In the past, economy hotels have often been constrained in terms of the designs, experiences, and personalized offerings they could provide guests. But ibis is taking steps to prove that economy brands can compete when it comes to experiential offerings.
Over the past few years, ibis, AccorHotel’s largest economy brand, has given a lot of thought to what the brand represents and what kind of experiences it wants to offer its customers. It’s taking steps to put more of a focus on the experiential side of hospitality, placing emphasis on attracting both guests staying in the hotel and those who reside in neighborhoods around the hotel properties through upgraded design, food and beverage offerings, and live music.
SkiftX spoke to Martine Gorce Momboisse, AccorHotel’s senior vice president, global marketing, economy and midscale brands, about the changes ibis is making and the strategies behind them.
SkiftX: What are some specific challenges that economy brands such as ibis face today? On the flip side, what opportunities do these challenges bring?
Martine Gorce Momboisse: I’d say there are three specific challenges for a brand like ibis. The first is intrinsic to the brand itself, since we’re a leader in the economy segment. The awareness of our brand is extremely high (close to 90 percent in France and Belgium; 66 percent in Brazil; and 72 percent in Indonesia), and we’re also first or second choice for many travelers, regardless of the segment. Because we lead the space, it can often be challenging to move it forward and make changes in the segment –– but we have an obligation to do so.
The second challenge is related to our group strategy. Our goal is to expand our customer base beyond those staying in our hotels to reach the local communities that surround our properties. This shift has wide implications for us in terms of our design and offerings.
The third challenge has to do with changing guest expectations. Customers still want consistency, but they don’t want things to be standardized. They want something new and they want to be surprised. We have to be damn good to give both our guests and non-guests a reason to come into our hotel.
These challenges give us an opportunity to move away from things we’ve seen before and really create something new. It also gives us more flexibility and a chance to explore our brand passions to showcase what ibis is all about.
SkiftX: How is ibis incorporating updated design elements into its properties?
Gorce Momboisse: Because we’re an economy brand, we used to be more constrained in our designs. We deployed one singular concept across all of our properties. We’re looking at it very differently today. We now provide owners with a collection of three designs that can be chosen based on individual preferences and fit. They’ve been developed in Asia, Europe, and Latin America, respectfully, but can be applied anywhere in the world. We’re also focusing on flexibility with our approach to room design. Some rooms in new properties being built can accommodate up to six guests (in addition to rooms for two and four people). Transforming common areas is a big part of these design projects as well. The goal is to have them be open spaces, with large windows facing the street, and an attractive bar in the center of the lobby so that people can spend time working, relaxing, or drinking coffee throughout the day.
SkiftX: How will food and beverage play a role?
Gorce Momboisse: We’re prioritizing food and beverage to create a vibrant social lifestyle hub that attracts both those who are and aren’t staying at the hotel. The food offering at each individual hotel will be good-tasting, yet simple, and authentic to the area the hotel is located. Drink menus will center around a signature drink or beer. It’s one of the strongest assets we have.
SkiftX: ibis is also putting a major focus on creating community through live music performances in its hotels. Can you talk a bit about this?
Gorce Momboisse: We know that if we want ibis to be considered an experiential brand, we need to actually provide experiences to our guests. We decided to focus on music to align with ibis’ idea of openness and accessibility.
We’ll be holding concerts in our hotels all over the world. We currently have 17 participating countries, such as France, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Morocco. We’re working with partners like Sony, which is identifying headline artists for us, and Spotify, which is identifying up-and-coming artists for us.
We will have about 90 emerging artists playing concerts at ibis properties in their local markets. A jury will then select the best of these artists, who will play live at the Sziget Festival which takes place in Budapest every year. It’s a huge deal for us, and we expect it to generate a lot of shareable content on social media.
SkiftX: ibis is also rolling out its new FOLS Mobile technology for guest check-ins. What does this mean for in-person interactions?
Gorce Momboisse: The idea behind integrating this mobile technology is to remove the physical reception desk and use technology to empower our employees. We’re providing our team members with smartphones that can quickly and easily check in guests in any part of a hotel’s social area.
It’s a tremendous, but complex change to how our staff members have traditionally operated. We’re putting them front and center. Their role is now more about emotions and relationships and less about transactions. It’s more spontaneous and proactive –– they will now move towards the guest when he or she walks in, instead of waiting for the guest to come towards them.
We’re rolling out the program first in the UK and then have a goal to implement it across Europe. It’s ambitious, but we’d love to have this at all ibis properties throughout the world by 2022.
SkiftX: A lot of these changes make it sound like ibis is trying to compete with Airbnb and other home sharing platforms. How did this factor in when strategizing these shifts?
Gorce Momboisse: Airbnb is obviously a competition for hotels. But competition is good, because it challenges you. Being in the economy space, ibis is a brand that budget-minded travelers should consider. Obviously they have to choose between us, other brands, and Airbnb, so we need to provide them with reasons to choose us. And that’s what we’re doing.
SkiftX: How do you plan on communicating these changes to potential guests?
Gorce Momboisse: We’re using all of the levers that we have available to us. One of them, of course is press. We recently held a press event in Paris to address key players in the space, such as hotel owners and members of the media. We had virtual reality experiences that allowed users to view the rooms and design concepts as if they were actually sitting in them.
We have the music brand program as well, which is providing a real live experience to our guests and will also attract the locals around the hotel. We’re also developing an ambitious communication campaign that’s based on “openness,” one of ibis’ most important values.