“We are back” is the first thing that Group Chief Commercial Officer of Accor, Patrick Mendes, wants the world to know, and after sitting down with three of the top executives from this hospitality giant, you will soon see that they never left.
After a very long pause, the hospitality industry has and continues to pick up, and in the UAE more so than others, largely due to the global events currently taking place in the country.
And Accor is running full speed ahead, not just with the reopening of almost all its operations but with new properties opening roughly every day all over the world.
Patrick Mendes, the company’s Group Chief Commercial Officer, along with his team at Accor navigated through the crisis and applied key learnings to their strategic approach in 2021 and beyond. “We are opening 300 properties a year so it’s one every day – we are opening one property every working day, 65% of the signings are lifestyle, premium and luxury. And here in the Middle East even more than that,” says Patrick.
Patrick has been with the group for over 16 years, he’s held numerous posi- tions throughout the organisation and championed many of its successes. Months after the pandemic brought the world to its knees, in November 2020, he stepped into his new role and took charge of sales, marketing, distribution, and loyalty across Accor’s brands.
“There are a few things that we can continue from covid, I have never been so close to my teams, we connected every week because of the virtual aspects– we will keep this hybrid model. I used to do a townhall where 100 people physically showed up – now when Ido the townhall virtually I have 3,000 people joining and connecting with me. All from hotels on big screens interacting and giving feedback, which we didn’t have in the past. We used this learning to advance our offerings. We just announced two partnerships with Microsoft and a group called 360 to equip our hotels with good technology that allows companies the ability to conduct meetings in our hotels with much more people all over the world. During this time, we learnt that we could improve the quality with our teams, and we can amplify our reach.”
Patrick also added that the crisis helped us gain humanity again. Every- one was affected but in different ways, some lost loved ones, jobs, faced severe loneliness, etc., these situations were discussed, and it connected people.
And not just discussed but addressed. Another fundamental element to how this giant stood strong was their commitment to their people. Instead of finding ways to reduce staff, the ALL Heartist Fund comprising of over EUR70 million of investment from Ac- cor was created to support their staff and partners during COVID-19. Chairman and CEO, Sébastien Bazin was quoted saying, “In light of the urgency and the scale of the situation, we have decided to act in an immediate and meaningful way, in the spirit of our values and commitments.”
This initiative protected Accor’s activity and allowed them to bounce back. It provided financial assistance to ‘Heart- ists’ (Accor employees) physically and
emotionally affected by the virus and on a case-by-case basis, supported individuals who are in business with the Group, and suffered personal financial hardship due to the disruption.
Patrick visited the UAE to share his aspirations for the future and spent some time noting the key things that make the hospitality in this region so unique and profitable. “First of all, the innovation, sense of service, quality of design and diversity of experiences in this region is huge, of course, you can see this in other locations, but here it is concentrated and in such a short time. When I was here four years ago things were different, in a short time the changes that I see now is a huge difference. What excites me about this region is that everything is fast, innovative, big, and with excellent quality.”
When I asked Patrick what he would like to take away from his learnings here and implement in other locations, he said, “in this region, the speed isn’t the same anywhere else in the world. Here there is an augmented hospitality showcase. We need to go further and faster like they do here. This is a good example. You have some properties with roughly 50% of revenue on F&B, which is unique, usually, the standard hotel does 20% -25%.”
Yigit Sezgin, Chief Commercial Officer of Accor commented, “We decided to stay and fight, staying strong in this region has paid off.” And he was right, all 42 brands in over 110 countries did the same during the pandemic and this bold move placed the group in a very strong position. For Accor Group all regions are green and when Accor goes into a market, they go ‘ALL’ in.
“When we enter a market, this is the kind of position we take. We are here for good; we don’t stay for two or three years, make money, and go back to our headquarters. We are a real global company and if you look at our footprint, we are spread all over the world. Of course, this can be difficult when you have a global pandemic as we had, but when things turn around, this becomes a big strength,” says Patrick.
Accor does more than just promote their properties; they promote ‘the wish to travel’ and they do this by investing in numerous campaigns that spread their values all over the world. To stimulate travel Accor recently launched a campaign called Unveil the World. The campaign followed elegant veils as they fell off and revealed some of the most iconic monuments, paintings, museums, sunrises, sunsets and experiences, all over the globe that was out of reach for so long due to travel restrictions from the pandemic.
“We are not talking about hotels, we are not talking about our brands, we are just talking about travel. This was an emotional video and when you watch it you can feel it. It makes you feel safe to dream and safe to travel,” Patrick added.
Accor’s campaigns are known for their human elements, take for instance ALL-Accor Live Limitless, a loyalty programme designed to focus on experiences – something that benefitted the group during the lockdown periods. Yigit explains, “During the pandemic, we were able to promote this programme, step by step. People were stuck in their houses watching football and when they did, they saw our name on the player’s football shirts and the branding in the stadiums. And it doesn’t stop there. We are involved in the music and the entertainment scene, food and beverage, we are also the sponsors for many big events and concerts – this allows people to do more with us.”
The brand continues to find creative ways to benefit their customer, like the promotion of their loyalty programme.
Patrick commented, “We need to make sure that we facilitate his/her journey beyond the hotel. We have created a digital factory, from the moment you dream about travel, book, stay, and leave the hotel, we want to make a connection with you.”
Due to new consumer habits, Accor plans to continue to digitise its business models and services. Another big focus for the future is to innovate and grow all their F&B offerings, especially in the Middle Eastern market.
