The hospitality giant’s COO for South East Asia, Japan and South Korea highlights a few notable projects in the pipeline and explains how Accor has adapted to the new normal.
Accor previously embraced a strategy of accelerating hotel development through organic growth and acquisition. Has the current crisis changed that approach?
We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of signings that have continued through the pandemic and at the quality of projects we have in the pipeline, including a large percentage of lifestyle and luxury hotels and resorts. While acquisitions have slowed over this period, there is definitely a big appetite for smaller, unbranded hotels to join Accor, knowing our expert sales teams, globally recognized brands, worldwide distribution platforms, ALLSAFE cleaning protocols and hygiene standards and the comfort and security that comes from being part of a large group provides. Our approach remains largely what it was before the crisis — we are definitely focused on quality over quantity and on enriching and expanding our presence in countries where we are already the leader or in highly sought-after destinations that we know people will want to travel to in the future. There is still a lot of confidence in the long-term future of travel.
Just before the pandemic hit, Accor pledged to remove all single-use plastic items from its hotels by the end of 2022. How is progress going so far?
Before the pandemic we were definitely on target to hit our single-use plastics ban and had managed to remove most of these items from our hotels. Unfortunately, this pandemic has created new challenges for us because people are now looking to us to provide confidence that the amenities they find in their rooms have not been touched by other guests or shared with others. This means that we will see a return to some single-use plastics during this period — especially with the provision of sanitizers, face masks, antiseptic wipes etc. that our hotels are providing for guest use. However, we continue to look at innovative ways to provide these items that don’t require single-use plastics — for example, no-touch pumps that work automatically to dispense sanitizer or cleaning product. We are also moving forward with the implementation of environmentally friendly dispensers for shampoos, soaps etc. that can be individually sanitized between guests.
International borders may not reopen until later this year. What sort of special experiences or offers has Accor rolled out for guests in Singapore, where the scope for domestic travel is limited?
One of the greatest joys about travel is discovering something new, doing something out of the ordinary and trying new food and drink. We know that the key to getting Singaporeans to travel domestically is providing exciting and creative staycation packages that will inspire them to explore their own backyard, discover new experiences, and enjoy inspirational dining that makes them feel like they are on holiday while they are at home. We have introduced several packages that offer guests something new and exciting, including five-star glamping for kids at Sofitel Singapore City Centre, where children can enjoy a themed teepee in their parents room; behind-the-scenes experiences at Singapore Zoo where our loyalty members can get up close with some of the zoo’s special animals and learn what it takes to be a zookeeper or animal trainer; an art exhibition in which guests can meet famous Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong and get a personal insight into his latest exhibition Stories from Yesteryear (on show at Sofitel Singapore City Centre until end of March) and use a hand-drawn map from the artist to discover his street murals across the city; and family packages at Fairmont Singapore, where guests enjoy dining credits to experience some of the hotel’s many restaurants and bars. Dining experiences are also essential in attracting the domestic market, so we have introduced special high teas at Skai at the Swissôtel Singapore Stamford as well as a pop-up restaurant by Michelin-starred chef Kirk Westaway of Jaan. We have some more exciting partnerships coming up that will ensure we can continue to draw Singaporeans and expats living here to enjoy some time with their family and friends. We are all desperate to have that feeling of escape that a hotel stay provides, but it’s up to us to create magical moments for our guests that give them the same sense of discovery they get from traveling internationally.
How has Accor supported its employees throughout this difficult time?
Our employees are our most valuable asset and early in the pandemic Accor set aside €70 million to assist its most vulnerable employees who either lost hours or income due to the downturn in tourism. We have provided funding to more than 50,000 employees in Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea to help them pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, or cover any medical expenses. This funding continues into 2021 as demand is still there. We also set aside some funding for frontline workers and partners who rely on our hotels for the majority of their income. In addition, almost all of our hotels have provided food and hygiene items to those in need either amongst their staff or in their neighborhoods, and Accor has provided shelter and food for frontline workers, victims of domestic abuse, and the homeless. At a corporate level, we have introduced online counseling to help those struggling with stress and provide online health and wellness sessions to ensure our people can cope with the situation in the best way possible, as well as fun activities to keep their children amused such as cooking classes, craft lessons, and more.
In your view, which countries in Southeast Asia will see the fastest growth after the pandemic?
Those countries with the highest percentage of domestic tourism will recover fastest because for the majority of countries in Southeast Asia, there is no international tourism at the moment. It will also depend on how well countries have contained the pandemic and how safe people perceive different countries to be. As borders reopen, those countries that have handled the crisis well will return to growth fastest, and it’s imperative that governments support a return to inbound travel as soon as it is safe to do so. It is difficult to predict which countries will grow fastest, but we see strong potential growth in Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Japan.
In terms of luxury brands such as Raffles, Banyan Tree, Fairmont, and Sofitel, what major hotel openings in Southeast Asia can we look forward to this year?
We have an exciting lineup of hotel openings this year including the Fairmont Ambassador Seoul, which opens this month, and the Sofitel Ambassador Seoul which opens not long after. We also will open the MGallery Orchard Hills Residences in Singapore this year, with a unique wellness offering that is sure to be a big hit in the current climate, with health and wellbeing so much more important than ever.
We’ve also heard a little about Raffles’ plan to open a resort on Sentosa sometime in 2022. What can you share about the project at this stage?
The Raffles Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa is going to be a truly amazing hotel that offers the ultimate in island luxury with private pool villas, the best spa facilities in Singapore, and exceptional dining outlets, all sprawling within lush tropical gardens with views over the South China Sea. Villas will range in size from 260 square meters to 450 square meters and will provide space, luxury, and seclusion — all the elements that travelers are looking for now. The resort has been designed around the idea of an elegant Singapore woman moving through defining moments in her life. She begins her journey as a girl in a wealthy traditional Singapore family where she learns the importance of her heritage. As a young woman, she leaves home to pursue international travels where she is exposed to different lands and cultures. After exploring the world, she decides to take her learnings and treasures from abroad and connect them with what she holds closest: her roots. The resort tells a story of her past, present, and future worlds colliding into one complete experience. The design develops as you move deeper into each space, gradually becoming immersed in the natural landscape of the island and being that much closer to a sense of home.
Similarly, are there any updates about the Orient Express Hotel Bangkok? For example, has an opening date been confirmed?
Accor and King Power Mahanakhon mutually agreed to discontinue their partnership to develop the Orient Express Mahanakhon Bangkok project. Accor remains committed to developing a collection of iconic Orient Express hotels in the most prestigious destinations of the world and King Power Mahanakhon is confident to continue with the development of the Mahanakhon project in line with the Group’s vision and new directions in the near future.
Apart from the Orient Express, what other new brands will Accor be launching in the near future?
We are looking to expand several of our lifestyle brands including Mondrian, Tribe, SLS, and Rixos into Asia, which will be very exciting.