Patrick Mendes, Global Chief Commercial Officer at Accor, Europe’s largest hospitality company and the sixth largest worldwide, assures me that even at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when hotel occupancy rates had plummeted and diners had stopped visiting restaurants, he and his team were certain that their industry would bounce back. “Our Chairman and CEO, Sébastien Bazin often says, ‘Hospitality is a blessed industry,’” Mendes explains. “And today, our strong recovery is fuelled by the widespread desire from people to find new experiences and take advantage of freedoms after more than two years living with restricted travel opportunities.”
In 2021, the revenue of the Accor Group was already up 34% when compared to 2020, and today, the hospitality giant expects 2022 to be “Accor’s year” across its 40+ brands presented through 5,300 hotels in 110 countries, and run by their 230,000-strong hospitality team. However, I suspect that there is more to Accor’s success post-COVID-19 than just people’s renewed desire to travel, and Mendes reveals that his enterprise’s appeal lies in its continuous commitment to innovation and anticipating new trends. “The hospitality industry is undergoing a period of significant change in which many new trends are emerging globally, and in particular, digitalisation is profoundly altering how people work, play, shop, and communicate,” Mendes says. “As a part of this, our guests are progressively adopting digital habits and technologies.” And that is why, in order to provide a frictionless and personalised digital experience to its guests, that Accor launched The Digital Factory in May 2021, which has been mandated to create a powerful digital ecosystem to support the group’s wider business and tech development goals. “We want to attract new customers, surprise them, and foster engagement and loyalty by offering a more seamless and convenient experience and design, access to additional services and experiences, personalisation, and opportunities for engagement,” Mendes says. “With the Digital Factory, there are more than 600 talents who create the best digital experience through our products and services for guests who stay in our hotels, our owners, and the staff.”
Another post-COVID-19 trend that Accor has embraced is a shift to remote working practises, which has gone beyond just existing due to the circumstances as well as the digital marketing tools that enabled it, and further accelerated longerterm transformations in the way people work. “Workers want to experience the office in a different way, with wellness at the centre of their workday, and by valuing the factors of quality F&B, reliable Wi-Fi, access to fitness centre, and ease of commute,” Mendes explains. “The concept of ‘Workspitality’ (work and hospitality) enables us to adapt to the transformation of the way we work.” This would thus explain Accor’s coworking concept, WOJO, which offers flexible workspaces in its hotels- it currently counts more than 300 WOJO spots in 70 French cities, more than 50 hotels in Brazil and Northern Europe, as well as new projects in South America. Enabling experiences is the third trend that Mendes wants his team to remain focused on, especially with ALL, i.e. Accor Live Limitless, a daily lifestyle companion that fully integrates and delivers a wide variety of rewards, services, and experiences to Accor’s clients. “We have holistic ecosystem of hospitality services beyond the stay, transforming our hotels into real places to live, and connect to local culture proposing more local, authentic and rooted experiences,” Mendes explains. “We welcome customers, travellers, and locals, to ‘live, play, work,’ and provide elevated experiences to our guests, enriching our promise and generating engagement.
Through ALL, our powerful digital distribution and transaction platform, we bring simplicity and enhance personalisation.” Sustainability also factors highly as a focus for Accor’s current activities around the world. “Sustainability is a major focus for all players in the tourism industry, and that is why Accor has initiated a process of major transformation, including partnering with UNESCO and Expedia, to promote local communities and economy, while taking tangible action to protect the environment,” Mendes says. “Accor was also the first global hotel group to join the HRS Green Stay initiative, and it engaged also with Hotelbeds on the Green Hotels Program certification to accelerate the industry transition towards sustainable actions by facilitating access to sustainable hotel champions.” Having heard all of this, I find it easy to understand why Accor is today described as an augmented hospitality group that goes beyond accommodation to enable new ways to live, work, and play. And it also shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the regions where the group is enjoying a fast recovery post COVID-19 is the MENA.
