Karin Sheppard, IHG’s Chief Operating Officer for Australasia, Japan, Korea and AMEA Franchising, chats with LATTE about the future of IHG, the rise of the digital in travel and Barcelona’s best coffee.
- Tell us about your role within IHG.
Last year I took the fantastic opportunity to move from being the Chief Commercial Officer for the Asia, Middle East and Africa region to becoming the Chief Operating Officer for Australasia, Japan, Korea and AMEA Franchising. As part of the role change I relocated back to Sydney from Singapore and now oversee the operations and performance of over 100 hotels in more than 10 countries across brands ranging from InterContinental to Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express.
- How did you get your start in the hotel industry? Tell us about your career progression.
I have close to 20 years of international experience in commercial functions across a variety of industries, including technology and telecommunications as well as hospitality. Throughout my 13 years with IHG I have been given many opportunities to grow and develop my career across different markets and a variety of functions – and taking these opportunities has always been key to the next one coming along.
- What have been some of the highlights of your career? What does it mean to you be honoured as Hotelier of the Year 2015?
A particular recent highlight is having the opportunity to move back to Australia and to this particular role. I have a great love for this country and this new role has meant an opportunity to move from a long career in a commercial function into hotel operations. With that in mind, it’s very humbling to have been named Hotelier of the Year.
- How would you describe your management style? What do you value professionally?
I would say it’s about making sure I have right team around me, with complementary skills and personalities. That means I can foster a culture of discussion and debate to get to the best outcomes with people’s different inputs in mind. I like to think that I give my team space to do their jobs while also being there for them when they need it. I give people trust up front so I appreciate people with honesty, humility and those who are comfortable with vulnerability.
- Which markets would you identify as key for IHG’s future? What are your plans for driving growth?
Australia and New Zealand have always been focus markets for us. We opened our first hotel here in Australia in 1962 and we currently have 29 hotels across both countries. Having operated here for more than 50 years, we place great importance on understanding what our guests are looking for; they travel for many different reasons and in search of different experiences, and they are looking for a variety of hotel brands ranging from luxury to boutique to mid-market, to suit their needs at that time.
The tourism market is very buoyant here overall and we are actively expanding our presence and recent openings include Holiday Inn Cairns Harbourside. In the last 8 months we have signed 6 new hotels across 4 of our brands: InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express. These hotels will see us returning to Christchurch with a new Crowne Plaza hotel, bringing InterContinental to Perth and entering Tasmania with Crowne Plaza Hobart. We’re looking forward to launching our select-service brand, Holiday Inn Express, here next year with the first hotel opening in Sydney.
The restaurants and bars a hotel offers is just as important to the guest experience and is a big part of our business. Our focus on this aligns with Tourism Australia, who is raising the country’s profile as a unique and world-class dining destination through campaigns such as Restaurant Australia. In the past 12 months alone we have launched a range of unique partnerships and innovations to ensure our dining offerings remain industry-leading.
We’ve partnered with Penfolds and Pernod Ricard for our wine and cocktails; launched bespoke meetings and events menus with The Healthy Chef, Teresa Cutter; a new children’s menu, InterContinental Planet Trekkers, for well-travelled little ones with a refined palate; the Culinary Panel showcases some of the best dishes from our renowned IHG chefs and we’re in the process of launching a nutritious Holiday Inn Kids’ Menu, created in partnership with Nutrition Australia.
- How have you seen the travel industry change?
The travel industry is always changing and always will be; it’s our mission to make sure we’re staying ahead and keeping on top of those changes. Probably one of the most notable shifts in the industry has been the importance of digital – it’s made a big impact on how we interact with our guests, not just during their stay but before and after, too. But no matter how the industry progresses, at the end of the day it all boils down to offering great experiences and world-class hospitality at our hotels around the world.
- Which luxury IHG properties or developments are you most excited about seeing in the future?
We’re delighted to be bringing the InterContinental brand to Perth; it will be our sixth InterContinental hotel in Australia. We signed the hotel last year in 2014 and it’s on track to open in 2017. It’s right in the centre of the city and we’re looking forward to it bringing the glamour of the brand to Perth’s Central Business District. The hotel is going through a very exciting transformation – it will be a very contemporary interpretation of the brand.
- Where do you go to recharge? Which destinations are still on your bucket list?
It’s not necessarily about where I go but who I go with – my family are dispersed all over the world so travelling with them and exploring new places together is not just about the joy of travel but also making memories with those I’m close to and whom I don’t get to see regularly. One of our most recent trips was to Croatia where none of us had been before and it meant we were able to share that discovery and exploration of a new place. I regularly visit Japan for work and, as my step-son is based there, my husband and I often try to add in a trip with him to explore parts of the country we haven’t been to before, whether it’s for onsens or skiing!
I’ve travelled a lot in my career but the two top destinations on my bucket list that I haven’t ticked off yet are Machu Picchu and Myanmar.
- What are you top tips for frequent flyers?
Escape jet lag two ways: by exercising when you travel and by changing the time on your watch as soon as you get on the plane. If you’re on an overnight flight and are struggling to sleep I find that two glasses of wine is a great help – I’ve never taken a sleeping tablet.
- What’s the best coffee you’ve ever had?
When we were in Barcelona, we were fortunate enough to be escorted by a local Catalonian. In the process of taking us from one place to another, he stopped and dragged us to this little hole in the wall where I had the most outstanding cup of coffee.
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