While aggressively promoting budget and mid-market segments, Jean-Michel Cassé, Chief Operating Officer (COO) – India & South Asia, emphasized that the hotel company was equally keen on ramping up luxury, lifestyle and premium brand offerings. He also shared that a number of new projects were underway, including an active discussion for a Fairmont in Goa. An exclusive with JMC:

Accor has made a significant foray into the experiential side of the product, especially in big international markets. Do you see an equally spirited approach being undertaken, in the segment, in the Indian market?

Today, the key to winning guests is anticipating their needs and delivering personalised experiences. Whether it is organizing upscale events, delivering personalized services, creating unique moments or offering digital solutions – access to these experiential and exclusive services is essential. At Accor, we have expanded into new travel verticals including digital concierge services, catering and entertainment and more to provide richer, deeper experiences for our guests. In the last quarter of 2019, we will launch our newly revamped loyalty lifestyle program, ALL – Accor Live Limitless – which will focus on providing exclusive experiences for our guests across dining, entertainment and sport, three areas we know travellers are passionate about. We will also use the richness of our brand ecosystem to engage with our guests more in their day to day lives, so even when they are not travelling we can help make their lives better. This will enable us to get to know our guests even better so that we can deliver services and experiences to enrich their lives.

Our hotel brands are also working on unique experiences for guests. For example, Fairmont has partnered with Reebok to offer guests fitness apparel and equipment delivered to their rooms in their size. This means you no longer have to travel with gym wear taking up space in your bag. Running maps that have been tested by Reebok running specialists complement the fitness program, which his offered exclusively to Le Club Accor members at Fairmont Jaipur and other Fairmonts globally.

Each year, Swissôtel organises ‘Vitality Week’ across all its properties for its guests with the goal of maintaining their mental and physical fitness. In 2018, Swissôtel Kolkata organised Zumba sessions and jogging groups, and throughout the year, they serve healthy meals as part of their buffet.

Accor’s latest offering in the mid-scale segment TRIBE brand has been developed keeping in mind the requirements of the today’s traveller – its architecture, food and beverage, room design, concepts and lobby area – all are designed to provide social places where guests can mingle with locals and try new things. We will soon announce the Novotel 20 campaign which will help guests re-establish an emotional connect with themselves and their loved ones, with hotels offering activities and services that ensure guests enjoy ‘Time Well Spent’. Similarly, we recently announced the transformation of the ibis brand globally.

ibis is renowned for its comfort and ease, and has undergone a complete change in terms of design, food and beverage and concept. Music has become an important element and select ibis properties across the globe have introduced multiple events and gigs and other music elements. In India as well, we have partnered with Sony Music India to showcase upcoming artists through live gigs at select properties.

Another service that Accor offers across all its properties in India is ‘Day Stays’ enabling guests to book a room for select number of hours and enjoy all the amenities and services Accor’s hotels offer. 

As guests continue to look for tangible, exclusive and ‘money can’t buy’ experiences, be it access to exclusive gigs, sports event or even culinary sessions with the chefs, guests want to be the first ones to have everything. With Accor’s strategy of augmented hospitality, our teams are working together to provide the best of very service.

You have been quoted in the media saying that the hotel supply pipeline is settling down and room rates could be increased. Do you see that happening in the imminent future? Will it be a pan-India phenomenon?

The Indian hospitality market is improving, with occupancies and ARR’s growing steadily over the past couple of years. Fuelling this growth are improved distribution systems, growing social media presence, increasing focus on guest centricity and better integration of technology at every step, including the solidification of the loyalty programmes amongst others.

According to the Ultimate Indian Travel & Hospitality Report 2019 by Hotelivate, as quoted, the overall branded chain hotels combined have 130,000 rooms and this is expected to increase to 165,000 in the next five years. In the past decade, room inventory has been growing at compounded annual growth rate of 11 percent. India’s foreign and domestic tourist arrivals are growing at a fast pace, which leads us to a situation where demand outstrips supply and that could lead to room rates continuing to rise over time. That being said, some cities in India supply will grow at a faster pace than the other.  Some cities will grow at a faster pace than others. Currently, New Delhi leads with the maximum number of keys followed by Bangalore, although in five years, Bangalore is set to overtake Delhi. There are plenty of opportunities for hoteliers to develop properties across the sectors and in key cities.

20 hotels are expected to be added in the next 3-5 years. What is the focus area of the expansion?  Maintaining a stronghold in key leisure markets or driving new markets, or both? 

For Accor in India, densification is our development priority. This allows us to enter and expand in key cities and offer multiple brands across varying budgets to guests. We are always looking forward to present quality development projects.

 In April, Accor announced the arrival of the iconic luxury Raffles brand in India with two properties – Raffles Udaipur and Raffles Jaipur. While we continue to drive our midscale and economy portfolio aggressively, we are focused on expanding our luxury, lifestyle and premium brands portfolio in the country. Banyan Tree, SO/, SLS, Delano, Mondrian, Hyde and Tribe amongst others are some of the brands which have potential growth and audience in the Indian market. We are also interested in the development of branded, private & serviced residences in urban and sought-after locations in the country.

In 2019, our upcoming properties include Grand Mercure GIFT (City Gujarat International Finance Tec-City) with 158 keys. In the year 2020, we have Raffles Udaipur, Grand Mercure Bangalore OMR, Novotel Mumbai International Airport and ibis Mumbai LBS Road in the pipeline. We also have Fairmont Mumbai and Fairmont Goa under development. We also have the Fairmont Mumbai under development and active discussion for coming up with a Fairmont in Goa.

Is the homestay segment the next big frontier, the next big wave, in the hospitality space? Major players seem interested in gaining an early-bird advantage in the segment. Your thoughts.

Homestay is certainly a growing sector in the hospitality industry, but we believe that there will always be a large percentage of travellers who prefer the safety, security and facilities found at a hotel. In some markets, the homestay segment has reached saturation point and there has been some government intervention to crack down on such operators. As a result, there is now a move to lifestyle and boutique hotels that has been borne out of a desire for what homestay used to offer. When Airbnb started, it was all about meeting the locals and experiencing local life, but as more people entered the market it became more about a financial transaction rather than a personal transaction with many homestay visits now conducted without any personal interaction with the owner of the accommodation. We have learned from the private rental market and hotels have adapted to become more sociable by opening up public spaces to make them more attractive to both visitors and locals. People are increasingly looking to connect with others in a world that is increasingly digital and when they do stay in private rental they are looking for quality, authenticity and difference. This is what we can offer through OneFineStay, which offers over 10,000 private rental accommodations that are vetted for quality and we overlay these accommodations with high-end hotel services such as cleaning, on-line concierge and quality amenities. Accor was one of the first hotel groups to enter the private rental space in a big way and we certainly believe there is still scope for growth in this area, but it is important not to lose sight of our main business, which is still hotels. What we have found is that the same customer will use private rental and hotels for different types of stays (business, leisure, with family, alone) so there is demand for both.