This is a sign of a much bigger shift in the entire travel industry where travel brands no longer want to just be "travel" brands. Hotels don't want to just be hotels. Instead, they want to be platforms for offering you experiences whenever and wherever you may be.
A hotel isn’t just a hotel anymore. It’s no longer just a place for travelers to lay their heads at night. At least, that’s how AccorHotels is thinking about its hotels.
The Paris-based company ended its AccorLocal pilot and officially launched a mobile app — something it hopes anyone can use in their daily lives.
That pilot, which CEO Sebastien Bazin publicized in February, has evolved into a mobile app that allows users to access services both from local merchants and AccorHotels properties.
To date, the AccorLocal app has more than 3,000 active users and features 250 participating hotels in 42 cities throughout France. AccorHotels plans to take it to the rest of Europe and eventually, the rest of the world, in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Those plans would become reality if the app gains traction. Not all of Accorhotels’ grand plans, such as its hope to become a booking platform for independent hotels, work out.
The official launch of this app might not seem very significant at first glance, but it’s evocative of a larger movement being undertaken by numerous brands throughout the hotel and wider travel space. It’s a shift in how hotels are being used, not just by travelers, but by locals, too so that these brands become more a part of everyone’s daily lives, whether they’re on a trip or not.
“The issue we have today with our customers is that we only see them a couple times a year at most,” said AccorLocal CEO Scott Gordon. “Maybe three to four times a year for occasional users, maybe 10 to 20 times for very frequent travelers. We’re only connected [to them] a few times a year, versus a brand like Apple or an Amazon or a Nike, or Google, or Facebook, for instance.
“For us, AccorLocal is a tremendous game changer. It’s changing our interactions with our guests from an occasional interaction to a daily or weekly interaction. It will change their connections to our brands, especially the corporate brand. That’s what we’re really focusing on with AccorLocal — becoming the daily life enhancer for our guests, during holidays, business travel, or even when you’re at home — anything you might need in your daily life.”
How AccorLocal Works
In August 2016, AccorHotels CEO Sebastien Bazin described the inspiration for AccorLocal to Skift, shortly after the company had finished buying the Fairmont, Swissotel, and Raffles brands for $2.7 billion.
Here’s how Bazin described it: “Ninety-nine percent of what we have done for 50 years has been based on the guy coming from outside of town,” Bazin told Skift. “A traveler, from a different city, from a different country, which I think is interesting, but not too smart. Because we missed a population which is 100 times greater and better and easier: The guy living next door. The local inhabitants. They live around the hotel, or they go to an office around the hotel, and 90 percent of them never dared coming into the property, because they’re fearful that we’re going to be asking, ‘What’s your room number?’ They don’t need a room, but they may need a service.”
Bazin said there are “zillions of services we’re going to get into,” among them having hotels assist locals with simple tasks and solving everyday solutions like holding packages or keys or recommending the best services nearby. “[The hotel will be] a place that will make your life easier,” he said.
Gordon said that, during the pilot for AccorLocal, the program did just that. Developed in- house by AccorHotels, with support from John Paul, a concierge service AccorHotels acquired in 2016, the app allowed people to order a variety of services both from local merchants and from the hotels themselves.
Gordon said some of the most popular services booked via the AccorLocal app during the pilot involved booking yoga classes that took place at the hotels themselves; picking up breakfast from the hotels on the way to work; picking up dry cleaning orders after the cleaners have closed for the day; and ordering flowers. The hotels can also opt in to act as a sort of “Amazon Locker” location where they can store things for guests to pick up, depending on how much storage space they have available.
Hotel owners have the ability to opt into the program and, when they do, they get to decide for themselves what types of services they want to offer, and which local merchants they want to partner with.
“The hotels get to pick the local merchants and key partnerships they want to have in the hotel and there’s no investment they have to make to be a part of AccorLocal, but there’s a great potential return,” Gordon explained.
In addition to partnering with local merchants, AccorHotels has also formed key partnerships with brands that include florists like Pampa and Bergamotte; yoga and pilates provider Oly Be; bread makers Poilâne; coffee brand Nespresso, for hotels to serve as 24-hour capsules pick-up and deposit points accessible; and with Hertz 24/7 for a pay-by-the-hour car rental service.
Here’s how AccorLocal generates money: When someone uses AccorLocal to order a service from a local merchant, like picking up dry cleaning after hours, they pay an amount set by that local merchant and the merchant collects it. However, AccorHotels also negotiates a commission rate ranging anywhere from 10 to 20 percent for those transactions, and that commission is then equally split between AccorHotels and the individual hotel owner.
When someone uses AccorLocal to order a service that is provided by the hotel itself, such as access to the hotel pool or spa, the hotel sets the price, and AccorHotels takes a 10 percent commission.
Gordon said feedback from the pilot “was great” because “in France, it’s really taboo to enter a hotel unless you’re a guest. It made people realize they have an amazing asset that’s close to their house or work that they can use on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. There’s this mindset that AccorLocal enables: You can enter the hotel to consume a service, or pick up whatever services or goods you’ve ordered via AccorLocal.”
Hotels benefited from the extra revenue they made from offering services, he said. And local merchants to increase their businesses, too.
“Very few local merchants have local apps like this where you can book and buy online easily, but people today want to buy more local — they like their local flower guy or little winemaker down the street,” Gordon said. “But because a lot of people work so often during the week, it’s hard for them to go to their local merchants as much as they would like, so having the ability to buy goods and services from those local merchants, and pick them up from the hotel is a great benefit for their daily lives.”
Gordon said he and his team initially thought AccorLocal’s services would be “more leveraged at AccorHotels’ midscale and economy brands” in terms of local merchant services, while the company’s luxury hotels would “push more of their own services.” However, he said, they’re finding that the usage varies among brands and chain scales, and that AccorLocal can be adapted for any type of hotel.
Customer service support for AccorLocal is powered by John Paul, the concierge company AccorHotels acquired last year.
AccorLocal & Loyalty
In February, Bazin did say that the underlying platform for being able to provide and manage all these local services on AccorLocal will be AccorHotels’ loyalty program, Le Club AccorHotels, which has more than 32 million members. Including members from Fairmont’s President’s Club (4 million) and those from AccorHotels’ partner in China, Huazhu (70 million), the potential number of loyalty members whom Accor can reach totals 106 million. AccorHotels has not said whether it would eventually combine all of these programs into a single loyalty program.
However, as AccorLocal stands today, it is not yet tied into AccorHotels’ primary loyalty program. But Gordon says loyalty is definitely “on our roadmap.”
He said that a digital integration with Le Club AccorHotels “will be coming soon” so members can connect AccorLocal directly with their Le Club AccorHotels profiles and also earn and redeem program points for AccorLocal services.
“That, for us is a tremendous game changer in the industry: You can earn and burn with all the purchases of your daily life,” he said.
For now, AccorLocal asks users to create a profile or connect their Facebook profiles. But, he said, “Coming up, we’ll merge that information with your AccorHotels loyalty profile.”
AccorHotels isn’t the only hotel company thinking more about how loyalty can play a role in its members’ daily lives. This week, InterContinental Hotels Group also announced it would allow its members to earn points for booking restaurants on OpenTable and ordering takeout via Grubhub.
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Photo credit: The AccorLocal mobile app lets people order services provided by local hotels and local merchants. Skift