Accor is an augmented hospitality group offering unique and meaningful experiences in 5300 hotels, resorts and residences across 110 countries. With an unrivalled portfolio of brands from luxury to economy, Accor has been providing hospitality savoir faire for more than 50 years.
What was your background before working for Accor?
I spent a decade working in spa and wellbeing consultancy, based firstly in Thailand for seven years and then in China for three years. I consulted for two companies – Resense Spa and GOCO Hospitality – working with owners, designers, developers and global brands to develop and design wellbeing concepts.
I supported architects in the design and developing spaces, alongside bigger and larger-scale projects, like master-planning wellness resorts and financial feasibility studies. Before that I worked: for Six Senses as their operations director based in Asia; with Jumeirah hotels based in Dubai; as well as in the health club industry, and as an asset manager within an owners’ office. In total, I have spent over 22 years working in health and wellbeing, in different fields and different locations – finally joining Accor in 2018.
What does your current position involve?
As global VP of wellbeing for Accor, I oversee all brands in the Accor portfolio. With my team, I focus on three specific elements. Firstly, working with the brand leadership to define and create a wellness strategy for each of the brands. This involves looking at differential ways of approaching our guests based on the demographic, the location, and the type of brand and the segment – all supported by our six pillars of wellbeing to create a content strategy, execution events and activations.
We also work with design and development to create hotels with spaces that are aligned and attuned to our guests’ wellbeing – realising spa, wellness and fitness spaces that are appropriate for the location and appropriate for our brands.
And finally, we focus on making wellness a company imperative, securing internal buy-in from our 260,000 colleagues, while also driving external thought leadership to elevate wellness within hospitality, pushing the boundary and the conversation about what wellbeing is. Examples of this would be our recently released Health to Wealth podcast series and our whitepaper, released just before Covid, about what we call the ROI of Wellness.
It’s a very transversal role, supporting the business and activating our brand in the most appropriate way, while capitalising on the incredible opportunity that wellness has within hospitality for our guests, and making sure we are developing that appropriately.
What is Accor’s approach to wellbeing?
Wellness for us is the activity, wellbeing is the outcome. We’re an outcome-based organisation and an outcome-based department. Within wellness and activations, there are six big key pillars – movement, spa, nutrition, mindfulness and meditation, space design, and lastly, and new to the pillar process, ‘responsible digital’ – how we deliver wellness and wellbeing content and use technology to enhance wellness for our guests.
We then look at a brand and consider what to activate. For example, with our Vitality programme within Swissotel, we turn the volume up or down on those pillars depending on the guests, the demographic, and the brand. For Swissotel, F&B, nutrition, mindfulness and fitness are the main areas of focus, but when we go to Raffles, an ultra-luxury brand, spa and mindfulness and our design process become the main drivers.
Even though these pillars are quite static, we have the ability to flex and create defined programmes based on a foundational wellness experience. It’s really important for Accor that we actually base our approach on solid elements that really appeal to all our guests.
What shifts have you seen in guest expectations or demands in the last two years?
We have seen a super acceleration in the adoption of the wellness and wellbeing practice over the past two years. Four out of five of our guests are taking daily steps to improve their health and wellbeing in some way, whether through diet and nutrition, movement, or meditational elements. Now, post-Covid, where during this period people have really understood that they need to own their health, we see the acceleration of this understanding really seeping into people’s lives, having discovered, during the lockdown, walking, home exercise, or yoga.
We’ve seen a deepening of that awareness.
Concepts like gut health, nutrition and veganism have accelerated, demonstrating that people are looking to be more preventative rather than curative in how they approach healthcare.
Also of note is the acceleration and adoption of discussions about mindfulness and mental health. Three to four years ago, people were not having that conversation. Now, it’s a very open conversation about how we can tackle and reduce stress, and how can we actually adopt mindfulness practices to help us with mental health.
Finally, there is an acceleration in our industry of the adoption of digital. Moving to a responsible way of delivering content, for example, or using technology to enhance spa wellbeing delivery.
What role does wellbeing play in Accor’s international growth?
It’s an absolute imperative. The group now operates over 625 spa and wellbeing locations globally, and over 1000 fitness and health club centres. We’re seeing that even at mid-scale there’s an absolute demand for us to be embracing and showcasing wellness practices. We’re seeing a much more sophisticated customer.
The power of wellness is very interesting because there are two sides. First is the push factor, which is basically moving away from stress and a busy workplace, the need to rest and recuperate – all these different things that are causing stress in our lives are pushing us towards a healthier lifestyle.