Accor’s Chief Commercial Officer for the region, Yigit Sezgin, says that his company has been witnessing only a steadily increasing positive demand curve in the recent past. “If the past 6-12 months have shown us anything, it is that the future of the industry in the region will continue to be bright, and further evolve as travel flight paths continue to grow and travel regulations are removed,” Sezgin says. Across India, the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey, Accor currently has 420 operating hotels, and 27 new properties are set to open this year, which include Banyan Tree in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla, Raffles Doha and Fairmont Doha in Qatar, Fairmont Tanger Tazi Palace and Fairmont Rabat in Morocco. “Intra-regional business travel, especially with the resumption of events around the region, and staycations still remain high-demand drivers for our hotels, which we continue to focus on,” Sezgin adds. “Moreover, we have created a long stay package for guests in response to the increased demand we were seeing for longer visits to our hotels, which may include both work and pleasure. And also, our commercial offerings are revolving around our lifestyle loyalty program, ALL.” In addition to its commercial offering, the lifestyle segment of Accor’s business is seeing a growing interest too. “Lifestyle is a huge opportunity for the region overall, especially in the UAE and KSA, where the markets are growing at a very fast pace,” Sezgin confirms. “We have seen an incredible reception of our brands, such as SLS, Hyde, and 25Hours in Dubai already, which is very exciting, because our upcoming projects in the region will introduce even more lifestyle brands into the market.” Accor’s new F&B concepts also pose a great opportunity for the company. “When you look at the incredible reception that some of our dining concepts (contemporary steakhouse concept Carna, Italian restaurant Fi’lia, IndianBritish restaurant Tandoor Tina) have already received in the market, it is clear to see that customers are looking for exceptional and new experiences that they can enjoy with friends and family alike.”
In the next two years, Sezgin will seek to fully replicate Accor’s success in the region in other markets like the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Israel; however, he highlights the importance of finding the right balance between global and local approaches to do just that. “Aligning with the global strategy and goals is extremely important; however, we cannot forget about regional requirements and priorities to ensure all of our activities are regionalised and relevant to the market,” Sezgin explains. “Having a team on the ground here that helps our team in Paris with these points is pivotal to ensure we keep driving market demand, and continue to push business from both our existing and new key feeder markets.” In achieving this, Sezgin insists on regular meetings and strategy reviews with his team. “We look at key learnings from previous activations and combine them with upcoming requirements and activities we are planning to do, in order to ensure we get the best results possible,” he says. “I am a strong believer that having all the different arms of the commercial team working on the same goal and strategy is pivotal to make sure we achieve (and over-achieve!) our targets for this year.”
As someone who is in charge of Accor’s distribution operations, customer care, and contact centres globally, Markus Keller, Chief Sales and Distribution Officer, believes that understanding local specificities, while keeping a global consistent feel, is key for the successful operations of a hospitality company like Accor
“Welcoming thousands of guests everyday around the world means adapting to expectations in terms of reservation preferences, payment methods, communication methods, and regulation,” Keller explains. “Embracing differentiation is particularly important in certain parts of the world like the Middle East, South America, or China, and our role is to fulfil the expectations of our worldwide clientele. We also have to tailor our service proposition to luxury and lifestyle brands to accompany the evolution of the Group. The challenge is making systems flexible enough to cope with regional requirements without multiplying complexity, and future-proofing through technology within what remains essentially a people business. Close communication and coordinated implementation are key.” Keller also points out here that Accor has always prepared itself to rebound from any crisis that may hit it, and this is thanks to its teams around the world who have embraced flexibility and creativity to capture business opportunities and meet client expectations. “We adapt, adjust, test, and learn, and use this as an opportunity to transform our organisation and technology to be more agile,” he explains. “We reinforce the collaboration and coordination between the headquarters and regions, but also among the regions and provide more leeway to react to local markets. Delivering those requires the input of varied experts, the courage to change your own mind, and ultimately the conviction to lead.” In conclusion, Keller shares a message for anyone wishing to make a successful career in hospitality. “Leaders lead, so believe in yourself, and don’t be afraid,” Keller concludes. “Embrace opportunities to move to a new country, discover new parts of the business, to learn a new language. These are great ways to keep learning, and whatever your industry, it is crucial that you contribute to its sustainable future.”