Can Faik meets with Accor’s Chief Executive Office for Europe, Franck Gervais, to discover what the future holds for one of the biggest companies in the global hospitality market …

Accor is a world-leading augmented hospitality group offering unique experiences in 4,900 hotels and residences across 110 countries. The group has been acquiring hospitality expertise for more than 50 years, resulting in an unrivalled portfolio of brands, from luxury to economy.

What does your current position involve?

As Accor’s CEO Europe, I oversee the development and reorganisation of Accor within Europe. When I took this role, the division had been newly created with the aim of combining European style with sustainability.

As you celebrate two years this month as CEO of Europe, what fascinates you about the luxury hotel industry?

Travellers who stay in luxury hotels tend to already enjoy a lifestyle full of experiences. Capturing and retaining this audience means we need to constantly innovate and adapt rapidly, which is a fascinating endeavour. Marc Dardenne, who has recently joined the group as CEO, Luxury Brands, Europe, oversees the operations of our luxury hotels in Europe. He is an accomplished and award-winning hotelier who brings his deep knowledge and expertise of the luxury hotel industry to our group. 

What are the most challenging issues you are facing within your current role?

The hospitality industry faces many issues, in particular the constant need to adapt to rapidly evolving circumstances. We operate in a world where you simply can never let your guard down. New and different players are constantly appearing, and demand is increasing, fuelled by the emergence of new ways of working, living and playing. 

At Accor, we strive to always remain innovative, to be agile and responsive in the face of all these developments, and to continuously reinvent our offers to attract and retain customers. At a time when customer expectations are changing fast and technology is constantly improving, it is crucial for us to introduce a genuine innovation strategy while anticipating new market trends. 

For example, Jo&Joe is a brand which illustrates well how innovative we can be. It blends the best of private-rental, hostel and hotel formats aimed at the Millennial-minded community. We have created vibrant, cool, affordable and caring houses, filled with ever surprising design, animations and talents open to neighbours and travellers alike. 

“Beyond figures and RevPar, the European market is vibrant – it is undergoing huge change, in terms of both supply and demand”

What’s one unexpected shift that you’ve seen in guest expectations or demands in the last two years?

The needs and expectations of modern travellers have totally changed in recent years. Many factors are driving growth: the growing significance of Eastern European countries, the reinvention of traditional destinations like France and Italy, digitalisation and diversification of the offering, a more global clientele, and so on.

If I were to highlight just one shift, I would say that customers are now increasingly focused on sustainability, on authenticity and on hotel experiences that respect people and the world around them.  This leads to the development of an alternative hospitality and sustainable tourism offer. We have listened to our customers and their expectations, and launched our latest brand in France, greet, a community-based, responsible and non-standardised brand.

greet has a unique holistic approach. It seeks to serve travellers who are looking to add meaning to their purchases and are aware of their impact on the planet. It is a committed brand that advocates a philosophy of authenticity, sharing and friendliness, and non-standardised design that makes each hotel a unique and welcoming living space where it feels good to be and to spend time with family or friends. 

How do you plan to reinvent the hotel for the 21st-century consumer?

The 21st century will be about positive and meaningful hospitality. As Accor’s Chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin said, the Group is fully aware of the challenges of welcoming over 120 million guests each year, and of our responsibility as a company and an economic player. We have always been fully committed to limiting the negative impacts of our activity and creating tangible benefits for our employees, guests, suppliers, partners and host communities.

With our sustainable development programme, Planet 21, we have helped raise awareness and contributed to concrete initiatives in key areas of concern. To give you two concrete examples, we pay special attention to specific issues which directly impact our hotels, both in terms of design and in terms of the relationship with the client: a move towards carbon-neutral buildings and healthy and sustainable food, with a ban on food waste. 

One initiative reunites both: we have already set up 1,056 urban vegetable gardens in our hotels.

What role does Europe play in Accor’s growth?  

Europe is Accor’s historical and high growth potential market, representing 47% of Accor’s hotel network. With approximately 340k rooms in its European network, Accor has more rooms than the other two biggest chains combined. 

In terms of growth projection, the 340K will rise to more than 350K in 2020 and, over the next five years, Accor has more than 320 hotels / about 42,000 rooms in its European pipeline.

In terms of performance, with the revenue per room (RevPar) being a key metric, Europe is driving the group’s performance as it contributes to approximately 50% of the total RevPar.  

By adapting to this environment, we are developing valuable skills which can be also replicated and customised for other regions. The hospitality industry has been undergoing a significant transformation in recent years with a huge increase in the number of brands and offers available, notably in the upscale and lifestyle segments.

In a previous interview with Mark Willis of Accor, I was informed Accor opens one hotel every 33 hours, is that still the case? 

This is now every 29 hours. In Europe, Accor opens one hotel every three days and has opened its 3,000th hotel in Europe in the third quarter of 2019.

What is the biggest challenge that you’re facing to improve the guest experience today?

We want to make our guest experience memorable and personalised. The experience needs to be precisely tailored to each customer’s needs, anticipating what they want at any given time of their stay. Personalisation goes along with this: the more I know you, the more I know your expectations, the more I am able to anticipate them and have a positive effect – a truly virtuous circle for the customer experience. 

