Hubert Joly, Carlson

By Jeri Clausing
Hubert JolyCarlson last week held its annual global business conference in Washington, where the company updated owners and operators of its hotel brands on the ambitious strategy it laid out last year for growing the company and improving the Radisson brand. Hotels Editor Jeri Clausing talked with CEO Hubert Joly about the company's progress as well as its plans to move into the luxury and economy sectors.

Q: Most of the talk at the conference was about the progress the company has made in implementing its "Ambition 2015" growth strategy. How is that and your overhaul of the Radisson brand going?

A: Last year we laid out some ambitious goals. We wanted each of our brands to be the leading brands in their segments and, importantly, for Radisson to be our biggest brand.

I am thrilled with the progress we have made. ... We had 12% revenue growth last year; I think that is probably one of the highest in the sector.

We have crossed the 200,000-room threshold and signed more than 80 hotels in this [economic environment], which is quite remarkable. And as it relates to Radisson, I think the progress is greater than anyone expected.

The fact that we have signed two flagship assets in major U.S. cities is fabulous, and the fact that 80% of owners have committed to the property improvement plan is extraordinary. So we couldn't be happier.

Q: There was a question during one session about whether the promotion of the upper-upscale Radisson Blu brand flagship properties you will be introducing in Chicago, Minneapolis and possibly New York will in effect make the traditional Radisson a second-class citizen. Do you have concerns about that, or do you think that these new properties will have the opposite effect and bring new status to all Radissons?

The way I clearly think about it is we have a Radisson brand, and the consumer doesn't pay attention to the color of the swoosh. So what we laid out last year and we are implementing is a positioning, a brand promise for Radisson.

Radisson is a vibrant, engaging, contemporary brand that's very much designer-led, and it is an exciting brand that is globally consistent. That really is the strategy, and we are deploying this with the property improvement plan in the U.S., with the flagship assets and continued growth.

Clearly in this industry, an asset in a megacity is going to be different than an asset in a secondary or tertiary city. ... So the Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago that opens in the fall of 2011 is going to be absolutely stellar, and that's raising the brand altogether. ... So I don't put a lot of emphasis on the color of the swoosh.

We have a lot of emphasis on the direction for the brand as well as the relevance of the product given the locations.

Q: You said you will see some properties fall out of the Radisson brand because they don't want to make the required upgrades. Have you also seen renewed interest in signing new Radissons because of the changes to the brand?

Yes, it's been fabulous. As a testament to this, we are going to open 44 new Radissons around the world in 2011. And in 2010 we signed 41 new Radissons, which is a 54% increase vs. 2009.

So the momentum is extraordinary on a global basis as well as in the U.S., because people feel the commitment that Carlson has made to the brand.

The commitment is working very effectively in all of the key markets, and people want to gravitate toward success. 
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