Most hotel brands are laser-focused on expanding in developing countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America, but it would be a mistake to ignore what’s currently unfolding in Europe. There’s been a huge wave of innovation coming out of the continent’s hospitality industry. The days of having to choose between either grande dame hotels or boring budget beds are over, replaced by a plethora of niche lodging options that focus on community, connectivity, and creativity.
Franck Gervais, AccorHotels’ CEO Europe, joined the company in November 2017 after working in France’s railway sector for more than a decade. During his time as chief executive officer of Voyages-SNCF.com, he focused on projects designed to enhance the customer experience. As someone relatively new to the hotel industry, Gervais brings a fresh perspective to the topic of innovation within the European hospitality sector.
SkiftX spoke to Gervais about his thoughts on hospitality in Europe today, how legacy brands are reinventing themselves, how developers are rethinking public spaces, and the future of AccorHotels in Europe.
SkiftX: Give us an overview of the European hospitality industry. In what ways is it ahead of the curve in terms of design, disruption, and the development of new brands?
Franck Gervais: Hospitality is an exciting industry, and European hospitality even more so. Indeed, demand in Europe is higher than supply, and demand is increasing faster than supply (+3.6 percent in demand versus +0.9 percent in supply). Despite turbulent times across Europe, tourism has not slowed, and the touristic appeal of European cities and countries has not been hindered as some have feared. Luckily, Europe remains a big and strong market –– it’s actually the top market globally in terms of number of hotel rooms. However, it only comes in third in terms of number of branded rooms, as many hotels remain family-owned businesses. This leaves great potential for further brand growth.
In addition to being the leader in portfolio growth in Europe, AccorHotels has taken a stance of pioneering augmented hospitality. We’re doing this by leveraging participation in new businesses integrated into our value chain. Through these businesses, we are able to optimize a hotel’s topline and leverage the use of square meters while enhancing guest experiences. This is a great asset in the development of new brands in Europe, whether they are conceptualized in-house or acquired. The DNA of these hotels is to offer a unique concept for clients. For instance, Mama Shelter, conceived by the Trigano family, is described as a “restaurant with rooms above.” This concept therefore attracts locals while offering a true sense of place for travelers. The brand opened its first Mama Shelter in 2008 in Paris and is now present in cities such as Prague, Lyon, Lisbon, and Belgrade.
SkiftX: How are the new brands being developed in Europe impacting the legacy brands? How do the classical brands keep up in order to avoid being perceived as boring and staid?
Gervais: The development of new brands in Europe is a real opportunity for legacy brands to challenge themselves. They are now urged to rethink the way they welcome guests and how they can create memorable moments. There has never been a better time to be a classical brand. Through cherry-picked design concepts, the properties are turning to renovation to completely revamp their value proposition. For instance, Mercure has taken a turn by becoming locally inspired, encouraging tourists to discover the hotels’ surroundings like locals. The brand has developed a whole program around “Local Stories,” designed to let guests explore unbeaten paths and immerse themselves in the soul of the destination.
Moreover, the spaces in classical hotels are being entirely rethought to place service at the heart of the customer experience. In Europe, it has become quite common to walk into the area once known as a lobby and wonder where you have arrived. At Ibis hotels in the United Kingdom, for example, front desks are no longer necessary. Staff can easily handle check-in through our FOLS mobile software, a user-friendly mobile app. It has allowed Ibis to dramatically improve the quality of service because staff members are focusing first and foremost on the interaction rather than on the check-in administrative duty. This also allows lobby spaces to be more easily converted into retail spaces.
SkiftX: How do you reinvent the hotel for the 21st-century consumer?
Gervais: The millennial and Gen Z generations are the clients of today and tomorrow. We believe that these consumers will want to stay in a place that has been fully tailored to their needs. To achieve this hyper-personalization, we will definitely rely on technology, but also on our people –– those who embody the experience and the brand.
This is why we decided to create Jo&Joe, a brand dedicated to this generation. The open house concept offers the freedom of a private rental and the fun of a hostel, welcoming to locals and travelers alike. It’s been designed to host tribes in dorms and smaller groups in private rooms.
The 21st-century hotel will also welcome business-focused clients, including companies, freelancers, and creatives who can utilize dedicated spaces for specific occasions. Hotels must be suited to answer the needs of these local customers. For example, the Novotel Les Halles in Paris has renovated to include Atelier H, a flexible place for meetings, receptions, cocktails, and conferences. The designer standpoint has been to create a universe in which a guest feels at home. The success of this renovation proves that even a formerly standardized brand like Novotel can truly be rejuvenated.
SkiftX: How has the use of public space changed during the past 10 years?
Gervais: Public spaces are now designed to be fully integrated into their location and provide a meeting space between locals and travelers. Creating a food and beverage concept to fill the indoor and outdoor spaces is the ideal solution. A great example is the Ibis Cambridge Coffee Shop. After renovation, what was once a typical hotel lobby is now a cozy coffee shop, nicely anchored into the neighborhood. Another alternative use for public space in a hotel –– a trend that has emerged in Europe in the last year –– is co-working. Lobbies are great places to set up co-working areas. A hotel’s all-day dining, spa, and fitness areas are also locations that digital nomads can take advantage of during breaks.
SkiftX: What do you see for the future of AccorHotels in Europe?
Gervais: To ensure we remain the leader in Europe, we are focusing on what we call a “360-degree experience” above all. The idea is to continue to broaden the scope of our business beyond simply offering hotel stays. To attract and retain guests today, as well as connect with the local community, we have to be able to give them access to a full-blown ecosystem of services and brands –– what we call “augmented hospitality.”