Carlson Hospitality's David Berg

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David Berg
David Berg

David Berg last month took office as CEO of Carlson's hospitality division upon the retirement of CEO Trudy Rautio and the resulting split of the company into hospitality and travel divisions. Having joined Carlson as its chief operating officer last year, Berg brings experience from nonlodging companies such as Verizon, Outback Steakhouse, Best Buy and GNC as he looks to grow Carlson Hospitality, whose Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group incudes brands such as Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Plaza and Country Inns as well as the newer Radisson Red and Quorvus Collection badges. Berg, 54, spoke with hotels editor Danny King.

Q: Why did Carlson split into two divisions?

A: When we decided to exit the restaurant business [Carlson sold TGI Fridays last year], there was a clear focus around hospitality and travel services. So from an efficiency standpoint, it made sense and presented a very clear message about our two lines of business.

Q: Carlson and its franchise partners have invested more than $600 million upgrading its North American hotels during the past five years. How have those improvements been received?

A: As of now, 100% of the Radisson portfolio has been upgraded in the Americas, so we consider ourselves one of the most refreshed hotel bands in North America. That's definitely paid off from a brand-satisfaction level, as we moved up four points in the J.D. Power survey [Radisson's score increased by five points in the J.D. Power 2014 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index's upscale category].

Q: Carlson opened its first U.S. Radisson Blu in Chicago in 2011. How fast is Carlson looking to push the brand in the U.S.?

A: In Europe and MEA [Middle East/Africa], we're north of 250 hotels, and we have four in the U.S. Being global, we think of all three theaters: Asia Pacific, MEA and U.S. We've seen a renewed interest in Radisson Blu in South America and Asia Pacific. We're not publicly saying [how fast Carlson expects to grow Radisson Blu in the U.S. or what markets will be targeted], but we've proven the concept here, and we think that throughout the Americas, there are significant opportunities.

Q: Carlson just started announcing properties for its new Radisson Red brand. How has that been received?

A: That upscale-select category is red hot. We call it a lifestyle-select brand, and we think a lot of millennial travelers are looking for that. It's very customer-focused, lots of personal choices and personal recognition, which is increasingly important. Clearly, technology will play a part. We've announced sites in China and Cape Town; we've got a number of other products on the go. Our initial focus will be on key urban markets, and we look to have 60 properties built by 2020.

Q: A lot of hoteliers are announcing new brands for that sector. Are you concerned that Radisson Red could get lost in the shuffle?

A: We think we're going to differentiate on personalization and experience. The good news is that category is growing at a significant rate, so there's room for a number of players.

Q: Unlike many in your position, your background is more heavily weighted in retail and other industries. How will that inform your approach in leading Carlson Hospitality?

A: There are a lot of similarities. You clearly have a product, and there's a service element, but the hotel industry is the most complex out of all of them. You can't have an "Amazon" in lodging because it requires a different level of guest experience.

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