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[Podcast] The biggest challenge & success was the rebranding of Accor

Interview with Steven Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer, Accor.

Who are you Steven Taylor ?

I have worked in hospitality since 1998, across 4 continents in 3 extraordinary groups : Starwood, Shangri La and now Accor. After university, I worked in the family business in Egypt selling beverages to hotels. From that moment, I was really drawn into the industry. When I came back to Scotland, I applied to work at the Sheraton Edinburgh just at the moment when the Internet was kicking off. I started and grew my career showing hotels how to monetize the Internet. From there, I grew into a CMO.

Who were/are your models and mentors?

Early in my career, I worked with the current CEO of Kerzner, Michael Wale. He showed faith in me and gave me my first three jobs.I took away from him to really invest in youth, to give talent a chance. That is certainly something we do at Accor with for instance the shadow ComEx.
Sébastien Bazin is an incredible mentor, the way he has transformed Accor over the last five years is incredible. That transformation is what drew me to Accor.

Outside the industry, I think about Simon Sinek. He talks about the importance of humility which is quite inspirational. Really making sure that you work on behalf of your team, as a servant leader, seeing leadership as a privilege, that is important to me.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career until now?

The biggest challenge, and today the biggest success, was the rebranding of Accor. Accor is an incredibly large, multi billion, complex organization with 300,000 employees and multiple new businesses. We initiated just two years ago a complete masterbrand strategy and we brought that to life in 12 to 15 months. That was certainly the biggest challenge in my career. I don't think I have ever worked as hard in my life. It is something I am very proud of but also I am humble enough to recognize that there is still a lot of work to come.

What is, according to you, Accor’s DNA for hoteliers?

There is a number of strength that Accor has. When you look at the geographic diversity of Accor, it really is an incredible strength versus some of our competitors.We compete against large US multinationals and Chinese multinationals that have the majority of their business in the US or China. When you look at Accor's footprint, it is different. We lead in South America, we lead in Australia, we lead in EMEA. There is not one region that dominates the landscape of our footprint. That means that our results are pretty versatile but it also means that we are very close to our customers and our owners.

What are your ambitions for ALL?

The ambition is to really transform the way loyalty program operate and the way they add value across the hospitality industry. If you think about the way loyalty program work today, we see, on average, our customers only two or three times per year. We, as an industry, really struggle for relevance. Loyalty programs are geared towards really frequent travelers. The goal for the launch of ALL was really to build relevance and add value to consumers beyond the stay and try to add value to locals when they are at home. Ultimately we will become relevant every single day.

We have a roadmap and a lot of this relies on partners, as well as breaking out our own services and experiences to be more targeted to locals. For instance, we are making our restaurants and bars more accessible to locals when they are at home. This allows our customers to earn and redeem points when they are not staying at an hotel. We are taking existing services and facilities traditionally being used to target guests and now targeting locals. 

Partnerships is another way, it could be through mobility. For instance, Uber or Grab we integrated recently. We are giving our guests the opportunity to book that and to earn an redeem points in ALL ecosystem. It could also be through content partners like Netflix or Disney+. Partnerships are going to fulfill a very important role broadening this ecosystem and trying to build a walled garden of value around our customers.

How do you manage 39 brands?

It is a privilege. I believe that hospitality is going through a period of mass consolidation very similar to what we saw with the OTAs ten years ago. The same external factors are driving consolidation. Increasing costs of distribution will certainly drive independent hotel to join large groups like Accor, to drive more direct business. Consumers are also expecting more choice so it is no longer possible as a large multinational feasible to offer 9 brands. They want choice and we are certainly giving them that. I think that as long as a brand is well defined, has a strong value proposition and is differentiated, it has a place in our portfolio. Yes, we will grow up brands beyond 39. 

Digital has given birth to many tools and possibilities, how does Accor implement those tools?

First of all, digital must give the ability to consolidate our guests' preferences and to cascade relevant information across the organization. Ultimately, we view digital as an incredible way of adding value through personalization. The industry is very challenged by a legacy of fragmented technology systems. I think it is a factor that prevents us from living in this space when you look across industries. 9 months ago we launched the ACDC platform (the ACcor Digital Customer card) that really acted as one point of contact that consolidates all the information about our guests. Whether they are connected to us via the mobile app, via the website... That information is stored and cascaded to allow us to be more relevant in the content that we deliver.

There is a huge topic around data privacy, we are very GDPR compliant, that is a huge focus. We tend to focus on the customer value exchange meaning we don't collect or store information on the costumer unless we think it can add value to the experience. We are protecting customers' information.

What will hospitality look like in the future, according to you?

I do think hospitality will increasingly expand beyond the four walls of the hotel.I think strong individual brands like Sofitel, Raffles, Orient Express will actually expand beyond hotels in areas like travel, mobility, air travel, private jets, trains, autonomous vehicles... There is a great opportunity for strong hospitality brands to deliver that same level of experience we do in hotels into the travel sphere.

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