This ‘Business Travel Companions’ interview is conducted with Gareth Long, Director of Operations Support Australasia and Japan at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).
Gareth is responsible for the out-performance of IHG’s properties in delivering exceptional and memorable guest experiences. During his 15-year career with IHG, Gareth has worked across a range of client-facing hotel management roles, including General Manager of Holiday Inn Sydney Airport, and more recently joined the corporate support team in 2016. He is a frequent business traveller and is driven by a love of working with people; making genuine connection with guests, employees and hotel owners. A Kiwi by birth, Gareth has worked in New Zealand, Australia and India.
Q. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST BUSINESS TRAVEL TRIP, AND WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE?
A: My first business travel trip was from Wellington to Sydney and then on to Perth. I was flying for interviews with two of our IHG properties, the InterContinental Sydney and Holiday Inn Perth City Centre. I was very nervous, had not travelled for work before and was busily trying not to look as out of my depth as I felt! I’ll never forget checking into the InterContinental Sydney – such a grand property proudly sitting over Circular Quay – and worrying if I had enough clear funds on my credit card to cover the pre-authorisation payment! There’s nothing quite like experiencing something for the first time.
Q. HOW HAS THE BUSINESS TRAVEL EXPERIENCE CHANGED FOR YOU SINCE THEN?
A: Nowadays I travel extensively for business, and my needs have changed significantly. Remaining productive and efficient while on the road is vital, so reaching loyalty status that gives me access to the airport lounge, a complimentary upgrade and accelerated points earning are all top of the list for me when I am selecting who I will fly or stay with.
I do feel that business travel is much easier and stress-free now; whether it is grabbing an Uber with payment linked to a work credit card or seeing points hit my account within hours of my flight landing.
Q. WHAT MAKES YOU MOST PRODUCTIVE WHEN TRAVELLING FOR BUSINESS?
A: Airports have become far more user-friendly for business travellers, so whether it’s the free WiFi, the convenient communal workspace with charging stations or even the chance to get a great cup of coffee, I feel it can become an extension of a normal working environment. I like to cut down the peripheral time of travel as much as possible too, so flying light with only carry-on, trusting my airport transport provider, and quickly getting through security/customs is important for my own productivity.
Q. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BUSINESS TRAVEL EXPERIENCE, AND WHY?
A: I was flying from Kolkata to New Delhi while working in India and promptly arrived at the domestic airport, ready to catch my flight. The check-in counter employee queried me asking “Did you not receive notification that this flight has been cancelled?”. Obviously I had not, and I was asked to wait while he scampered off to see what could be done. After about 5 minutes he came back and whisked me off to another flight that was about to leave. The weird thing was that I was the only passenger on the flight! I assume they were just getting the aircraft back to New Delhi with no intention of passengers, but it was certainly a surreal feeling being the only passenger in an otherwise empty airplane. I found it particularly amusing that they denied my request to sit in a business class seat as I had only booked an economy ticket!
Q. HOW IMPORTANT IS LOUNGE ACCESS TO YOU WHEN TRAVELLING?
A: Very! Being able to grab a coffee or even a cold beer at the end of a long day, in a comfortable environment, makes all the difference. Catching up on emails, social media or the news, whatever it is – that little haven amongst the chaos is so important. As a Club InterContinental guest I can enjoy exclusive privileges across our InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, including lounge access, that facilitate my travel experience whether it’s a business trip or a holiday.
Q. THE TRAVELLING WORKFORCE CAN SPAN FIVE (5) OR MORE DECADES IN AGE AND EXPERIENCE, EACH BRINGING VERY DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS OF THEIR BUSINESS TRAVEL EXPERIENCE. HOW WELL DO YOU THINK IHG SERVICES EACH OF THESE GENERATIONS’ SPECIFIC NEEDS, AND WHY?
A: IHG has a fantastic collection of brands that cater to a diverse range of needs and wants from our guests. We understand that business travellers today do not want to compromise, that they expect all their needs to be met and so we spend a lot of time ensuring we provide exceptional service in every one of our hotels. If a guest is looking for efficiency and value and doesn’t need a full-service hotel, they might look at our conveniently located Holiday Inn Express hotels; senior executives who need and expect absolute luxury when travelling may opt for the InterContinental brand; the business-focused, tech-savvy corporate traveler might feel more at home in a Crowne Plaza property. Each and every brand is tailored to meet and exceed the expectations of our valued guests, whatever their need for travel might be.
Q. WHAT MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS IS IHG LOOKING TO BRING TO MARKET IN THE COMING 12 MONTHS?
A: With close to 5,200 hotels operating globally and another 1,500 in our pipeline, it is all about opening fantastic new properties in a wide range of locations. We have some extremely exciting new projects on the horizon with the Holiday Inn Express Adelaide City Centre launching in August this year, joining the recently opened Holiday Inn Express Brisbane Central and Holiday Inn Express Sydney Macquarie Park. Crowne Plaza Christchurch will open mid-2017 and marks the return of this well-loved brand to the city. InterContinental Perth City Centre will open its doors in October; combine this with recent announcements of the Hotel Indigo brand launching in Brisbane and Melbourne and that IHG’s EVEN brand will be developed down-under (the first market outside of the US), it is such an exciting time for our company in Australasia.
On the global stage, we have recently opened the stunning Kimpton De Witt in the heart of Amsterdam, marking the first Kimpton hotel in Europe and outside of the Americas. IHG continues to grow adding new hotels in exciting new destinations while establishing our presence in markets we have operated in for some time; a brand-new Holiday Inn announced to be built in Lima, Peru; another 4 new hotels announced for the United Arab Emirates and the opening of the HUALUXE Zhangjiakou, signifying IHG’s 300th hotel in the Greater China region. Providing diverse hotel options for our valued guests the world-over continues to be our focus.
Q. HOW HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED IHG’S OPERATING WAYS IN THE PAST 5 / 10 YEARS?
A: Like CTM, IHG is very proud to be at the forefront of travel technology innovation. We introduced the first hotel reservations system, Holidex, back in 1965, before computers, internet or even fax machines were common place. We then began connecting with travel agencies in the 70’s and in the late 90’s we were the first hotel company to support bookings over the internet. And we are now about to introduce a new revolutionary cloud-based guest reservation system which will begin rolling out at some of our hotels before the end of 2017. Like CTM’s Lightening booking tool, the new GRS will be the first of its kind in the hotel industry and will allow IHG to offer intuitive and personalised guest experiences through our technology.
Q. WHAT DOES WORK/LIFE BALANCE MEAN TO YOU AND HOW WELL DO YOU THINK YOU ACHIEVE IT?
A: I think work/life balance is about committing a fair share of energy and time to the things that are most important to you. The quality of that time is important too. I try to be 100% present in whatever moment I am in. I think being flexible in how you operate is vital in getting the balance right. I have become quite deliberate in the use of my time and believe I owe that to whoever I am connecting with, be it professional or personal. Have I nailed it yet? Not quite, but I’m getting there.
All opinions and recommendations are the interviewee’s own. CTM recommends all travellers conduct their own thorough, independent research into their travel destination(s) prior to making any travel decisions, and take out adequate travel insurance prior to travel.