Sébastien Bazin embraces hotel brands with ‘soul’

At the upcoming International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin, Accor chairman/CEO Sébastien Bazin will participate in “From the Inside Looking Out: CEO to CEO,” in which he will talk with Mark Okerstrom, president/CEO of Expedia Group about leading performance through innovation and opening up to models outside of traditional hospitality.

Ahead of the Forum, Bazin talked about what gives a hotel brand a “soul,” and how his company is completing its transformation into an asset-light model.

1. How would you describe the hotel investment market in 2019?  

Our house view is that we don’t see an imminent economic slowdown that will affect hotel investments. Our main economies overall appear to be healthy. There’s a lot of volatility now. Without knowing which way markets will go, an environment where there is more uncertainty and volatility is typically a good thing for a certain type of hotel investors.   

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Both on the investment and operations side, tech is having a significant impact on our business and hotel-related investments. For example, on the investment side, across all major hotel platforms, hotel management companies are investing in looking at data in a seamless way.   

2. What is Accor’s position and strategy for the year to come?  

As the Group’s transformation into an asset-light model comes to completion, Accor now builds on multiple strengths such as the richest portfolio of iconic brands in the industry or leading positions in the highest-potential markets. Beyond providing accommodations for travellers, Accor has been re-envisioning its core business around the idea of “Augmented Hospitality.”   

For the coming few years, the key components of Accor’s strategy will still be its accelerating development pattern, with an increasing share of upscale and luxury hotels, as well as its numerous state-of-the-art distribution tools, with a constant emphasis on personalization, usage and loyalty.   

3. What are the biggest challenges faced by hoteliers/investors in the current hotel investment market?  

How do you de-risk innovation? Innovation is inherently unreliable and hoteliers have spent the last decade designing the method, building the model and assembling the minds to transform innovation into more reliable, predictable and measurable drivers of profitable growth.  

4. What existing hotel brands do you think are most interesting to watch?  

I love brands with a soul, those with a special touch and in that matter, they are often the result of great entrepreneurs turning their vision and ideas into reality. Faena Hotels, for example, is doing a really great job. Alan Faena, who is the founder, was a fashion designer before beginning a career in real estate and founding Faena Hotels.  He has this incomparable sense of detail and an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. Fifty years ago, our  founders Dubrule and Pelisson realized the same adventure by launching their own brand and today Sam Nazarian with SBE or the Trigano family with Mama Shelter—to name just a few—are continuing this entrepreneurial path within our Group.   

5.  Who or what is the biggest inspiration guiding your career?  

Before joining Accor, I worked in several financial positions in New York, San Francisco, London and Paris. I found the real lessons I have gained from working in finance are far broader than just one industry. The importance of having one eye on the future, being vigilant but always confident, act fast…I have no doubt that my early observations of this ever-changing world played a key role in my calling to pursue a career in the hotel and tourism industry.   

6.  What are you most looking forward to at IHIF?  

As the world’s most influential hotel investment event, the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) has always been a great opportunity for hospitality professionals to share their expertise, meet new partners, make deals and come up with new thinking, new ideas. I am very much looking forward to new growth strategies that we will discuss during the conference, which, hopefully, can give a better sense to the investors as well as hotel owners about how this industry is headed over the coming year. Moreover, as Accor has gone through a major transformation over the last few years, the IHIF 2019 is also an interesting stage for me to present our evolved positioning and some very exciting news.   

7.  You are taking part in the CEO-to-CEO session “From the Inside Looking Out.” How much of an influence to other sectors have on your direction for Accor?  

Enormous. Technology for instance. This sector is advancing all the time and it is proven a huge challenge for the hotel industry at large to keep up with each new development and innovation. Nowadays, GAFA have become industrial giants of the new economy. Furthermore, we are seeing a new breed of companies, drawn upon GAFA’s legacy, that keep changing people’s lives and accelerating the economy. Not only online travel agencies, but Airbnb, artificial intelligence, mobile payment and other disruptors. They may not seem to invade our industry at first glance, but customer behaviors and needs are mutating. Other sectors, such as retail or luxury, also are facing the same challenges of disruption and innovation; we must all reinvent ourselves.   

Thus, as mentioned before, the Group has undertaken a dramatic transformation, acquiring new businesses and launching numerous services to increase interactions with its customer base. Accor was also one of the first hotel companies to anticipate the threat from digitalization and how digital functions can support the necessary reinventions of businesses. We firmly believe that this notion of “augmented hospitality,” by which we mean extending relevance to guests and hoteliers by providing new products and services beyond the hotel stay, is something that differentiates us from our competitors and requires, therefore, thinking outside the box.   

Sébastien Bazin will be speaking on “From the Inside Looking Out,” panel, 9:30 a.m.-9:50 a.m. on March 5 during the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) which takes place March 4-6 at the InterContinental Hotel, Berlin. IHIF is presented by Questex, the parent company of Hotel Management.