AccorHotels increased its luxury hotel portfolio exponentially this year, especially in North America and Asia, following its acquisition of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FHRI) in July.

Chris Cahill is CEO of the newly created AccorHotels Luxury Brands collection, who had previously stewarded FHRI’s global expansion as COO up until 2012. He is now responsible for overseeing the development of six Accor flags: Sofitel, Fairmont, Raffles, Pullman, Swissôtel, and MGallery.

Cahill is also one of the architects of a new internal strategy designed to ensure the luxury and upper upscale brands keep their unique identities in an increasingly crowded hotel industry overflowing with high-end product.

“We’re trying to avoid any type of brand creep or brand leak across Accor’s inventory to keep them very distinct,” he said. “So we’ve developed a three-tier structure to help maintain the integrity of each brand, and at the same time, enhance their quality in alignment with evolving consumer trends.”

First, there are separate brand managers and brand teams for each hotel group. The teams consist of general managers, directors of sales and marketing, food and beverage managers, corporate tech services, and development executives who meet on a regular basis to review consumer research and guest feedback.

The goal, according to Cahill, is to look holistically at how each brand is performing, and how they’re adapting to changing guest expectations.

Second, there’s a new department overseeing talent and internal culture development for the luxury brands. The primary focus there at an operational level is the recruitment, hiring, and training of executives geared specifically toward each hotel group.

And third, there are new operations teams working in each of the global regions who are dedicated to only the luxury and upper upscale property brands. Cahill explained that the purpose of that is to ensure the teams are 100 percent focused on the needs of the luxury customer today.

“When I think about product, programming, and people, there are sort of table stakes on the luxury product side, so that’s not how you differentiate in the luxury space today,” he said. “You differentiate on programming and service. Programming is all about elements you build into the experience people have on-property. Service is tied to culture, and from our perspective, the best way to manage that on the operations side is by being exclusively focused on the needs of today’s luxury guest.”

So what are those needs? Cahill thinks that guest demands in luxury hospitality aren’t actually all that different from when he started with Fairmont almost two decades ago. Back then, Fairmont emphasized sense of place, local authenticity, and engaging service.

The challenge is developing a modern and contemporary hotel experience that doesn’t retreat from the cultural essence of a particular market.

“So it’s about tightening up the way we deliver on that, and tightening up the consumer messaging,” he suggested. “There’s no silver bullet or secret sauce here. What we have to do is keep working on what the consumer research tells us, and then continuing to refine and innovate to address those needs.”

Luxury Equals Exclusive Experiences And Individual Recognition

The two biggest takeaways coming out of Accor’s research in 2016 revolve around luxury guest demand for exclusive experiences and individual recognition.

In terms of unique experiences, “Guests want bragging rights on Facebook to say they’ve done things no one else has,” Cahill said. He recounted that 25 years ago, many upscale hotel guests wanted authentic experiences back then too, such as safaris and cultural festivals.

Guests didn’t just want to hang out at the pool and eat in the hotels’ signature fine-dining restaurants like everyone seems to think they did.

“We’re just continually pushing the envelope on what that experience looks like, so I think all this conversation about experiential and local travel is more of an evolution than a revolution,” Cahill said. “The consumers keep stretching. They continually want more and more.”

The second trend is the blurring of lines between Millennial and Boomer consumer demands in the luxury hotel environment. According to Cahill, technology is an enabler for all age groups, but the luxury industry has always been, and always will be, about delivering a high-touch guest experience.

“The core of it, and I don’t care if they’re Millennials or Baby Boomers, because I’m not sure I see a lot of difference anymore in terms of their psychographics, is individual recognition,” he said. “Recognition is not about throwing a bunch of stuff at them. It’s about knowing who they are.”

That trend toward mass personalization seems to be the main topic on everyone’s mind these days in hospitality to help drive loyalty among their luxury consumer base, above and beyond the incentive perks doled out in any given loyalty program.

Cahill said Accor already personalizes the room experience for high-value members. For himself, for example, that includes workout gear waiting in his room, based on what his profile shows that he likes. The radio in his room, he said, is always turned to jazz stations, and there’s always a copy of Golf and The Economist waiting for him when he arrives, where available.

The next wave of personalization, however, needs to move beyond the physical hotel experience and into the local community, because it’s the next logical step toward recognizing the personal wishes of guests. Although, Cahill acknowledges that there’s still a certain amount of training and technology that the hotels have to develop to deliver that effectively and consistently.

The actual process of collecting the data to better understand the personal preferences of every guest who walks through the door is not necessarily the biggest challenge. The thing that keeps luxury hoteliers awake at night is figuring out how to ensure that service staff act on that data, and that they do so without being too intrusive.

“Personalization and customization based on your passions is really the holy grail,” Cahill said. “So when you check-in, and we know you love Cuban food, we want to be able to say, ‘By the way, there’s a great Cuban restaurant up the street that just opened.’ It’s all about offering things in the destination that you want that you don’t know about.”

Photo Credit: Opening in 2017, the Fairmont Amman in Jordan will be the first of several new Fairmonts under development in the Middle East. AccorHotels