With more than 300 properties in the Middle East and Africa region, Accor today boasts of a diverse portfolio of brands (over 40 globally) and experiences for their guests. The company’s portfolio that once housed cornerstone brands such as Novotel, Mercure and Ibis and long-standing luxury hotels like Raffles, Fairmont and Sofitel, has expanded their footprint with new partnerships in the leisure and lifestyle segment. Young, vibrant and luxurious, the new brands include SLS, 25hours, Mama Shelter, Hyde and Th8 Hotel among others.
ArabiaTravelNews.com caught up with Mark Willis – CEO India, Middle East, Africa & Turkey, Accor who says each of the brands was introduced to satisfy the needs of specific markets and guests, with very specific facilities and services to match them.
In a post pandemic hospitality market Willis remains optimistic as the region’s portfolio remains robust with over 100 properties in the pipeline in the next 24 months.
What are some of the opportunities that came your way this last year?
The past year has seen an increase in demand for leisure, resorts and lifestyle brands and properties in the region and this is mainly due to the leisure market undertaking “staycations” instead of traveling abroad for their holidays or family breaks.
In Dubai, the opening of SLS Dubai in April has definitely peaked the interest of guests and partners alike when it comes to lifestyle brands that offer “more than just rooms” and we expect that the opening of 25 Hours Dubai and HYDE Business Bay Dubai later on this year will only reinforce the entry of lifestyle brands into the region.
Another opportunity we have launched this year is our partnership with Bulldozer group to create a value-added F&B innovation with Kitch In (an integrated food technology platform that will deliver premium cuisine everywhere in the Emirate, using an easy-to-use App.) and the response so far has been extremely positive and we look forward to continuing our expansion with them, not only in the UAE, but also in KSA and other global destinations such as London and New York.
Accor had announced plans for 100 new hotels for the region in the next 3 years. What makes you so confident of the region?
Demand in the India, Middle East, Africa & Turkey region remains positive, which in turn drives the desire to develop further properties. We work very closely with our partners to ensure the right brands are placed on the right properties and markets, as we support them further once properties are open to ensure smooth operations and positive results.
Even though there may have been some understandable delays with openings the past 18 months, we are now seeing a positive trend in owners which are keen to open their properties due to the increase in demand for hotel stays, especially in our region and more specifically in the Middle East and UAE.
UAE and much of the region has largely depended on discounted rates in the last year. How sustainable is this? When do you expect to see a shift in demand ?
As travel restrictions are eased and the roll out of vaccine programs continue, we are definitely seeing an increase in regional and international travel. Our luxury properties located on the beach side and other emirates outside of Dubai have seen a very positive impact from local travel, I do not foresee this changing in the short term, we will definitely see an increase in international demand alongside the local demand we have already been seeing the past months.
The opening of EXPO in October, alongside an increasing number of events taking place throughout the UAE in Q4 2021 and the festive season holidays that are approaching, are assisting in driving the demand from regional and international target markets.
In a post pandemic environment, tell us how guest expectations have changed? How do you ensure the highest standard of service?
Guest expectations have evolved to be much more experiential and personalized. At Accor, we have a broad range of brands which range from economy to luxury, which enables us to fit the different segments and market requirements which guests may have based on their preferences. Having such recognizable brands with global standards ensures that our guests receive the service levels they expect during their stay.
We are also seeing an increase in “conscious” travel which is focused around the outdoors, environmental practices and giving back to the community; our brand Mantis is the ideal fit for this. We recently announced the first Mantis arriving into the Middle East Market and I am very excited to showcase this brand in this region.
With safety and security still a concern, how is Accor equipped to handle guest needs today?
Understandably, some concerns are still there when traveling, however I strongly believe that the desire to travel will surpass any possible doubts. At Accor, we have implemented the All Safe program, to reassure guests about all the extra precautions which have been implemented in our properties globally.
Overall, the reopening of our markets, the rollout of vaccine programs globally, the restart of “in person” events and the ease of travel restrictions are only going to assist in easing any concerns travelers may have further.
Over the last year, the world around us relied and thrived on various technological advancements. How is Accor positioned to adapt to this new tech-savvy new normal?
We have launched a number of technology improvements in our properties in the last year. One prime example of this is the ALL CONNECT program, which enables hybrid meetings to take place in our properties through a partnership with Microsoft. The new ALL CONNECT concept will ensure Accor properties can provide an enriched full experience that resets the bar on hybrid meeting experience.
We plan to equip 100 per cent of our hotels, across all brands, with meeting rooms that comply with the hybrid meetings new standard by 2022. We expect the trend towards remote events and meetings likely to continue beyond the pandemic and so the new meeting offer will be a new revenue stream for the company as corporate customers continue to prioritize health and safety, while maintaining business connections.
Another example of technological enhancement is the implementation of the Accor Key throughout our establishments, which once again places emphasis on contactless services. The Accor Key is a digital key solution that will give customers a keyless door entry solution, while ensuring that hotels do not lose the human touch that guests require. Guests will receive their room key virtually upon downloading Accor’s digital key app, which will provide access to rooms, entry to meeting rooms and floor access via lifts using their smartphone. Once departing the hotel, the mobile key will automatically be deactivated.
Moreover, as part of our ALL SAFE program, we have implemented virtual menus which can be accessed by smart phone, contactless checkin/check out, as well as Whatsapp messaging services for guests to be able to speak to our teams directly.
How much of this has been as a direct result of the pandemic vs what was on the agenda?
Technological improvements are always part of our agenda as we see them as a way to elevate the guest experience, however implementing ALL SAFE has definitely pushed us to roll out some of these services at a faster pace than anticipated.
Technology offers guests the possibility of experiencing the same services in a contactless manner, as well as ensuring that their experiences are much more tailor made to their requirements. We have received a very positive reception of our ALL SAFE procedures, the technology services being some of them.
Accor has spoken about boosting your leisure offerings. How will you implement this with the luxury brands?
Accor has over 22 brands across India, Middle East, Africa & Turkey, with many more brands entering the region in the coming months and years, however the desire for luxury travel and luxurious experiences remains, we can clearly see this with brands such as Fairmont and Raffles. The opening of Raffles in Udaipur in August this year alongside the opening of Raffles The Palm Dubai next month are a testament to this demand.
Our luxury properties are known for their individual expertise and leisure offerings, anywhere in the world. This could be at Rixos, where guests can enjoy all-inclusive stays with a wide choice of entertainment and F&B options or at a Banyan Tree where the focus is on luxury experiences that respect local values or traditions.