Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our second annual Skift Forum Europe in Berlin on April 26. In just a few years,  Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”

After last year's European tourism comeback, Skift Forum Europe 2018 will take place at Cafe Moskau in Berlin. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, AccorHotels, Marriott, Google, and many more.

The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.

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In the nearly five years that Sebastien Bazin has been the president and CEO of Europe’s largest hotel company, AccorHotels, he’s developed a reputation for saying what’s on his mind, as well as making bolder moves than many of his hotel peers.

In 2016, when AccorHotels bought luxury private accommodations platform Onefinestay, he told Skift, “It’s foolish and irresponsible to fight against the sharing economy.”

Onefinestay was just one of many acquisitions AccorHotels has since completed in the past few years. And the company continues to buy up or invest in more businesses that operate in complementary spaces to traditional hospitality. Most recently, the company announced a 50-percent stake in Mantis Group, an African hotel chain, and the purchase of ResDiary, a restaurant reservations platform.

At the upcoming Skift Forum Europe in Berlin on April 26, Bazin will talk about why AccorHotels has bought what it’s bought, as well as share his views on where hospitality should be headed.

What follows is an edited version of a recent Skift interview with Bazin.

Skift: You’ve managed to give AccorHotels a reputation for being one of the most innovative — and acquisitive — hotel companies in the world. What’s next for the company in 2018 and what are you planning to focus on most?

Sebastien Bazin: The year 2017 was a year to pave the way of our vision for “Augmented Hospitality” aiming at positioning us as a provider of additional services that will improve guests’ experiences. In line with our vision, we have reshaped our business model around three pillars: our core business as hotel operator and franchisor, new B2B and B2C services linked to travel and community services to locals.

In 2018, we will accelerate the path by focusing on generating demand with world-class brands, a seamless distribution experience, and a more personalized loyalty program, strengthening our business growth with an accelerated hotel development model and an extension of our ecosystem of services, while continuing to accelerate our digital and cultural transformation.

Skift: AccorLocal is now live, and I know you’ve stressed the importance of reaching non-travelers as much as travelers. In what other ways do you think you can do that?

Bazin: With AccorLocal, we are continuing a history of daring and winning moves which has led us to where we’re not expected to go, but to where we do however have absolute legitimacy as a place bursting with life in the heart of the city. This is a far-reaching disruptive approach on what a hotel is today. Beyond providing accommodations to travelers, hotels are striving to become essential to enhance the daily lives of as many people as possible. Hospitality must evolve towards more flexibility and be able to open the gates to non-travelers for a drink, a yoga course, a fitness room, etc.

In other ways, we are targeting non-travelers by bringing hospitality outside the hotel. Through strategic partnerships, we are now offering our hospitality expertise in new playing fields, for example, such as co-working places. We have a 50-percent share of the brand Nextdoor. Or in an entertainment place, such as the AccorHotels arena in Paris, which is one of the world’s five largest concert halls and sports arenas. Bringing hospitality services directly at home is also something we are exploring.

Skift: How do you feel about the outlook for 2018 and beyond, given the current political and economic landscape? Is the potential impact of Brexit a big concern for you?

Bazin: We operate in one of the best industries in the world. Tourism and travel represents one out of 10 jobs in the world and 7 to 12 percent of GDP in major countries. Hospitality is definitely a blessed industry that will continue to grow by 4 percent or 5 percent annually in the next 20 years.

In France, where we operate more than 1,500 hotels, tourism is bouncing back with 89 million international visitors in 2017. AccorHotels has never been stronger. In four years, we have considerably rebalanced our geographical footprint and brand portfolio. In 2013, AccorHotels’ portfolio was 75 percent European and 85 percent represented in economy and midscale segments. Today, we are around 50 percent in Europe and perfectly balanced among each segment of brands: a third in luxury, a third in midscale, and a third in the economy segment. Thanks to our strong hotel development model, we operate in 100 countries and we are the largest hotel company in Europe, South America, Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region.

Skift: What is the hospitality industry not paying enough attention to but should be paying more attention to?

Bazin: I think that hospitality has not paid enough attention to travelers with disabilities, to persons with reduced mobility (PRM). For many years, hotel companies have created the same rooms, only focusing on the norms without paying enough attention to the design, the welcoming and friendly aspects.

The consequence? Most disabled guests do not notify their disability when booking a hotel as they don’t want to stay in a room that is considered as too medical. This is one of our topics of innovation.

We have designed a new concept of room, the Smart Room. It reinterprets accessibility standards far beyond to offer an accommodation experience that puts an end to the segmentation between PRM and other rooms.

With this concept, our goal is to inspire the hotel market by introducing a new approach to the PRM room, which is often unoccupied. We have envisioned a room for everyone, with design and creativity adhering to PRM standards and practices to the point that they disappear to the benefit of emotion and sensorial experience. All innovations presented in this concept room can be tailored to all our brands in all segments.

Don’t Miss AccorHotels CEO Sebastien Bazin On Stage at Skift Forum Europe

Photo Credit: AccorHotels CEO Sebastien Bazin is speaking at the upcoming Skift Forum Europe on April 26. Fabrice Malard / AccorHotels