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Article from BTNews 6 DECEMBER 2021

ON THE SOAPBOX: Joanna Kurowska, Managing Director UK & Ireland, IHG Hotels & Resorts

This month we welcome a leader in the hospitality industry as our feature presenter 'On the Soapbox.'

Joanna Kurowska became IHG Hotels & Resorts’ Managing Director for the UK & Ireland in August 2020, following a decade-long career with the business.

Her tenure with IHG began in Warsaw in 2011, where she worked across Finance and Business Support before moving to the UK to lead on these business functions.

Joanna also worked as the Director of Operations in Frankfurt before being appointed UK&I Managing Director.

The Journey to Tomorrow

The past 18 months have delivered challenges that we could never have imagined, both personally and professionally. But while the pandemic continues to provide many uncertainties and concerns, such as the latest tightening of restrictions in the run-up to Christmas, I remain confident in the resilience of our business, the untamed desire of our guests to travel, and the strength of our wonderful hotel teams to deliver True Hospitality for Good as we continue on the path to recovery.

That’s because, for every challenge, there’s an opportunity. The opportunity to stop and reflect, rethink and reimagine. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change how we operate as an industry. And it’s an opportunity we don’t want to, and can’t afford, to miss because the time to bounce back has passed. We need to spring forward. We have learned many lessons from Covid-19, and we know that the world of early 2020 is never coming back. So, we must focus on how we change for the better – for our guests, our people, our communities and our planet. Do this, and we’ll emerge from the recovery in a position of strength, continuing to grow, and heading towards a very bright future.

We must all recognise that the pandemic has irrevocably changed our industry, and especially the behaviour and expectations of our guests and colleagues. Whether it’s an increased emphasis on ensuring safe and clean hotel rooms, greater demand for digital innovation, or more flexible ways of working with our people, those who adapt their behaviours first and fastest will be the industry leaders of the future.

All about the people

It is no secret that the pandemic has resulted in a universal labour shortage – and in an industry that is all about people, that presents a significant challenge. So, it’s imperative that at IHG we build and sustain an attractive employer proposition for potential candidates. And I’m proud to say that we’re really taking the time to understand how people’s priorities have changed, as we take great steps towards creating an inclusive and empowering environment for our colleagues, putting wellbeing and self-fulfilment at the heart of our culture and how we do business.

One simple and effective way we’re achieving this is by encouraging our people, where they can, to work flexibly and balance their professional and personal needs. But it’s certainly not just about offering them a blend of working from home and at the office. In the future, I can imagine work becoming even more focused on short, quick assignments, supported by even greater levels of innovation and creativity – with the need to work collaboratively and at (a responsible) pace more important than ever.

The desire to build an inclusive business is also more pronounced than ever, and our responsibility extends to creating a truly diverse working environment that encourages all our people to thrive, whatever their nationality, religion, race, sexuality, ability, background and beliefs. To me, there is no greater way to build a team, develop it and see it succeed than by creating a genuine sense of belonging and shared purpose.

That can only be achieved when our people can see that, as a business, we “walk the talk” and truly tap into the wonderfully wide talent pool at our disposal, building a company that is truly a reflection of the communities we operate in. I am proud to be leading IHG in a market which has so many powerful initiatives in place, such as Change 100 (an internship programme in partnership with the Cheshire Foundation offering graduates with disabilities experience of working in our industry). Only a Pavement Away (which opens the doors of our hotels to those who have suffered from homelessness), and RISE (a programme developing the next generation of female hotel General Managers and Operations talent).

Driving change through sustainability

As a sector, we also have to take responsibility and play our part in looking after our planet, as we think not just about our stakeholders now, but also the generations to follow. We understand how important this is – our research shows 80% of guests would choose a hotel brand operating responsibly, and they’re willing to pay 31% more to do so. Money talks – and it’s a really powerful sign of their intent.

A similar shift in perspective from our owners has also been clear in our recent conversations – and the same goes for our investors, too. In truth, we have all been confronted with the new reality: operating responsibly, in a way that is mindful of our impact on the planet, has become a must. Quite rightly, our stakeholders don’t just expect this, they demand it, and want to spend their money with businesses with meaningful green credentials. It’s all about balance and our job is to ensure we get this right – meeting our environmental targets and our customer service expectations with one seamless and best-in-class offer.

As Karin Sheppard, IHG’s Managing Director Europe, said at the Annual Hotel Conference in November: “The truth is that the best we can do today will not be the best we can do tomorrow. Use that knowledge to be humble and eager to learn and improve as you go.”

A responsible recovery – an opportunity like no other  

Remember, the time for bouncing back has gone. This is our moment to spring forward and we need to grab it with both hands. Armed with the lessons of the past 18 months, wiser from an unprecedented (and unwanted) experience, and aware of the wide-ranging impact the pandemic has had on all of us, we have an opportunity to build a kinder, more inclusive, responsible industry, and a better future for us and our planet.

But this needs to be an industry-wide evolution, in which we all collaborate for the greater good. This challenge is bigger than any one of us. At IHG, we’re ready for the Journey to Tomorrow.


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