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Accor’s Top Digital Exec Reveals Data on Its Hotel Tech Game

Accor’s Top Digital Exec Reveals Data on Its Hotel Tech Game

Accor held a day of presentations for investors on June 27, and I wrote a piece covering 7 top slides from it. Today I want to highlight the most notable 20 minutes of the six hours of talks.

Alix Boulnois, chief digital officer, revealed how Accor is strengthening its digital foundations.

  • Earlier this year, Boulnois joined Accor’s management board. The move underscored her importance at the Paris-based group, which runs 5,400 hotels and whose brands include Raffles, Fairmont, Ibis, and Novotel.
  • Before joining Accor a few years ago, Boulnois spent seven years at Amazon, where one of her projects was to launch Prime Now grocery delivery.
  • “I spent most of my career with big tech guys in the U.S., and they have a unique way to work and manage their teams — to deliver solutions and systems,” Boulnois said. “This is really what my leadership team has been trained to enforce within this organization.”
  • She was previously a consultant at McKinsey. (Aren’t they all?)

Accor launched what it calls a “digital factory” at the end of 2021. What the heck is that?

  • The unit brings together about 800 developers, data analysts, product managers, customer relationship experts, and others to tackle the problems of hotel guests and operators.
  • “Accor has the only digital factory at scale in the hospitality industry,” Boulnois said.
  • Boulnois has led this team to have a Silicon Valley attitude toward innovation.
  • For instance, guests had a problem easily earning and burning points in the hotel group’s loyalty program. So the digital factory created an ALL-Accor Live Limitless payment card, thanks to an integration with tech company Fever. The card lets guests amass points on all purchases at Accor-affiliated properties, such as a meal at a restaurant, a spa visit, a co-working visit, or an overnight hotel stay. Guests can use the card to pay for services or book concert tickets through sales partners.
  • D-Edge, a hotel marketing services unit for other hotel companies, is under the digital factory umbrella. It’s fairly rare for publicly held hotel groups to have a tech subsidiary. Only Choice Hotels has one, SkyTouch. D-Edge also manages The Accor Reservation System (TARS), the property management system used by most of the company’s economy hotels.
  • The team is working to level up its customer relationship management. The goal is to improve how it tracks, and makes use of, data on guests as they stay across various brands in different countries booked through different methods.
  • A tiny part of the group works on dreamier, long-term innovation focusing on social and environmental responsibility. One project is Fullsoon, a startup Accor created to predict restaurant occupancy rates to reduce food waste.

Accor, like its rivals, wants to sell more than just rooms.

  • Within the past year, it’s launched “All Food” — sites and apps for booking meals at its restaurants — in select markets, such as France.
  • In April, it launched Spa d’Accor for bookings in France, with plans to enter other markets.

Distribution is a challenge for all hoteliers. They all want to sell to more guests using the least costly sources possible.

  • Since 2019, Accor has expanded its distribution channels by 27% to more than 140. In particular, Accor has been supplementing global online travel agencies like Expedia with more local partners and agencies in Southeast Asia, China, and Latin America.
  • The team has improved the company’s mobile apps. Customer ratings of the apps are now between 4.6 out of 5 stars and 4.8 out of 5 stars across its Apple and Android apps, about 20% better compared with between 3 and 3.5 stars before the pandemic.
  • The above two factors have helped Accor expand its share of direct bookings, which are typically cheaper for Accor than third-party bookings. The share of direct bookings (such as through its mobile app) as a share of all distribution rose 3 percentage points since 2019.
  • Some of that direct growth is app-based. Pre-crisis, Accor’s apps drove 18% of its direct booking revenues. Now they drive 27%.
  • In the past 12 months, the hotel group enjoyed a pace of growth for direct bookings that was four percentage points more than the pace of growth it saw from online travel agencies. If you compared direct bookings growth against online travel agencies lumped with global distribution systems such as Amadeus and Sabre, the company saw 7 percentage points more growth in direct bookings in the past year. (Speaking of Amadeus and Sabre, Accor wants to offer its special rates for loyalty members via those global distribution systems to boost activity.)
  • Guests at the company’s luxury properties often expect high-touch service. (Fairmont drives about 12% of its business from contact centers.) Accor opened in December a new contact center in Barcelona to help.

Accor is leading its rivals on the subscription model.

  • In March, Accor rolled out a subscription program worldwide where guests can pay an annual fee for discounts and perks. It also added regional programs in China and Brazil. While other companies have offered ways to buy higher levels of status in loyalty programs for a long time, Accor has five subscription products, more than its rivals.
  • “We are super bullish on subscriptions,” Boulnois said.
  • Subscriptions create an income stream and boost direct bookings, saving the company marketing costs and helping to subsidize the perks and discounts.

Most of Accor’s brand websites are outdated in look and functionality, in my view.

  • Boulnois said she’s pushing for refreshed sites. Fairmont and Sofitel, among its high-end brands, will get contemporary sites soon.
  • “We’re industrializing the model, which will enable us to release more and more new brand websites at an accelerated pace,” Boulnois said.

Accor’s skill at setting room rates has been below average, in my view.

  • A key skill for any hotel company is “revenue management,” or setting rates and making rooms available in response to signals in supply and demand. In my view, Accor has been behind the sector average among major hotel groups.
  • Boulnois said her team is making the latest revenue management software available to all of the company’s hotels with relevant predictions depending on brand, geography, and shifting macroeconomic conditions.

Read the full article at skift Inc.


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