Hundreds of the travel industry’s most technology savvy executives will gather for our first Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley on June 12.

Skift Tech Forum, which will take place at the United Club at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, will focus on tech disruptions in retailing, distribution and merchandising of travel as well as on timely debates such privacy versus personalization. Expect insightful conversations from a broad range of speakers, including CEOs and top executives from United Airlines, Southwest, Uber, Accor, Sabre Corp., Hilton Hotels, Alibaba, and Kayak.

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

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AccorHotels’ move from a hotel company to a much broader hospitality and leisure business has been one of the biggest stories in the travel industry in recent years.

CEO Sébastien Bazin has talked enviously about the power of Amazon and Facebook and the fact that these companies interact with their customers multiple times during the day. The travel industry just doesn’t do this, something that Bazin wants to change.

To make the move, Accor needed to up its digital game and that involved recruiting Maud Bailly as its first ever chief digital officer last February.

Bailly, who previously worked for the French government, will discuss the changes at Accor in a session entitled “Transforming a Hospitality Giant”. We asked Bailly a few questions about the topic in the run-up to Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley on June 12.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Skift: So what’s been your main focus since starting at Accor?

Maud Bailly: My main focus has been to write the new digital and technological roadmap for Accor, knowing that in 2014 Sébastien [Bazin] had already launched the digital plan with the ambition to really enforce our IT architecture and also customize the technological experience.

Three years after, in 2017, when I arrived we really needed to rewrite the new digital and technological journey of Accor, knowing that the Accor DNA had markedly changed,

You will have seen all the hospitality brand acquisitions and also the concept of augmented hospitality. My main mission was to define the most relevant strategy in order to have a long-term approach with the guests with new experiences through this new augmented hospitality ecosystem. To think about new hospitality brands but also new experiences: food and beverage, co-working, travel, entertainment, sporting events, and maybe tomorrow train travel with the Orient Express acquisition.

So, it was about making sure we define the relevant strategy, considering this new environment for Accor, which moved from 12 to more than 25 brands, and at the same time— because the digital journey is always about cultural transformation — making sure that I was also transforming internally my department, and my people, which covers IT, data, guest experience, hotel solutions, the product department and sales and distribution – to make sure all those key business functions would be really delivering what the business was expecting form them.

Skift: One of the big topics in travel is personalization and Accor has been on a journey in that sense as well. Could you talk about how you see personalization in a business like Accor?

Bailly: For me personalization is going to be the key lever of our differentiation strategy. I often organize dinners with my most loyal loyalty members and the things they tell me [they want] is to be known and recognized. They love to feel we know them as soon as they enter the hotel. So we are currently deploying at Accor in 2018 a tool call ACDC [AccorHotels Customer Digital Card] with the ambition to allow our hotels to share the preferences of our customers—and this is for sure fully GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] compliant because I’m really paying attention to the respect of my customers’ privacy – this tool will allow the hotel before clients arrive to review the guest’s preferences, to let the guests personalize and customize their stay.

Skift: How is the development of your chatbot coming along?

Bailly: Phil Welcome is a baby bot. I often tell my people that getting digital is about knowing how to learn. I’m trying to turn Accor into a company that is constantly learning… [and one that is] able to say “not this, we have tried, we stropped”.

We are testing the product, it’s a machine learning tool, it’s constantly improving, it’s really about the new agile digital mentality. It’s about saying we launched something we know it’s going to take some time before it gets mature

So Phil launched last year, it’s still a baby or maybe a child but it’s not at the teenage stage yet, nor an adult, but we are working with all my teams on pitching and framing Phil Welcome based on machine learning and artificial intelligence technology and we are working on some use cases to make sure this chatbot is going to accompany our guest during their stay at the hotel but also at the booking stage.

Photo Credit: Maud Bailly, AccorHotels' chief digital officer, will be appearing at Skift Tech Forum. AccorHotels