Interview with Krystel Blondeau, Managing Director France of Louvre Hotels Group, who shares her experience and vision of the sector in this time of lockdown. A discussion with Vanguélis Panayotis, CEO MKG Consulting - Video in French.
How will the reopening take place and under what conditions?
I don't think anybody has a magic orb today as to whether we should open early or not. However, over 80% of our potfolio was shut down during the Covid-19 crisis. Our ambition is to reopen and re-open as soon as possible. Why is that? Because the hotel industry is a key player in the economy. If the hotel industry is not there, the global economy will find it difficult to get back on its feet.
Today we have 200 hotels that have already reopened. By May 11, we will have 50% of the park reopened and by the end of May-early June, the entire portfolio will be reopened, regardless of its status (franchisee or subsidiary).
To date, reopening a hotel with the required sanitary conditions is much more complicated than closing it. There are different phases: the first is the appropriation of the new processes and the reassurance of the consumer. Because consumers' needs have changed. People are saying to themselves "I don't want a hotel and a price, but I want it to be open and guarantee me health safety". It's a new start that requires a lot of training and support for teams and customers.
Do you see that there is a demand for it?
On our brands, we've seen a growing dynamic over the last few days, even several weeks. Construction and public works clients or major accounts looking for secure accommodation for their employees will sometimes book a whole hotel. If I take Première Classe, we have tripled the number of reservations and pick-ups.
Given this progressive unlock and the government's instructions, we know that our summer clientele will be primarily domestic. We might have customers that we didn't have before. Moreover, we can see this in the research intentions of the customers. They're not converting yet because I think they're waiting for the final travel instructions. But the French also want to get some fresh air or to be reunited with their families. We have a good chance of getting back a whole clientele that had no intention of staying in France. The dynamics will also depend on elements that we do not yet master, such as a potential vaccine by the end of the year. As far as corporate customers are concerned, they have become accustomed to teleworking and this is likely to have a back-pedalling effect - i.e. less travel, even when things return to normal.
How did you organize the catering in your properties?
For breakfast, guests have the choice of taking it outside or in their room. On the catering side, we use room service or pick-up service. We therefore serve the client but if the restaurants are not open or if we are not able to meet the needs, it is problematic. We had to organize the F&B part of a hotel, which will probably have changes in the future in terms of services or offers in our properties.
Est-ce que tu vois des tendances de fond ? Est-ce que tu penses que cette crise va garder des marqueurs durables ?
Une progression du digital, notamment dans les moyens de réservation mais aussi dans les usages. Tout ce qui est technologique et paperless va s’accélérer. Nous aurons également des clients différents avec des besoins différents. Cette crise a engendré un besoin de réassurance, bien évidemment sanitaire mais aussi en termes de flexibilité de réservations et de last minute.
How did relations with the franchise partners go?
We were really keen to have more, stronger and closer communication. Despite the distance, the technological tools helped us a lot. We had exchanges on the situation with the franchisees' representative office about every ten days. We exchanged on the different proposals or aids we were able to put at their disposal.
Do you think the uses, products or equipment will accelerate?
Every crisis generates opportunities. Nevertheless, I think that when we go through a crisis like this one, it accelerates transformations. So what will tomorrow's transformations be? No one is a fortune-teller, but we know that there are underlying trends. We are working with our networks and all our teams to reinvent ourselves. There is a real process underway to stay in the race.
A few years ago, brands were a little shaken up and were no longer necessarily the benchmarks they were traditionally supposed to play. Today I think that this assurance from professionals with the processes we are able to put in place and the customer relationship we guarantee in terms of security but also of our systems, will allow a return and a recovery of confidence in the brands. I think that more than ever, it is important to communicate about our brands and to give them back the meaning they should have in terms of reinsurance and benchmarks.
What do you think of the measures that have been taken by the [French] government?
I think we are a very fortunate country. When we look at what has happened in other European countries, we have had a government that has been very supportive. It has been responsive. This is a determining factor in "breathing", if we can talk about breathing in a period that has been very difficult and is not yet over. Same thing on the side of the representatives of the profession, who have been extremely active.
In any case, all the teams are looking forward to going out into the field, reopening and finding their clients.