We then have the highly attractive aspirational pull factors, which are social media-driven, or aspiration drive – looking at somebody on Instagram doing headstands in yoga – drawing you towards that sort of lifestyle.
This push and pull is very interesting for us in hospitality, because the highly attractive aspiration and the movement away from stress factors create demand for us within hospitality.
Our owners and developers are understanding that they need to be working with partners who understand wellness because it’s a standard and the norm now. How you execute is actually going to be the differentiator. And so, the conversations about room design, lobby design, about vegan-based F&B, spa, yoga retreats, talent – that’s what our owners and developers want from us as a hotel group. And I really believe that within the big groups, Accor is leading how we, as an industry, approach wellness.
How important it is to have a centralised strategic approach, and operations control over the wellness of your various hotel brands?
There are two central parts to this – having a strategic approach and a brand-driven understanding of where we want to go. And secondly, having a design-driven approach where we can create thematic experiences and maximise the opportunity for wellness in our hotels.
When it comes to operations, we’ve got to be very clear and say we have incredible operators, incredible hotel GMs, incredible spa leadership in the field, that can then deliver that – but also be given the room to breathe or deliver those elements in localised ways. Trying to set strong guidelines for France and then asking the same of Bangkok, for example, isn’t possible. What we need to do is set very clear intentions on what the brand is, and then allow that to breathe on a local level, creating an authentic wellness and wellbeing experience.
We want to empower our GMs and empower our operational teams to own the operation-only asset. A centralised brand strategy, thought leadership and design philosophy are fundamental, but the ability for our operators to operate and use their skills in the field with strong support from us in training, development, quality control and support is also key.
Do you think the hotel industry has a good understanding of the ROI on wellness?
We have started talking in a way that is more modern in how you calculate ROI. Wellness travellers spend more money on the property – +56% more is spent on our offer compared to an average standard-level leisure traveller. That’s highly attractive. It’s tracked, it’s data quantified, and it’s absolute fact.
Secondly, we’re seeing that the most surprising and delighted guests online are those who experience wellness activity. They’re the ones who would talk to 50 people about their experience, because it came from a really strong emotional place. That’s really powerful for us, and as an industry, in terms of ROI, brand love and repeat customers.
Wellness travellers are very loyal in destination wellbeing locations, of which we only operate a few. You see repeat customers coming back at a rate of 60%+ – that’s highly attractive and very interesting for any property to tap into. Finally, having a clear understanding of social media and the power it has for driving positive reputation, awareness, interest, aspiration and now clickthrough when moving into reservation and booking. If there are 8.5 million individual conversations happening on social media per month, just about wellness, from fitness to yoga and anything else, the industry has to be part of that conversation. Those three things for us are the fundamentals of our ROI.
Accor is predominantly an operator when it comes to its luxury hotel brands. To what extent do owners influence the development of spas?
Ten years ago, owners would heavily rely on consultancy or hotel operators to make recommendations and accept them. Now we’re seeing that the premium luxury (and ultra-luxury) scale has a much more sophisticated understanding of wellness and wellbeing through their own adopted practice. Ten years ago, it was a big discussion – do I have one? Is it important? And, more likely, ‘let’s just build more rooms.’ Now, the conversation is, ‘where am I placing my leisure and wellbeing activities within the hotel?’ and ‘how can we create a community-driven environment around that, either in a resort or urban location?’
We work very closely with ownership to make sure we build it appropriately. The higher up the luxury scale we go the more I see very specific, detailed involvement in what the requirements are, which I think is a positive thing.
Ultimately, as an operator and a hotel management company, we must work in partnership with an owner to create ROI and profitability for us both. I think the process now is much more dynamic, it’s much more educated and it’s much more sophisticated in terms of the demand.
Have you noticed any trends in interior design within wellness?
What I wish to see now from any design for an interior for a spa and wellbeing space, is what I would call a thematic experience. Those spas that get it right approach it in the same way that good F&B approaches it. They sit down and create a journey and a narrative before they put pen to paper and design the space. I think that’s one thing that is really important when working in design – to say what’s the narrative, what’s the experience, what’s the journey, what are we going to be tasting and feeling and seeing and touching and understanding. And then it’s looking at the facility. From there we can layer on the texture of interior design and materials.
And it’s not just the treatment – the spa experience is all the things you do outside the treatment. It’s being in the Jacuzzi, lying on the bed by the pool, being served your tea in the relaxation lounge, your changing facilities, your transition from one space to another. Good spa design gets all those things right.
