The hospitality industry is coping with major change: airlines, hotel chains and car rentals have moved online; online travel agents like Expedia and Hotels.com are now mainstream; metasearch has emerged as a disruptive force; self-serve corporate booking tools are common; Google has become a huge player in travel; and Airbnb has become a major disruptive force, rapidly creating a new category and then purchasing HotelTonight.
As if that isn’t enough, the next wave of technologies promises to further transform the sector.
None of this fazes Maud Bailly, Accor’s Chief Digital Officer, who previously worked in France’s Finance Ministry and for the Office of the French Prime Minister. She recently agreed to speak to The Innovator about the group’s digital strategy.
“The reason I accepted to join the group two years ago was precisely to lead this transformation in technology and company culture,” says Bailly. “Instead of suffering from each shock I encourage my people to anticipate them and transform these digital shocks into opportunities.”
Accor, a world-leading augmented hospitality group, which operates 4,800 hotels, resorts and residences in more than 100 countries, has determined the best way to do that is to diversify. So, it is evolving its business into a hospitality platform that aims to become a part of customers’ lives, regardless of whether they are traveling.
Its strategy is based around three pillars: Divesting real estate while expanding acquisitions in tech and innovative lifestyle brands to widen its portfolio; extending services outside of hospitality, including servicing non-travelers by adding activities and perks that increase loyalty and brand recognition; and forging partnerships with airlines, car rental agencies and other companies that people intersect with daily to multiply touch points with them.
From Asset Rich To Asset Light
Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin set the stage for the company’s digital transition by starting to sell off its properties.
In 2018 Accor announced that it was selling 55% of its stake in the company’s real estate arm to a consortium of institutional investors for $5.4 billion, under an agreement that allowed the chain to continue to manage the properties. Accor has used funds from the sale of its real estate to extend its portfolio.
“Scale matters,” says Bailly, noting that the group has rapidly moved from 12 to 38 brands.
Diversifying The Portfolio
In addition to its traditional brands ibis, Novotel and Mercure, the hotel chain now owns luxury properties like Raffles International and the Royal Monceau in Paris as well as participations in the lifestyle segment such as 25Hours and Mama Shelter. The group also invested in short-term lodging through the acquisition of Onefinestay, a luxury private rental platform. It also created JO&JOE in 2016, a new lifestyle brand with the intention of capturing millennial-minded demand for an “open house” hostel-type experience. (See the photo).
The goal is to increase the interaction with guests of all ages, at work and at play, across all its properties. One approach is a loyalty scheme that allows top clients to exchange earned points for rewards such as an invitation to see U.S. former first lady Michelle Obama speak at the AccorHotels arena or attend sports events like the Ryder Cup or Roland Garros.
Accor is also working on how to use technology to enhance guest experiences. Like other hotels, it is adding electronic gadgets, including voice assistance devices, in some of its hotel rooms.
Today voice assistants are mainly used for search. “Tomorrow I would like to develop many new use cases so that (the voice assistant) acts like a life daily companion and can maybe prepare things for you before, during and after your stay,” says Bailly.
Accor wants to be far more than a place to sleep away from home, says Bailly. “Today, what is really differentiating Accor is augmented hospitality,” she says.
The group is looking to add a variety of new experiences for guests, such as special tours. And it is not stopping there. An initiative called Accor Local tries to draw in people who are not guests but live nearby. Everything from cooking courses to yoga and gym classes are being used as a lure, with more to come. “We are looking to widen the scope of partners to meet the expectations and needs of people in adjoining neighborhoods,” says Bailly.
Last March the group decided to go one step further with a new loyalty program called ALL, short for Accor Live Limitless, which includes new benefits and partnerships such as with soccer team Paris Saint Germain. “No matter whether our guests will be abroad, on the road or in a hotel, with ALL we want to provide them a unique and very wide bunch of services, accompanying them in their daily life (payment, co-working, transportation…) as well as offering them ‘money can’t buy experiences’ such as an attending Elton John concert backstage ,” says Bailly. “It is a major switch to a more inspirational, experiential loyalty ecosystem.” ALL will be live by Q4 2019.”
Adding Digital Tools And Services
To better serve its enlarged target audience, Accor has acquired digital service companies such as John Paul, a concierge services provider and Gekko, an online hotel reservation platform.
The hotel chain has a major advantage over digital players like Expedia, says Bailly. “We have a direct ownership of customers so we can personalize their stay according to preferences, this level of personalization is key.”
Its efforts to tailor services to clients have been aided by a collaboration with a startup called Tiny Clues which uses artificial intelligence to enable marketers to identify, with precision, future buyers for any offer featured in a campaign. Tinyclues’ deep learning technology makes it possible to communicate on current needs (such as a last minute destination or niche hotel) and to broaden audiences beyond traditional targets based on prior purchases.
Accor has been using Tinyclues for its relationship marketing campaigns in France and says it has improved both the targeting of its B2C communications and customer experience while simultaneously increasing marketing campaign efficiency.
To personalize guests’ experiences, Accor has also implemented ACDC (Accor Customer Digital Card) across 3,500 of its properties. Once a guest gives his/her approval, preferences and data are registered.
Accor will be looking for more digital tools and services to add to its arsenal at this year’s Viva Technology conference. It plans to run seven startup challenges during the Paris conference May 16–18. It is looking for technology that can help it: optimize hotel assets and create new business lines; offer clients sustainable tours and activities during and after their stay; enhance efficiency with digital products and services; attract and maintain high-value VIP clients; encourage guests to generate content that the hotel chain can leverage.
“We have to preserve and keep this dialogue with startups because they are the best way to measure what is happening in the market and whether we are still on track,” says Bailly.
Digital is a race. “You want to do everything faster, increase the frequency of the release of information technology, work on shorter cycles, test and learn from minimally viable products and manage cultural change because there can be no successful digital transformation without it,” she says.
For Bailly, Accor is “in the middle” of its digital transformation. But she is quick to point out that this journey has no end. “It is not over and it is never going to be,” she says. “To stay in the race you have to constantly rethink your strategy.”