We have a lot to learn from the alternative stay segment: Jean-Michel Casse

Jean-Michel Cassé
The amenities that we provide do not give the impression that ibis is an economy brand; it is only the price point that matches the segment, Jean-Michel Cassé tells Sangeeta Tanwar

What are the opportunities and challenges for an economy hotel player like ibis with growing competition from alternative stay options and the branded budget hotels?

Ibis hotels in India offer great location and cutting-edge services. Be it the dining experience, our employees or the amenities provided, none of these will give an impression of an economy hotel — it’s mere the price point which matches the segment. We don’t consider the alternative stay options like branded budget hotels as competition. Instead this segment has opened the gates for the hotel industry. With these entrants, the industry has been introduced to new set of travellers who seek unique experiences. Millennial travellers give us opportunities to adapt, grow and improve. We have a lot of respect for the alternative stay segment as it is a good model. But we are not competing as the guest they cater to has on an average four nights stays and gets groups of three-four people. At Accor Hotels, 80 per cent of the business is less than three nights and less than two people. 

The important factor is to understand their business models and get familiar with their approach, but some of these providers will be unable to match and enable guest services. The alternative stay options lack human touch as there is no customer interface. With more than 200,000 employees globally, we ensure that we create touch points at every level of the customer experience. The major difference between alternative accommodations and other hospitality players is the usage of digital and technological solutions. To minimise the gap, we have invested €225 million into a five-year digital transformation plan.

AccorHotels’ smart economy brand ibis has adopted a new approach to hospitality — what you call ibism. How is ibism going to help you redefine consumer experience?

Travellers today are looking for varied experiences, they want a localised, customised and personalised stay. We understand the needs of our guests thus we have undertaken multiple initiatives to ensure we truly listen to them. To celebrate the decade-long milestone of the ibis brand in India, we have introduced ibism — a non-judgemental and exclusive campaign for the guests and employees alike. ibism signifies a cultural movement which is designed for everyone, including families, friends, colleagues, small businesses, couples travelling for leisure or partners at work. The brand places people at the heart of everything and thus this campaign is all about ‘you’ — to make people feel welcomed. From marketing collaterals to significant changes in the hotels themselves, ibism is present at every step of the way, including quirky and personalised communication across various touch points at the hotel, from signage at the front desk, security check-in, elevators, restaurants, bars and stationery in the rooms; a change in uniform for employees with printed doodles that reflect Accor Hotels’ ‘Born in France, Made in India’ philosophy. The uniforms are also city-specific — for example an employee in ibis Delhi Aerocity has quirks of Delhi printed on it. The multi-cuisine restaurant at all ibis hotels across the country, Spice It, now serve new and unique palate experiences. It offers food tailor-made for India; it serves the longest running breakfast starting from 4 am till noon.

How are you leveraging technology to drive ibism and deliver a customised consumer experience to travellers?

Guests  are demanding personalisation and to fulfill them brands are using innovative technological solutions. Hoteliers are using artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and augmented reality to provide smart and real-time solutions. With Accor Hotels Digital Card (ACDC), we collect data via customer relationship management and curate experiences based on the information provided by the guest. 

With the help of ACDC, teams also gather information regarding food habits or choice of in-room amenities, birthday/anniversary dates and many more such details that eventually make the guest feel special and welcomed. 

The company operates 18 ibis hotels across 12 cities. What are your expansion plans?

We are committed to the Indian market for the long haul and we along with our partners are focused on developing a portfolio of upper upscale, midscale and economy assets in key Indian markets. A significant portion of Accor Hotels' growth strategy is to develop our portfolio of midscale and in-demand economy brands — Novotel and ibis respectively. Our approach is to densify the existing network of brands and also increase the number of keys in the existing hotels. ibis, which promises modernity, comfort and service at the best price caters to 100,000 travellers from India and abroad. With the help of the joint venture (JV) with our strategic partners InterGlobe Enterprises, currently we have 18 ibis hotels in 12 cities with over 3,000 rooms. We have a strong pipeline of hotels with ibis Kolkata (189 keys), ibis Vikhroli (249 keys), ibis Thane (195 keys), ibis Hebbal, Bangalore (153 keys), under construction and slated to be functional within the next few months. All the upcoming ibis hotels are being designed to bring in contemporary elements. We have tied up with Singapore-based designer Isabelle Maija to redesign the look and feel of all the ibis hotel in the country. Ibis Vikhroli will be the first hotel to be launched with the new outlook and food concept and, hopefully, will be a disruptor in this segment. ibis, Gurgaon Golf Course Road, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, was recently renovated on this ethos.

What is Accor Hotels’ market and revenue share in India? What are your future targets?

In India, Accor Hotels is a fairly new brand compared to the other hospitality players and with this decade-long presence we have been able to establish a successful portfolio across segments. We are on a journey to ramp-up our portfolio and currently we have a network of 48 hotels across nine of our internationally acclaimed brands in 22 cities with more than 8,900 keys. We plan to expand our network by 25 per cent over the next few years and have more than 2,000 rooms in the pipeline. We have a strong growth momentum in India and are on track to reach our target of 80 hotels by 2020. This year we will reach the milestone 50th hotel in India. We’ve already four hotels this year such as Novotel Goa Dona Sylvia, ibis Pune Hinjewadi, Mercure Chennai Sriperumbudur and Novotel Kochi Infopark and have three more openings in the pipeline with Novotel Chennai Chamiers Road (110 rooms); Novotel Vijayawada (225 rooms) and ibis Kolkata (189 rooms). 

In addition to that, we are focussed on bringing some of the internationally renowned luxury and upscale brands to India. We are engaged and actively seeking opportunities to bring Raffles, Banyan Tree and other brands to the Indian market. Also, we foresee growth of the existing luxury hotel brands Fairmont and Sofitel in markets like Mumbai, Gurgaon, Delhi, Bangalore and Goa among others.

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