Skift Take

Here's the first major interview with Gilda Perez-Alvarado since she became chief strategy officer of Accor. Can she help the hospitality titan diversify beyond selling hotel rooms, help it conquer the U.S., and reinvigorate the iconic Orient Express brand?

Gilda Perez-Alvarado surprised some hotel industry vets when she joined Accor last October, becoming its chief strategy officer. She switched from being the Global CEO of hotel broker JLL.

In her first media interview since taking the job, Perez-Alvarado talked with Skift about strategy at the Paris-based travel titan, her plans to address the U.S. market more effectively, her new role as CEO of the Orient Express brand, and her outlook for hotel dealmaking.

“If we, as hotel companies, fail to take advantage of what’s happening in the market right now, shame on us,” she said.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why Accor?

Skift: When you were at JLL, you had one of the industry’s most glamorous jobs — brokering deals for the crème de la crème of hotel investors. Why jump to Accor?

Gilda Perez-Alvarado: It’s a super fair question. It was the perfect time. I had an amazing 19 years at JLL.

Sébastien [Bazin, Accor Chairman & CEO] is really the reason I’m here. If you look at what Accor has been doing over the last 10 years, under his tenure, it has done more innovation than anyone. I like the entrepreneurial mindset here.

Accor deals with the same cadre of investors I was dealing with at JLL. So, it seemed like a natural progression. I am bringing an ‘owner’s mentality’ in hospitality real estate investment that can bring a complementary perspective.

Gilda Perez-Alvarado chief strategy officer accor source accor
Gilda Perez-Alvarado has been chief strategy officer of Accor since October 1, 2023. Source: Accor.

Hotels’ tremendous opportunity

Skift: What was something you suspected was true of hotel groups while you were at JLL that proved true after you joined Accor?

Perez-Alvarado: At JLL, we were always anticipating secular changes in the industry regarding tech and hospitality adjacencies like branded residential, etc.

But it’s one thing to say our industry is going through a very significant transformation and another actually to see it. It’s insane. There’s a tremendous opportunity in the evolution of hospitality above and beyond just hotels.

If we, as hotel companies, fail to take advantage of what’s happening in the market right now, shame on us.

Overall, it’s been a validation of what JLL was forecasting.

Skift: Accor has had a seemingly endless series of reorgs and shifts of emphasis over the past decade. But now it seems like the group’s strategy and talent are in place. The story appears to be about execution now. Last July, Accor announced granular commitments for the next several years. So, why did the company create a chief strategy officer role, and why do they need you?

Perez-Alvarado: Well, it’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to get it done.

But you’re right. It’s about focused, disciplined portfolio management and doing what we’ve said we would do.

a king guest room at the Grand Mercure Agra Fatehbad source accor
A king-bed guestroom at the Grand Mercure Agra Fatehbad. Source: Accor.

Will Accor go bigger in the U.S.?

Skift: At JLL, you were the global CEO, but you also had a deep familiarity with the U.S. market. Some analysts say Accor isn’t punching at its full potential strength in the U.S. market. Yet the U.S. is a tough market to make a big dent in, with homegrown brands already managing about 70% of the nation’s rooms. Does Accor plan to go in big? Or does it plan to act surgically? Or will it broadly avoid the market? What are your U.S. plans?

Perez-Alvarado: Listen, the U.S. is front and center. If you’re in travel and tourism, it’s the biggest market. So, of course, you have to address it.

There are two ways of addressing it. One is being there. And if you see how we’ve entered the market mostly through our luxury and lifestyle side, which has been where we can most deliver on our promise and bring something more innovative.

We’ve opened the Raffles in Boston, and that’s been very successful. If you look at Miami, it’s an Ennismore market.

We’re focusing on markets and segments within the U.S. where it makes the most sense for Accor to be present, such as in the global distribution we can bring into that market [in other words, how many international visitors are interested in visiting that market].

The other angle is that we want the American traveler staying with us around the world.

So if you look at our presence in Europe for luxury and lifestyle, we dominate this market. In the Middle East, we dominate the market. We’re very strong in Asia Pacific, and so forth. Latin America is very important for us in terms of growth as well.

So we’re studying more carefully what that American consumer wants to do — especially how we can attract them into our luxury and lifestyle side of the equation.

Regarding premium, midscale, and economy segments, we definitely punch above our weight outside the U.S., but inside the U.S., our peer set is extraordinarily competitive. So we have to be very mindful about how we enter.

