brand's fourth generation now on the drawing boards and set to begin rolling out as soon as the fourth quarter of this year. He called it an “evolution, not a revolution,” and said Country Inn & Suites had the opportunity to become an even stronger player in the mid-market.

For all the brands, including Country Inns & Suites now growing in India, the biggest opportunities are surely outside the U.S., but the core constituency of franchisees still remains here. Balancing those two competing interests is the tightrope Joly and his executive team must walk.

Read this story for a full recap on this year's event.

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