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Interview with Robert Gaymer-Jones, Chief Operating Officer Sofitel Worldwide: “The work done in a so short a time is amazing”

7 min reading time

Published on 09/10/08 - Updated on 17/03/22

We met Robert Gaymer-Jones in Beijing at the official launch of the renewal of the Sofitel brand, when he just had joined the Accor Group, leaving the Marriott universe in Great-Britain. He overlooks ten months of a journey at full speed.

{{HTR Magazine: Less than a year after your appointment as COO of Sofitel are you well in line with the timing of your mission to position Sofitel as a luxury brand?R G-J:}} That number changes weekly as we continue to rationalise the network of hotels globally, but our intent is never to be the largest operator of luxury hotels but one with authenticity and true passion for service. So our aim is to eventually get close to this number of hotels in the future but to focus on quality .rst and quantity later. I believe this will go hand in hand with our strategy.Robert Gaymer-Jones:}} Yes we are, This is a very exciting project that takes us around the world telling a great story to our owners investors and management teams who have been very impressed with the quality and the careful thinking behind this luxury re-positioning{{HTR: Are the standards for Sofitel completely de.ned and implemented in the properties or do you still have to work on some of them?R G-J}}: Every day we are working on defining the standards and this will never stop. Creating a luxury brand that becomes a standard means keeping it constantly fresh for both our management teams and guests alike. However, the basic standards such as visual identity, logo, F&B, recruitment & training programs, amenities, uniforms, guests relations guidelines…. are completely de.ned and are implemented among the network. As we have started a year ago, we are still on a take off period and will reach our cruse altitude in 2010 for a full implementation within the Sofitel network. But the work already done in a so short a time is really amazing.{{HTR: How do you manage to pass the message to the staff, from the general manager to the bell-boy, that Sofitel has enter a new dimension in industry upper upscale segment?R G-J:}} This is at the heart of the re-positioning of our brands. We have implemented a Luxury training program (two steps) for all members of our teams worldwide. This incorporates training from the top of the hotel, all our GM first, to the new arrival employee. They are being amerced into luxury through trips to luxury retailers, clothing designers and teaching techniques that focuses on the .nest detail of a guest overall stay. LVMH, Hermes, Dior…. are some of the great French names with which we have set up training partnerships for our senior staff on a worldwide basis. The last one, concerning our GMs, has just been rolled out in Asia pacific, both Sydney and Bangkok.{{HTR: Although you are part of the Accor Group, your brand has developed a specific business unit, is it working? To what extend your autonomy is stretched?R G-J:}} It is important that we have created our very own brand identity that will become a reference for the luxury segment for a guest hotel experience. The best is being able to use some of the outstanding talent of behind scenes support of the Accor organisation. This really makes our brand stronger not only in financial performance but leverages Accor’s global presence in a way we could not do alone as we start the luxury journey. This is all being done with the total support and autonomy to deliver on this strategy.{{HTR: You have been travelling the world to explain the new strategy to the staff but also to the owners, what was the response from both communities?R G-J: }} It is now overwhelmingly positive, after I must say, some short convinced times. Most of our owners truly believe that there is a niche out there for a Luxury French Hotel brand that we have created on a global level that focuses on the “l’art de recevoir” and delivers a unique and personalised experience that can only be found in the best Hotels in Paris. Our owners and investors are as excited as we are in the introduction of the three brands from Sofitel to Legend and of course So, our latest urban chic hotel brand. Our employees have been fabulous and are coming up with ideas every day in how we can be more creative in designing new experiences for our guests, they have been just tremendous. I really think all Sofitel employees are now both proud and excited to be part of this adventure.{{HTR: Your strategy implies to review the network and to keep only those properties that could .t your scheme. How did you deal with the disappointment from owners who didn’t want to loose the Sofitel brand?R G-J:}} We had to make these difficult decisions to rationalise the network so we can stand behind each one of these hotels and implement the strategy of creating this luxury experience, based on product design and location. This of course have been difficult discussions but once you are able to elaborate on the true direction of the brand, there is an understanding of what it will take to reposition each hotel and the discussions become clearer in the mind of our owners/investors.{{HTR: How many hotels have finally been selected to join the Sofitel Legend portfolio? Do they all need heavy renovation to deserve the label?R G-J:}} We have been very fortunate with the hotels we have earmarked to be part of the Legend portfolio they are truly iconic properties that have the ability to be world class in their own right in luxurious destinations. The plan is to have 8-9 properties in the short term with a projected 11-12 for the future. Some of the renovations that are underway are very extensive sometimes, being necessary to include closing hotels such as the most exquisite Old Cataract hotel in Aswan (Egypt) that is undergoing a complete restoration (We prefer to use the term restoration over renovation as we painstakingly bring back these properties to their former glory). Other properties have maybe less a restoration but each with their own unique personality, like The Grand in Amsterdam or Le Palais Jamai in Fes (Morocco).{{HTR: What will make the difference between the “regular” Sofitel and a So by Sofitel?R G-J:}} Once we have launched the new So Paris which is currently the Sofitel Arc de Triomphe, you will see the incredible transformation made at this hotel. The design that Andre Putman and team has created for this hotel will electrify the Parisian hotel market with style and design in a very urban chic setting that is naturally different to the Sofitel Luxury hotels. It will be a kind of new boutique hotels, focussed on design with a true personality, not only based on small size. Each So in every city will have its own soul, designed by a local wellknown architect.{{HTR: Even though the strategy is not yet totally implemented, did you experience positive reaction from the Sofitel customers and even more from customers who were not loyal to Sofitel? Did you manage to already improve the financial performances of the brand?R G-J:}} The response from our customer have been positive, they are mentioning that they can really begin to feel the changes in the brand some points are obvious such as the Hermes amenities and some more subtle such as service levels or attention to details never seen before. Our performance begin to be reflective of these changes with a significant RevPAR growth globally, this despite softening in the hotel market generally due current economic conditions. Of course it is at the minimum, a mid-term challenge for us and we have still to invest. Our new advertising campaign, quite innovative and carrying all the luxury codes, shows how we will build and increase Sofitel image.{{HTR: While you are converting previous Sofitels into “new” Sofitels, you intend to develop the brand in new destinations. Is the pipeline well fed? Do you suffer from the changes on the real estate market? Are you approached by investors who would have Hyatt, Westin, Méridien as their first choice?R G-J:}} Because we have seen such interest in our brands we are continuing to develop hotels around the world in new and exciting destinations. There has been some slowing of the real estate market but right now that seems to be affecting us more in the delays of construction but fortunately not effecting the interest in our brands, as they are seen as very appealing to the same investors who may have some of the same brands you are mentioning.{{HTR: Do you maintain the goal of 250 Sofitels as the ideal network?R G-J:}} That number changes weekly as we continue to rationalise the network of hotels globally, but our intent is never to be the largest operator of luxury hotels but one with authenticity and true passion for service. So our aim is to eventually get close to this number of hotels in the future but to focus on quality .rst and quantity later. I believe this will go hand in hand with our strategy.

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