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01/04/2023

How IHG Created a New Mobile App that Is Outperforming Pre-Pandemic Metrics

This exclusive interview with Josh Weiss, IHG’s VP, Guest Digital Products, provides a behind-the-scenes look into the brand’s recent development and implementation of its new mobile app.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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IHG Hotels & Resorts recognized that consumers would have a very strong desire to travel during the 2022-23 holiday season and that this desire provided an opportunity for the brand to bring in and retain new, potentially life-long customers. But to do this, the brand realized it would need to provide travelers with an elevated app experience. So, IHG tapped Accenture Song to work side-by-side with its in-house team of technology experts to envision and deliver a new app.

A foundational component of the collaboration was the flexible delivery model, or digital “factory”—a streamlined framework for creating and delivering digital products. The factory makes previously complicated development and delivery processes predictable, repeatable, and reliable at scale, across IHG’s global properties. It allows the hotel group to bring new, innovative app features and experiences—like additional payment methods (WeChat Pay in China, for example) or digital check-in—to life faster.

IHG’s new app unlocks the full power of its IHG One Rewards loyalty program and is the primary digital interface for interacting with and taking care of guests. The app now allows guests to find the best rates, book a room in seconds, sort results based on personal preferences, enjoy exclusive benefits for IHG One Rewards members, and manage stays.

The app has seen ongoing success. As of September 2022—compared to pre-pandemic metrics—revenue, usage and downloads are all up more than 20% and growing. The app is also faster and has near-perfect, crash-free performance. Customer reviews describe the app as “easy to navigate” with a “stunning new design.” One guest even wrote that they “couldn’t travel without it.” 

To learn more about the new app, Hospitality Technology spoke with Josh Weiss, VP, Guest Digital Products, IHG Hotels & Resorts.

What were some common issues or shortcomings with IHG's previous app? 

We have long had a high-performing, award-winning mobile app, but it was time to enhance the experience and modernize the infrastructure. Our previous app’s design served us well, but it was dated. We have seen guest expectations shift dramatically over the past several years, including what they expect from their digital experience. We felt it was the right time to completely overhaul our app, providing more speed, simplicity, and greater personal choice, as well as a completely new, modern design that supported our IHG One Rewards launch. 

We will continue to listen to the needs of guests and evaluating our offerings to ensure we are meeting their needs.  

What was the primary goal for creating the new app? 

At IHG Hotels & Resorts, we’ve made big investments over the past few years, all with the goal of meeting changing guest, owner and hotel team member expectations. Last year, we launched our new IHG Hotels & Resorts Masterbrand. This new look and feel allows us to better articulate who we are and what we stand for.  

This year, we launched the new IHG One Rewards program, and felt that we needed an equally exciting app that unlocked the full power of the new program. Designed with members in mind, the app provides a smooth and intuitive experience for all customers, giving them more control and greater personal choice. IHG incorporated feedback from owners, hotel teams and guests via an extensive beta process to build and design an app that benefits everyone.  

The new app is sleek and seamless, providing an end-to-end personalized experience for booking, check-in, IHG One Rewards Loyalty Program benefit management, and communication across all 17 brands. 

Why did IHG partner with Accenture?

IHG’s mobile product management and customer experience design teams are comprised of in-house experts, and these internal teams led all aspects of the re-launch, as well as post-launch growth and optimization. Our development team is led internally, and partners closely with Accenture’s “factory” to enable rapid delivery at scale. We need the ability to flex development and QA capacity up and down, often with very short notice, to deliver on the dynamic needs of our business. We also need to tap into highly specialized skillsets that we could not easily retain in-house on a full-time basis. Flexibility, speed, efficiency, and access to highly specialized skills and insights are among the primary reasons we collaborate with Accenture.  

What was the creation process of the new app like?

We launched the process in mid-2021 and were live in various stages of beta testing in early 2022 and in the App and Play stores beginning in April. We reached full scale and sunset our legacy app in May, but the work is ongoing. We make progress every single day to support an excellent product that stays highly relevant for our guests and hotels, and release dozens of features and enhancements twice per month on average--and sometimes more frequently. We are in a constant cycle of testing and learning with new features and designs to make them as intuitive as possible for our guests. Because the team is in various locations, we’ve become very disciplined about video calls, at least daily and sometimes multiple times per day, as work is handed off and we follow the sun to maximize development velocity and quality. If someone can’t make a call or is taking a well-deserved break, others can cover for them because the team is familiar with work across the entire mobile ecosystem. We also leverage demos, both with every release and then each quarter to look back at everything we delivered, and set up to design/test/develop/launch new features to keep all of our stakeholders on the same page.  

How does the new app function differently from the old one? 

The app provides a redesigned mobile experience that unlocks access to IHG’s 17 brands, more than 6,000 hotels, and all-new IHG One Rewards loyalty program. Guests can find the best rates, book a room in seconds (including an ultra-fast quick book feature), sort results easily to find the information they need, enjoy exclusive benefits for IHG One Rewards members, and manage their stays all in one place. Key features include: 

  • IHG One Rewards Milestone Rewards: The app is the best way for members to track progress towards Milestone Rewards, allowing members to choose the rewards that matter most to them through a technology-enabled platform. Starting at just 20 nights stayed, members will be offered a choice from a selection of rewards every 10 nights through 100 nights stayed. These Milestone Rewards choices include points, Confirmable Suite Upgrades, and Annual Lounge Membership. 
  • Booking: Allows guests to book stays more quickly and easily than ever before and includes better access to photos and property information like pet-friendly hotels, accessible rooms, parking information, and more.  
  • All-New QuickBook: The fastest way to directly book a stay with IHG. Allows members to book a stay at a hotel they have previously booked in a few simple steps.  
  • Featured Offers: Offers IHG One Rewards members exclusive upgrades, add-ons and packages tailored to your preferences to ensure IHG One Rewards members are getting the most out of their next stay. 
  • Account Dashboard: Gives members the ability to track their progress towards their next status and Milestone Reward choice with highly visual graphs of their points balance, stay preferences, partner benefits and redeemed rewards. 
  • Digital Concierge: Chat-based experience giving members more seamless access to customer service, enabling members to reset their password, get answers to questions about hotels or upcoming stays and more. 
  • Stay Management: Enables members to quickly book a stay and manage upcoming travel plans including digital check-in and check-out at participating hotels, adding rewards to upcoming stays like bonus points or breakfast, and view their hotel bills following their stay, all captured in one location. 
  • Other key functional benefits: Allows members to add their IHG One Rewards card to their Apple or Google Wallet, or to add an upcoming stay to their wallet in the app. 

What are you most proud of when it comes to the new app? 
 I am proud of so many aspects of this program, but most proud that our guests are using the new app at unprecedented levels and are providing us positive feedback. Our hotel colleagues tell us the new app and IHG One Rewards program, along with our Masterbrand, make them very proud. A little closer to home, I am very proud that our outstanding IHG mobile team worked very closely with dozens of internal stakeholders and partners like Accenture to bring these new experiences to life on time and with highly successful launches.