Digitalisation is essential to this and smartphones and iPads enable our teams to improve and modernise their interactions with customers. 

Also, loyalty-building is a major challenge that our lifestyle platform ALL, Accor Live Limitless, should help us rise to.  We want to reward our customers even more and even better for their loyalty, and to offer them exclusive experiences around three themes: live (hotels), work (coworking spaces in our establishments), play (a concert at the O2 Arena in London). 

Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?

By the end of 2019, Accor will bring together all the benefits, services and experiences that it offers to its most loyal customers under a single brand and digital platform, “ALL – Accor Live Limitless”. 

In Europe, the implementation of this new strategy will lead to the creation and success of an ecosystem of reinvented lifestyle brands, high-performance solutions and human values that are deeply rooted in Accor’s culture. 

We view this as a totally reimagined approach, which will create a 360° experience for our customers; combining the best of digital (smooth, mobile, personalised) and people (Heartists programme) while leveraging products (new designs, F&B options, wellness offers, etc).

Can you give us an update on Raffles London, and what we can expect from this luxury and iconic property?

We announced in 2017 we had signed a partnership to transform the iconic Old War Office building in Whitehall into the most unique hotel and deluxe residences in London, with the Raffles Hotel at its heart. 

We have now selected a construction firm, London-based Ardmore to restore and convert the Old War Office.  At this stage, I can just tell you that this opening will be a strategic addition to the Group’s Luxury portfolio. This unique hotel will provide guests with unparalleled service and experience.

How does design play a role in driving customer loyalty?

Design is not just about decor; it plays an integral role in creating the experience we want to deliver to our guests. Because design is closely linked with guest experience, we work in collaboration with our global marketing teams either on architecture, space organisation or style to ensure strong brand recognition. This strengthened identity makes our hotels more attractive to welcome guests and boosts customer loyalty.

Design allows our brands to stand out by making them immediately recognisable. Memorable experiences, which is a key driver in customer loyalty, are about emotion and feeling, hence the importance of focusing on a sensory and generous design. Every detail matters: colours, materials, decoration, works of art and so on. 

Additionally, our customers’ perception of modernity is constantly evolving, so we need to continually rethink the design in our hotels.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

Hotels are no longer dedicated just for travellers but locals too. Travellers want to feel at home when they stay in a hotel, so interaction with locals gives an added authenticity. We have met this demand by creating “Social Hubs” in our hotels. Ibis’ and Novotel’s new design concepts, like the ibis Zurich Messe Airport, which within its lobby created Charlie’s Corner as well as the creation of the brand Jo&Joe are tangible examples. Lifestyle brands we acquired in the past few years such as  SLS or Mama Shelter are also good examples of brands which promote interaction in their design. 

Hotels also need to be sustainable in their design. In the future, we hope to revolutionise our service in terms of energy, water, carbon to meet our guests’ expectations. Design has a crucial role to play in this.

Technological innovation at Accor can be seen through the creation of the “Smartoom”, a room for all whether you are young, old, abled or disabled. The Smartroom, which comes with voice assistant, is available in our ibis, ibis budget, Novotel, Pullman hotels. Fols mobile (hotel PMS) also played a transformational role in the way we welcome guests in our hotels. We have switched from a transactional exchange to a more human welcome.

How important is interior design within your hotels? 

Design plays a large role in our guests lives, as it can provide a source of inspiration in their own homes. Discovering new hotels, with varying designs, provides a different experience they may wish to replicate at home.  

Beyond inspiration, we aim to factor our guests’ passions. This is why we created Flying Nest, a mobile hospitality solution that has already seen great success in events such as 24hours Le Mans, We Love Green festival, Avoriaz and so on. We had a design approach from A to Z and we use design to explore what can be the hospitality of tomorrow. 

Another example which demonstrates how essential interior design is for the Group was the launch this year of a new lifestyle brand in the midscale segment, Tribe. With this brand, we aim for an original and carefully curated interior that focuses on style. In each living space and for every service, particular attention has been paid to user-friendliness without overlooking either style or comfort. 

Everything has been designed to increase the sense of space, enhance the decor and improve the customer perception. The design is sleek – the hotel’s common areas, like that of the guest rooms, create a feeling of greater space by opening out onto the exterior. The modern style is complemented by artfully designed objects such as Moroso chairs, Jean-Paul Gaultier cushions and Tom Dixon lamps. 

How important is it choosing the right designer for each hotel?

The designer should have a vision on the future of society. He must be aware of the experience our brands want to deliver to their guests. We must choose a designer that will stay true to the identity of the brand and the owner of the hotel, to get the perfect match.

What plans and aspirations do you have for Accor?

Remaining the leader in Europe in an industry with many contenders and disruptors.

What one thing have you not yet done that you really want to do?

One of the key topics this business has ahead of it is sustainable tourism. We face many challenges as we travel on this journey: things we must invent, or re-invent, and problems to overcome. I think that focusing on that challenge and delivering a more sustainable model for tourism is my main priority, and one that I am totally focused on achieving.