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IHG’s Leanne Harwood reveals her hospitality hacks

As Managing Director Australasia and Japan, InterContinental Hotels Group, Leanne Harwood shares the lessons she’s learned working in 14 cities and seven countries over 20 years.

Leanne Harwood

Leanne Harwood stumbled onto her career passion somewhat by accident.

“I was a young 20-something and I loved skiing, so I set off for Queenstown, New Zealand. I skied all day and worked in bars all night,” she remembers.

As it happens, this passion for skiing ignited in Leanne an even greater passion for people and hospitality – an industry in which she still works more than two decades later.

“The greatest piece of advice I have for young people starting their careers is to take every opportunity that’s given to you with gusto,” she urges.

“You might not know if it’ll point you in the right direction, but you have to take that leap of faith because what you find at the end of it could surprise you. It happened to me.”

Today with more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, including a decade with IHG, Leanne is Managing Director of IHG’s booming operations in Australasia and Japan.

“I’ve been in this role for 18 incredibly rewarding months. When I started, we embarked on a period of growth where we signed up more hotels than we’ve ever signed in this region before,” she explains.

“Over the next three to five years, we’ll nearly double our portfolio. We’ve opened 32 hotels in Australia already and there’s another 24 opening within the next five years.”

InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort
InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, Australia

The road to growth

Leanne believes the greatest obstacle standing in between IHG and this target is the war on talent, which is particularly fierce in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

“Fundamentally, we’re a people industry, so we’re constantly revaluating how we can excite, attract and, most importantly, retain the next generation of talent and shape them into leaders,” she says.

“I’m very focused on expanding our diversity lens across all components; sex, age, sexual preference, ethnicity, and culture. Our guests come from all walks of life and so should our staff.”

IHG has introduced a range of programs to achieve this – from its RISE female mentorship program to its shadow leadership team to nurture up-and-coming leaders.

“IHG has a strong force of female leaders. Our management is made up of more than 70% women and at the director level, we’re 50/50,” she says.

“And then there’s me; a female Managing Director. I don’t believe in enforcing quotas, but I do believe in creating a culture where women feel safe, supported and empowered. I’m actively trying to champion diversity not only within the business but across our industry.”

InterContinental Sydney
InterContinental Sydney, Australia

The culture of hospitality

In the culturally diverse region of Australasia and Japan, Leanne believes authenticity is crucial in delivering a memorable hotel experience.

“You can’t fake authenticity in the hospitality industry – what you see is what you get. The first thing I notice when I walk into any hotel is how guests are greeted,” she notes.

“It all starts with the first person you meet – whether it’s at the front door, behind the front desk, in the lobby or in the restaurant. We pride ourselves on creating a culture of true hospitality and, for me, this also means banishing the word ‘service’.

“We call it a service industry despite the negative connotations it has in this part of the world. Young people aren’t coming into the industry to serve, they’re coming to create memorable and hospitable experiences.”

Leanne is hesitant to choose one destination that stands above the rest.

“I spend a lot of time travelling internationally but, right now, I’m loving Hobart because of its slow pace, its authenticity and its passion for great food and amazing wine. All these elements align with what I love most about hospitality,” she explains.

“And I’m delighted to say that we’re bringing a hotel to Hobart with the opening of Crowne Plaza Hotel by mid-2020. As for the destination at the top of my bucket list, I cannot wait to visit the newly opened InterContinental Lyon.”

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