One dramatic improvement we need as an industry is in fitness design. If you look at the marketplace, things like One Rebel, Third Space and Equinese are highly sophisticated fitness areas in clubs with high design standards and very dynamic exercise environments. By contrast, if you go to a good hotel, it’s more likely a bank of treadmills staring out of a window – it’s so far away from what’s happening in the marketplace.
At Accor, we have created Power Fit (working with London-based BERGMAN Interiors), a boutique fitness brand that looks and feels like a Barry’s Bootcamp or a Soul Cycle for our hotels. It’s a dramatic departure from how normal hotels do it. Embracing fitness, and the understanding of the community that fitness can drive, is vitally important in our hotels. And I think we’re seeing that as a trend, as a movement in design – more sophisticated design, interior materials and equipment selection.
Another exciting development is what I would call self-guided bathing journeys. From big indoor/ outdoor bathhouses with steams and saunas such as QC Therma, to smaller experiences, like AIRE Ancient Baths, Banya No.1 or Russian Bathhouse. These are interesting concepts because they’re self-guided journeys with a lower labour, higher margin, and they’re fun! They’re communal and they get people together. People like to get back to the basics of what wellbeing is – sweat, relaxation, heat, and cold therapies. I’m seeing a big interest in that, and we’re certainly changing and moving our narrative towards that.
Also, biohacking, or using technology in a way that can create results for our customers and consumers. For example, Remedy in Los Angeles or LondonCryo in Belgravia, where you combine things like cryotherapy, infrared therapy, chiropractor acupuncture, and East and West blends, and all results are focused and based on the idea of recovery. That’s a really interesting space for us to play in. We’re moving away from the traditional spa into those areas.
How do you think people’s expectations of hotels are changing?
We have a very sophisticated customer.
Sophisticated in their dietary requirements – whether it’s veganism, plant based, bulletproof coffee, keto or Kombucha.
Consumers are also now very savvy in spa wellbeing delivery. They understand treatments and want results. Additionally, people are expecting and want a sense of community from their hotels and to be able to mix and mingle with the local community in bars, in restaurants and also in co-working spaces and in fitness areas and spas.
Finally, what people expect from a room has changed. It’s not just a place to lie your head down and watch TV anymore. You’ve got to get the basics right, in terms of lighting design, wellbeing in my room, bed quality, air quality, cut-out curtains, electromagnetic frequency, standing desks and tables.
There was a reason why we created the Vitality Room for Swissotel, which is a much different way of approaching room design – putting the wellbeing of our customers at the heart of that. We’re doing a similar design philosophy, developed by our global design team, called Design for Harmony, with our Raffles brand.
People are watching Grand Designs every week – even IKEA’s got incredible furniture selection – everyone’s got an opinion about interior design. Fifteen years ago, great interior design sold you a hotel. Now it’s very, very hard to impress a customer just through fantastic interior design. That is just expected.
Instead, you layer on through emotional attachment, community attachment, through their taste buds being tantalised, incredible service and human delivery. The volume on that gets turned up, and the customer experience gets much higher.
So, what do we do? We do the great things well – incredible comfort, incredible sleep in our rooms, incredible fitness, incredible nutritious F&B. It’s a different conversation to the one we were having 15 years ago. It’s much more about creating spaces where people can commune and feel comfortable, and good interior design is central to that.
What are you excited about at Accor?
Our brand-new Health to Wealth podcast series, where we have interviewed 12 incredible people from around the world to broaden the conversation about wellness and wellbeing. The idea is to really understand the role we play as a company in terms of our responsibility, and to tackle certain issues like sustainable investment, mental health issues and food waste, encouraging people to take those daily steps to improve their lives and wellbeing. Wellbeing can’t be well unless society, the environment and our workplace is well. We really talk about that in a much broader way and take the conversation to a far wider and broader audience. That is our responsibility as a company.
Lastly, please share some good news! Have you done anything to stay busy in these crazy times?
I think they’ve been very challenging times, and I don’t think we’ve processed what’s happened yet.
During lockdown I rediscovered my passion for cooking. I worked my way through a lot of Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White books! I also put away social media because I didn’t feel it was right and healthy for me at that time, and I rediscovered reading, and read 75 books last year.
I also worked on my mindfulness practice, and the breathing practice there was so vital to maintain control, health and wellbeing. If we could only learn to breathe and teach our children to breathe and to meditate, I think the world would be a much better place!