“We are focused on augmented hospitality. Today a hotel is not just a hotel with lots of rooms. We are transforming several hotels in several cities, many things can happen in a hotel; F&B, rooftops, spas, cooking lessons, kid’s clubs, working spaces, you can transform a hotel from something that was only good for the traveller to something that is also good for its neighbours. Dubai was a clear example of this. When the number of international travellers were reduced, we compensated with the domestic travellers, the consumer from Dubai started using our hotels for other things. And this is part of our strategy to diversify and to transform our hotels.”
He went on to say that “launching ALL was a very bold decision, to create this campaign was very difficult. We went on social media and searched what are the key elements that people look for. You have gastronomy, sport, travel. These were the three main findings feeding social media. We decided to go with sport, we signed with PSG and we positioned ourselves with sport in the mind of the consumers. In a year and a half, we have exceeded in putting ALL in the mapping of big brands.
“Now we are going further to make sure that the consumer knows that ALL is a reward programme. It’s a booking platform that allows you to do more than going to spend a night in a hotel room. It’s about sport, events, tastes of London, taste of Paris, using your points to buy flight tickets with our partners, ALL gives you the possibilities to use all the experiences around travel not just travel, but live, work and play. We are trying to maximise your experience with Accor,” said Patrick.
Another clear goal for the company is digital, Accor wants to make sure that when you travel you have ALL on your smartphone and that’s all you need. Whether you want to explore the world or need information on different locations, or you want to book a spa, restaurant or connect with others about their experiences. People generally have two or three apps for travel and Accor plans to be one of those apps.
“I have been working in this company for 17 years and this is the first time I am seeing such an alignment in the Excom level from one objective. The objective is clear we want to become the leader in augmented hospitality and diversify in all segments. That’s why you are seeing Accor acquiring lots of companies, like Fairmont, Raffles, Movenpick, Mama Shelter, Paris Society in France, and high-end luxury catering businesses. ”And among those many properties that Patrick mentioned is the enchanting Raffles The Palm Dubai. Located on the West Crescent of Dubai’s iconic Palm Jumeirah Island, the landmark resort offers Raffles’ legendary hospitality, care, and attention to detail and a fresh perspective on Dubai’s vibrant mix of modern city life and traditional Emirati culture.
Raffles The Palm Dubai is designed to offer the highest levels of comfort, with the finest European and internationally sourced furnishings and materials used throughout the property. Each of the resort’s 389 luxurious rooms and suites features a balcony and terrace that provide stunning views of the azure Arabian Gulf and Dubai’s urban skyline. The resort’s six Royal Villas and two Imperial villas offer the utmost privacy and comfort in luxuriously spacious surroundings.
Guests will be able to experience ultimate relaxation and pampering at the award-winning Parisian Cinq Mondes Spa, which houses 23 treatment rooms, two private spa suites and a stellar indoor swimming pool. The resort’s 500-metre-long private white sandy beach will be home to a stylish beach club concept showcasing the very best of Mediterranean cuisine, alongside sophisticated entertainment and much more.
To tell us more about the soul of this exciting Accor addition we spoke to Ayman Gharib the newly appointed Managing Director of this resort.
A typical day for Ayman starts around 8am on the Palm, after scanning through his emails he moves onto the most important task of the morning, which is, guest feedback. “Over the years I learnt one thing
in luxury – some of your most loyal guests are the ones that have had their issues solved with great resolution. So, we take every comment from everywhere very seriously. We take mishappenings as an opportunity to win guests for life,” Ayman adds.
And when he is not in sales, marketing, or department meetings, you can find him in the lobby or making his rounds throughout the entire hotel, talking to guests, and ensuring that all is running smooth.
“I started in the field as a waiter, and I loved it. The challenges, screaming in the kitchen, it was old school you know and I loved it. I still remember that if I wanted to talk to my maître d’, I had to talk to several people before I could have a five-minute chat with him, that’s how it was done then. I was also a steward for a while. It was a tough job, but I learned how to appreciate the big efforts that people make behind the scenes and not to take anything for granted. It was always F&B, that was always my passion. And I just grew within the ranks and that’s how I got here today.”
Like the rest of his colleagues at Accor, Ayman doesn’t do downtime. His aspiration for Raffles The Palm Dubai keeps him focused and busy. “I would like us to be perceived as one
of the top three hotels in the next 15 months in the city from a guest choice point of view. I would like to also be known for being a hotel that cares for its guests, not just by making sure that they enjoy their stay but also making sure that we are environmentally conscious, we are kid-friendly – family is a big deal for us, and you see that in all our family-focused services. It’s very important to us that when people hear Raffles the Palm Dubai, keywords like hyper-personalisation, luxury, and consistency is what they know we are all about.”
To succeed in the luxury hospitality market a lot is required, but the basics are that you need to have a premium quality product, exceptional talent, a great location, and high-end bells and whistles. Raffles the Palm Dubai, has all the above, and much more. “I think what we can boost is the authenticity of products used, the carpets we use are made in France, our Rosa Portogallo marble has been personally chosen and excavated to be used here, all our hand-carved Francesco Molon furniture, our silk wallpaper, all the boxes have been ticked in our hotel. Our smallest room is 65 square meters, every room has a balcony with a view, our unique Raffles Club lounge, outstanding F&B offers, and 24k gold ceilings, I mean who has all this. No one. We have a very passionate owner, who has been involved in every detail of this property.”
Another thing you can count on in this luxury location, Raffles The Palm Dubai is the privacy that Ayman himself makes sure you will get. “I had two cousins staying in one of our other hotels for more than a week, both from a royal family. This is a true story; they left the hotel and none of them knew that the other was here.”
Raffles The Palm Dubai has just opened and already they have their hands full. With so much still to come from their F&B Offerings, and Kid’s Edu-tainment and Wellness pro- grammes this new location is set to capture the hearts of travellers in the ‘palm’ of their hands.