The lobby of Raffles Boston, which opened in September 2023. Source: Accor.

What’s next for Orient Express

Skift: Let’s pivot to Orient Express. You became CEO of that brand in January.

Perez-Alvarado: I was appointed to lead the brand alongside Maxime d’Angeac, a fabulous artistic director for us.

Part of Accor’s entrepreneurial mindset is that if we’ve been doing something that we shouldn’t, we’re nimble and do a bit of course correction. That’s what we’ve done. Orient Express was being managed side-by-side with Raffles for a little while. The decision was made that it required its own standalone team.

Skift: Are you happy where the Orient Express brand is now?

Perez-Alvarado: We’re very happy. We expect the first three hotels next year, two trains by 2026, and one sailing yacht by 2026.

But we’re still in the early stages. There’s a lot of work to be done in relaunching a quite storied brand. We want to pay homage but also be entrepreneurial.

We’re also making sure that the pipeline is looking very robust.

Skift: Sébastien has talked about how he likes LVMH’s maison model, where visionary founders or impresarios lead each luxury fashion house independently. I would politely suggest that leading a luxury brand is a new skill you’re adding to your repertoire.

Perez-Alvarado: You hit the nail on the head: We’re building an extraordinary team behind the brand. We’re adding people not just with hospitality backgrounds but with the right operational experience in hotels, luxury yachts, and trains. The engineering side of it. The artistic and craftsmanship components.

I need to make sure that decisions make sense from a financial investment perspective. Are we delivering on the brand promise while also delivering to our investors and owners?

Interior of the bar at night on a planned Orient Express train. Source: Accor.

Hotel dealmaking outlook

Skift: How bullish are you about hotel transaction volume picking up later this year and in 2025? What’s the opportunity for Accor?

Perez-Alvarado: This elusive bullish phase of dealmaking will finally materialize now that interest rates have stabilized.

Some investment funds are coming to the end of their lifespans and need to sell [assets]. So we’re going to see more dispositions and more opportunities for conversions.

The health of the commercial real estate sector has been widely talked about and written about.

What needs to be noted is the opportunity for hotels. We can look at an office building and say, “Maybe there’s physical functional obsolescence, but this location is superb because we love what’s happening in the neighborhood, and this is how we can reimagine it.” Accor has everything in its toolbox to partner with others and revive any given piece of prime real estate.

There are also new investors coming in. There’s more private capital, too — be it family office, ultrahigh net worth, or derivatives. There are new PE [private equity] funds set up by former PE execs looking for something new. So the enthusiasm is there.

Attracting and keeping elite asset owners

Skift: How auspicious for Accor is this energized investing vibe among hotel investors?

On the luxury lifestyle side, adjacencies to the hotel product are extremely critical. And in branded residential, we’re doing extremely well. That database of owners that we have there proves to the market the premium that owners are getting.

The fact that we have standalone food and beverage and entertainment divisions that are proper businesses in their own rights is also an asset to us.

So, when sitting across the table with an investor, we can say, “Listen, this is exactly how we’re going to get the rate and the premium. This is what our distribution looks like. This is what our spa offering is. Look at all the investments we’ve made in our luxury global sales capability.”

We can make a strong case to investors in what we’ve done on the branded residential side, F&B [food and beverage], spa, and so forth. We can prove that a given investment will make sense.

The owners of Accor’s hotels and other assets are in the top echelon of real estate. They are the “forever owners.” They are the sovereign wealth funds. They are ultra-high-net-worth family offices.

Trust me, they will let us know if they’re not happy.

So the fact that we continue to grow with them — and also with new investors — are both testaments that we’re doing things the right way.

Accommodations Sector Stock Index Performance Year-to-Date

What am I looking at? The performance of hotels and short-term rental sector stocks within the ST200. The index includes companies publicly traded across global markets, including international and regional hotel brands, hotel REITs, hotel management companies, alternative accommodations, and timeshares.

The Skift Travel 200 (ST200) combines the financial performance of nearly 200 travel companies worth more than a trillion dollars into a single number. See more hotels and short-term rental financial sector performance.

Read the full methodology behind the Skift Travel 200.

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Tags: accor, branded residences, branded residential, future of lodging, hotel deals, hotel development, hotel investments, luxury, luxury hotels, orient express

Photo credit: Gilda Perez-Alvarado, now Accor's chief strategy officer, spoke on-stage at a Skift Future of Lodging event in 2022 in New York on behalf of JLL. Source: Skift.

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