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#GLF19 | "Mama's job is to bring people happiness. It's not just design"

B&B: a single brand group with a rapid rate of growth. One hotel opening per week to soon reach 500 properties and 28 years of history. Mama Shelter: THE lifestyle brand par excellence. First property opened in 2008. 19 properties open and 10 in the pipeline. Best Western: global multi-brand group, 13 brands, leading independent hoteliers network worldwide. The three groups share the positioning of their brands.

What is lifestyle? A way of life? A way of thinking? An outmoded expression?

Serge Trigano: At Mama Shelter we try to entertain. We also try to be local, so we hope Mercedes Erra is absolutely right. Mama tries to do good. "Lifestyle" doesn't mean much. Moreover, I am committed to having Mama offer a brunch to anyone who finds a better word for this type of hotel offer. It is above all about a universe in which people feel good. Mama's job is to give people happiness. It is not just design: anyone can do good design, which is what all the new brands are doing. The challenge is to give meaning, it's more about substance than form, it's about casting and staff making it successful rather than design. A relaxed style, something in terms of men and women who have different looks, experiences, educations. For example we hire actors. Lifestyle is a way of approaching clientele.

At B&B, a standardized mono-brand, how is innovation approached?

Fabrice Collet: What Mama Shelter and others offer lies at the heart of what is happening and it shows us the way. B&B was born in the early '90s and it was necessary to always provide the same, standardized service, keep prices down and not have any unpleasant surprises at a time when the existing offer was sometimes more erratic. Later, in 2005, we introduced a little design into our eco-friendly rooms. That way we could tell the customer the product is better than that: a smile, pleasant rooms... Now there is a third phase. Clients tell us, it's good but service is clinical, it meets biological needs, and we need more. This means bringing more space from bed size to design and breakfast. Today, breakfast rooms are open all day long, for example, to provide moments for socializing. At B&B we must remember that we are not addressing a globalized elite, but vaster numbers.

At Best Western, the response to the evolution the market is different, you expanded your range by adding new brands…

Olivier Cohn: At Best Western, 8 years ago we had just two brands: Best Western and Best Western Premier. Today, with 13 brands worldwide and 10 in France, we are taking up several challenges, the first was to capture more clientele, in both the economy and upscale segments. We had to operate in all hotel markets: standard, charm, lifestyle to attract as many customers as possible, and then, through our loyalty program, keep them at Best Western by offering different products depending on how they consume. The idea is that customers are not single segment: one hotel in one setting, and another hotel in another, but always Best Western. Depending on expectations they change brand. The extended brand panel makes it possible to seek out all these clientele. That is the first axis.

The second axis for hoteliers is that the more generalist they are the less capable they are of being clear about brands and their potential impact on operations. 13 brands make it possible to better meet the hotelier's goals, in terms of both prices and occupancy. It is important to find the ideal brand for each type of property.

What is the lifespan of the lifestyle cycle? Of the hotel product? Will Mama Shelter always be Mama Shelter?

ST: 15 years from now, when everyone will be Lifestyle, Mama Shelter will re-invent classic hospitality and invent Papa Shelter. Clientele are completely changing how they consume. The beauty of our work is that there is room for everyone. The herd-like success of lifestyle brands is a bit dangerous. Mama's DNA is backed by family history: that of Club Med and we tried to transpose that in the 21st  century. That is what makes us different. Mama Shelter will not be the Kodak of the hotel industry, we constantly innovate intuitively, which may lead to mistakes, but that's how we learn. Mama must remain at the cutting edge of innovation, for example, now we are embarking on co-working with Mama Works.

And mixed-use? The acceleration of cycles?

FC: Mixed-use is necessarily something we are considering. Innovation is essential, but the first thing that makes a hotel exist is its location. The right hotel is in the right location and offers the right service. Innovation cycles are clearly accelerating. Our customers have changed, we used to classify customers by CSP. When we were powerful we had a big car and we went to 5-star hotels, and when we were more humble we had a small car and we stayed at 1-star hotels. Today, it is different. Our needs evolve according to our inspirations, I do not say "economy hotel" but "democratic, universal hotel", which corresponds to a need for a short stay at the right price.

OC: I'm not sure investment cycles in the hotel industry are getting shorter, but the more solidly based we are, the more successful we will be in the future. The hotel business in 30 years? I don't know. But if we are on solid foundations, there will be no problem. The basic goal will be to welcome the customer. And the people who welcome customers are our employees. Going back to the foundations of human capital, for example, by hiring people with soft skills that naturally allow them to reach the customer, we ensure his or her satisfaction. It's the key to the hotel business.

What is the winning equation for a brand?

FC: Hospitality. It is necessary to keep smiling, to welcome and be attentive. Our clientele will pay us back. That is the winning approach of the B&B brand.

ST: Hotels must have DNA. A combination of values and openness to others in a somewhat difficult world. Offer spaces open to all, peaceful, not divisive, where you must feel good.

OC: The three strong points - location, location, location - are not necessarily true. If the product is well designed it works well, and a well designed product is a product that listens to its clients.

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