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[#WHA19] "I had a builder's vision"

By Gérard Brémond, founder of the Pierre&Vacances group, during the MasterClass 2019 of the 20th Worldwide Hospitality Awards.

The first stones of Pierre&Vacances are in the mountains, in Avoriaz. I did not begin my profession with the idea of creating a European tourism group. My ambition was to create a new city in the mountains, at 1,800 meters altitude, where there was absolutely nothing built, and to make it a tourist city for 20,000 people. I was 27 years old and had a builder’s vision, with land use planning, in response to the public authorities who initiated the famous "Snow Plan" ("Plan Neige" in French). There was a plan to reclaim the mountain territory and develop tourism. The vision I had was of a break with urban life (whereas all the stations at the time were designed on an urban model) in architecture, urban planning, ecology too... That's how Avoriaz was born.

The subsequent problem was tourism development. Because there were ski lifts that represented lots of investments, and high operating costs, it was therefore necessary to find, in addition to daily clientele, residences in the resort, and not only to do second homes. That's when the hotel chains provided me with an enormous service: they didn't want to develop in the mountains, due to operating costs, seasonality, etc. I am very grateful to them for that.

But with Accor, it was different. We worked together to pre-invent the tourist residence. We invented time-sharing in France. We did the first time-sharing operation with Accor, With Paul and Gérard. This has resulted in a 140-apartment building in Avoriaz, with time-sharing. It was not a financial success. But the tourist residence was invented in this way, which was the conjunction between two things: the demand for apartment rentals for families and groups, and the appetite of the French people for real estate investment. So there was a real need in terms of hotel rentals, in terms of investment in real estate. As I had no money, I combined two jobs: real estate developer and tourism operator. The financing has thus been done.

The idea was that from a given plot of land, there are two stages: the first, real estate development, with the first margin in the short-term; the second, tourism operation, with management over time, and profitability as an operator. This is what I called the combination of the hunter and the ploughman.

To repay Avoriaz's debt, I could not leave the Avoriaz site alone. So we extended the concept to other stations, but with more limited operations, and then to the sea, and then to the countryside. Then came Center Parks, which is indeed the biggest carrier of the group today.

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