Accor staying focused on post-Brexit UK

EyeforTravel caught up with the man charged with leading AccorHotels UK Ireland into a brave new world

Back in 2014, AccorHotels embarked on a five-year €225m digital transformation plan. The much talked about move came in response to the growing number of online companies capturing the customer imagination with so-called ‘alternative accommodation’. With eroding margins, Europe’s biggest hotel operator recognised that it not only had to put the H back into hospitality, but also the D into digital strategy. So, it set about consolidating the guest experience across the entire group, which not only included new leadership but strategic investment in distribution, mobile and data analytics.

With 230 hotels ranging from the budget to luxury in the UK and Ireland, this market was no exception. One of the group’s new leaders is Philip Lassman, who joined AccorHotels UK Ireland as Vice President of Development in September last year to lead the growth of the French chain in these two markets. Lassman, who spent ten years at IHG, says that despite Brexit and heightened threats of terrorism, the UK market remained strong in 2017.

The company clearly remains committed here in spite of or, perhaps, because of Brexit. Over the past year, several reports have cited the weak pound as the reason Brits, and those who have made Britain home, are choosing staycations over travelling abroad. Research by price comparison site, for example, finds that over a third of those planning a trip this Easter has chosen to travel within the UK. The Brexit battered currency has also helped drive inbound tourism too. Although PriceWaterhouse Coopers is forecasting a slower pace of the growth in the UK as the stimulus of the weak pound starts to weaken and new supply kicks in, it argues that, going forward, “reasonably strong growth” is still expected.

Groups like Accor see this, and CEO Sébastien Bazin recently told Sky News that the company remains committed to the UK and will expand its operations ahead of Brexit.

Now six months into his role at Accor, EyeforTravel caught up with Lassman to hear some of his early highlights and priorities for 2018.

Mobile-focused tech investment

AccorHotels has invested and continues to invest heavily in technology, with a two-pronged approach. Firstly to make the guest’s experience easier and more pleasurable, and secondly to help partners manage their hotels better. One example of this, is that the entire ibis UK network now has employees running the hotels from iPads and smartphones. “This means they aren’t tied to a desk and have more time to proactively help guests and provide great customer service,” he says.

In most areas of their lives people can now find the information they want or order goods and services on their mobile phone, and this, Lassman argues, should be the same in hotels. “Guests are now looking for new services and experiences when they travel, but without sacrificing the level of hospitality they have come to expect,” he says.

Accor will certainly be introducing new capabilities in 2018 to make the guests’ experience as convenient as possible. In 2018, a cornerstone of this strategy in 2018 will be mobility. Says Lassman: “Why should a guest have to go to a reception desk to check in or use the landline in their room to make a restaurant booking or order room service?”

Building on the hospitality experience

With the rise of alternative accommodation like Airbnb, Lassman acknowledges that guests are also looking for a new kind of hospitality experience.

“The growth of the private rental sector has certainly increased the appeal of ‘individual’ properties,” he says. This was one of the reasons the group has invested in companies in the private rentals space including Onefinestay, which it acquired in 2016 in a deal worth nearly €150m. Stepping up this game, Accor also acquired US luxury villa broker, Travel Keys and the remaining 51% Squarebreak, a French rentals start-up in which it already owned 49%, as well as VeryChic, a digital platform for the private sale of luxury hotel rooms and apartments, cruises, breaks and packages.

To address shifting consumer demand, like other chains, Accor has also created new lifestyle brands such as JOJOE. Its aim, says Lassman, is to provide a new kind of hospitality experience, which is “a blend of a hostel, a hotel and a private rental property, with communal spaces for both guests and local communities”.

Other hospitality highlights in the UK were the opening of Novotel Canary Wharf, the group’s flagship Novotel. Bokan, the hotel’s destination bar, restaurant and roof terrace, with a panoramic view over London, has racked up a fair bit of marketing mileage. It was ranked number 1 on a list of 25 top London rooftop bars in The Telegraph and received a nothing-short-of rave review by Forbes.

“This is a real highlight for me because it epitomises AccorHotels’ ability to provide modern, superior dining experiences that appeal to local residents and businesses as well as hotel guests – and consequently make a much greater financial contribution to overall revenues,” Lassman says.

Loyalty and community 

Loyalty remains hugely important to Accor, quite simply because if members are loyal they are more likely to information, which helps hotels deliver a better experience. Central to this is the ability to recognise guests, know their individual preferences and offer a truly personalised offering, at all stages of the customer journey.

The hotel market may still be a bit ‘untested’ but this is an obvious entry point for guests looking for a local tour or activity

As one example, of meeting the guest at all stages of the journey, AccorHotels has partnered with GetYourGuide, to deliver relevant tours and activities right from its own e-commerce sites. Accor has moved early to integrate tours and activities into its own platforms. According to Shane Mayer, Head of Strategic Partnerships, GetYourGuide, the hotel market may still be a bit ‘untested’ but this is an obvious entry point for guests looking for a local tour or activity, and also helps to reduce dependence on Google.

Its community hub, AccorLocal, is another core strand of the UK business. “We have recently launched a range of local services available 24/7 via an app, which gives businesses in the community, from the florist to the baker or dry-cleaning service, the opportunity to offer their products and services within our hotels. This has been launched in France and will be rolled out internationally over 2018 and 2019,” he says.

Want to hear more European travel and hospitality trends? Join us in London on June 4,5 and 6 to hear more from some of the biggest travel brands and innovators