Business Traveller is attending the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) at InterContinental Berlin, to hear from the industry’s top executives on the hotel world under the theme ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’.

Group chairman and CEO of Accor, Sébastien Bazin was interviewed by Questex vice president, market leader – operational real estate Joe Stather on May 16, with topics spanning everything from his future at the company to brand standards and artificial intelligence.

The AGM of Accor takes place today, with shareholders voting on the future of Bazin’s leadership of the company. The CEO kicked off the chat by stating “as of tonight I have a job, as of tomorrow I don’t know”.

He continued:

“I’ve been saying and advocating that my journey is not over in terms of what I would love to do for the company in terms of transformation… because we are in the fourth leg of another transformation which is the split of the company into two different organisations. But I’m also saying that a time is coming… where [Accor] should be changing and I should be doing something else. It’s very healthy.”

Accor has split into two branches, with economy, midscale and premium on one branch, while the luxury and lifestyle segment is on another. These two branches are under the leadership of Bazin and Jean-Jacques Morin, Group Deputy CEO.

Bazin commented on this restructure of the company, stating that mid-market brands remain “solid” and “resilient” and justifying his reasons for taking charge of the luxury and lifestyle division.

“We went into luxury and lifestyle not because I was in disarray about eco-midscale at all. I was just looking for different demand, customer, fee per room, growth and different geographies. It was a way of diversifying Accor away from when I started.”

When it comes to brand standards, the chief executive explained that he’s a “little bit of the outlier” and goes slightly against the Accor culture. He believes that hotels under the same brand can, indeed, differ in terms of design depending on the location, adding that the owners should be given “the freedom and liberty to do something different”.

“I kind of like it when a Novotel is different in Bangkok from Sao Paulo or Paris, because some are more daring, have a fresher product. There is a fine equilibrium between what your brand stands for and the design and the content of a destination under the same brand.”

Nonetheless, he is “draconian [about] making sure it’s the same price point”, adding that it is “foolish and extremely dangerous” not to.

Bazin also spoke about how the industry has evolved over time, explaining that it is “vastly different to what it was like 20 years ago” and strongly suggesting that hotels should now be designed for locals.

“Anyone who wants to open a new hotel, I’m advocating you to open it, design it for the local community. For the people who live next door. Make sure you cater for them, make sure you give them a reason to come to the brand. Make sure they use the bar, the restaurant, the public spaces to work remotely. If you achieve to attract the local community, then don’t worry a minute about the traveller…

“You have to change upside down the entire thinking of hospitality from 40 years ago… when we only cared about catering for the traveller. That is wrong.”

Bazin has long championed the idea of hotels catering for those living in the local vicinity – back in 2018 in an interview with Business Traveller he stated:

“The end of the game is there are 7.5 billion people living on the planet, and around 1.3 billion travelling, which is wonderful because they will become two billion. But at the moment you have six billion not travelling, one billion of whom are not travelling, but are in urban cities, many of which are gateway cities.”

Accorhotels plans the future of hotels

Bazin added that the “best buffer” against events such as Covid-19 and border restrictions is demand from local guests. “If you really have 60 per cent of your revenues from the local community, you are safe and you’ve done something different.”

Bazin was also quizzed on the opportunities and threats from the growth of AI across the industry.

“AI is an enhancer, a machine learning, a tool. I hate the word artificial intelligence. I hate artificial… Can we please call it augmented intelligence. There’s nothing artificial about AI.”

He added that Accor will “be smart enough to use AI when needed in terms of before and after the stay,” but that it can not replace hospitality.

“The reason why people travel is because they want to discover another culture, live moments, emotions, interactions. It’s all about human capital.”