Loews snags IHG’s Oliver Bonke as first CCO

NEW YORK—If Oliver Bonke has lyrics by The Who running through his head as he settles into his new position as chief commercial officer at Loews Hotels & Resorts, it wouldn’t seem out of place. He’s more than happy to be the chain’s first CCO and work with the new boss, same as the old boss.

Bonke, who made a lateral move last month from IHG—surprising more than a few industry observers—follows in the footsteps of his former, and now current boss, President/CEO Kirk Kinsell, who came to the Loews C-suite last year.

Bonke was brought on board to oversee the growth of Loews Hotels & Resorts, Loews Regency and the OE Collection, in addition to taking ownership of sales, marketing, guest-facing technology and public affairs.

“I’m looking for people who can sit together with me as a partner to think about the business as a whole and our ability to not only deliver great brands and attract people to those brands [but to]ultimately deliver through the P&L [profit and loss statement]a good margin on that business. Those are traditional kinds of things you think about in a CMO [chief marketing officer]role. At the same time, this business today is also about a larger brand strategy. An underlying element of that is how you think about your distribution strategy as a company that’s on the move. That’s important in terms of the next steps we take,” said Kinsell.

“We’ve got a lot of people out there that strategically want to partner with us across our platforms,” he continued. “We are a small company relative to the [mega-chains] and don’t have all of the resources some of the other companies do. At the same time, we don’t believe it all has to be invented here. We can move very quickly, very nimbly in a marketplace in tandem or collaborating. I think all of the latter elements take a product perspective, one that is more foundational on the commercial approach for the business, and that’s why that broader focus in terms of a role,” said the CEO in describing the need for a CCO at this juncture for Loews.

“I decided that when I walked in the first day, knowing this is where this business is going and I confirmed it as I was going through my own integration into the business,” added Kinsell, who has been at Loews for a year.

Bonke, who was at IHG for almost two years and previously served with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. for 24 years, doesn’t feel he jumped ship from the British mega-chain to re-team with Kinsell.

“I never look at myself as jumping ship. I look at finishing things, closing things that I’m accountable for, not letting anybody hang. Sometimes, when you take a ship into a certain harbor, it’s OK to take another ship and sail again,” said Bonke. “What made me attracted to Loews and this particular role is: Where, in terms of magnitude, one might look at it as a lateral role; in terms of impact on the business, it’s really a more-profound position. That’s what attracted me to it.”

The new CCO said the potential for Loews, which has been pushing growth—at press time it had acquired Seattle’s Hotel 1000 from Provenance Hotels—to be a player “on a different scale than some of the big, consolidated players out there, many of which I have deep experience with, is really exciting. As a company, our scale, with our degree of control over our business, with the trust level among the leadership that Kirk has created here, you can act fast, you can act decidedly, we can be entrepreneurial in what we do and scale things quickly. That’s really fun and something that I think can make Loews stand apart and be an agile player in the industry with really exciting and innovative product. And, that’s in partnership with Kirk. We’ve known each other for many years. It also ties you on a personal level.”

While the position is a new one for Loews, Bonke indicated he has his finger on the pulse of what’s needed for the Loews’ brands based on his skill set.

“In today’s hospitality world, you’re dealing with the requirement of a high-degree of expertise, strong subject-matter experts against a number of value-drivers for the company, whether that is sale, revenue-management expertise, technology expertise, distribution expertise, etc. You run the risk of having any of those managed in a degree of silo and you’re really not putting a strong strategy behind your top line together. So, rather than what I would consider a more-traditional role of a chief brand officer or a chief marketing officer, we stepped back here and said: ‘How do we create strategic leadership for strong subject-matter experts? And those strong subject-matter experts need to ultimately work in an integrated way to deliver value to the whole organization,” said Bonke. “If we take a brand, be that Loews Hotels or the others, it means not just a strong marketing campaign or developing a strong positioning for the brand; it means taking the brand through from ‘How do I do my search? How do I book? What is my stay experience like? What is it like to share my experience after the stay?’ A traditional chief brand officer would look at, in a very narrow context: ‘What is this brand’s values? What does it stand for? How do I market it?’ With a commercial strategy, we take it a step further and say: ‘What is the overall integrated experience we need to have across all these disciplines to make this brand come to life, in particular, the guest experience, and obviously, leveraging technology?’”

Loews Hotels Chairman Jonathan Tisch has cited the importance of commerce for the company, and Bonke noted there are a variety of revenue streams considered positive. 

“We are already very successful in group sales; we’re very successful in the reputational quality of our business and our hotels; the quality of the hotel operations; our social media campaigns are among best in class. We have a number of highly defensible positions that we would want to build out further. That’s really good news because they give you fertile ground to build on. Beyond that, our ability to create innovative solutions around things like digital technology and the digital and mobile journey of our guests, I see that as a priority. I see that as an opportunity for us to be faster than anyone else because of our scale and the control that we have over our business,” said Bonke.

Toward this, the CCO noted the chain is looking at the digitally connected guest experience and how to empower guests with mobile devices. 

“You probably spend 80% of your time on your mobile phone on five apps, so to be front and center, front page, [we need]to be truly relevant to [a guest’s]life. What is really interesting is to make sure that everything that [they]want to engage with with Loews, and for us to offer, is fully mobile enabled. An app is not an answer for everything… We want to make sure we are fully functional and relevant in the mobile world but not necessarily married to [the thought]that has to be an app,” said Bonke.

At the opposite end of the tech world is the tactile universe, and the CCO pointed out the chain’s inventory of nearly two-dozen hotels is approximately 80% renovated. “This is a little bit akin to airline X having the newest fleet in the skies. So, that makes us fresh, that makes relevant, that makes us modern in each one of the guest experiences,” said Bonke.

Bonke has been going around memorizing names and faces and getting used to the new territory, “getting my head into the business but, most important, really just joining the community and meeting this wonderful team here.”

“The thing that was established quickly between Oliver and myself was the sense of our shared values, and that’s important to both of us,” said Kinsell. “It’s important in how I lead an organization, and it’s important, I think, in how people want to be part of an organization and the legacy we’ll create from that.”