With travel forever changed post COVID-19, organisations need to adapt travel policies to restart safe business travel for their travellers. Accommodation as a key element of the travel programme has shifted radically, and hotels are working on solutions to adapt and elevate the accommodation experience for travel managers and their travellers.
FCM’s Leticia Tan, Regional Corporate Product Leader chats with Accor Asia-Pacific’s Vice-President of Sales, Kerry Healy to discuss the future of accommodation choices in a post COVID-19 world, the role of hospitality providers in helping travellers to cope with the new normal moving forward, how Accor is responding and taking steps to address traveller health and safety concerns, as well as how travel managers can prepare their organisations to get back to business safely on the accommodation front.
1. FCM recently carried out a Global State of the Market 3-phase survey to gain greater insights into our clients’ prevailing sentiments on business travel conditions. We noticed similar correlating results from surveys carried out by other travel suppliers too. Can you share some trends which you are seeing in the accommodation space?
It’s great timing actually, we’ve actually just concluded our global survey amongst our corporate customers. Three interesting major takeaways to note are:
- Challenge in luxury and premium segment, but specific to certain sectors – we see that hotel spending is likely to decrease and restrictions at the higher end are also quite likely, with the highest restrictions coming from companies in that mid-scale size, including the SME segment.
- Criteria when selecting RFPs – our customers told us that there is a growing demand for reassurance and flexibility when going through the hotel selection process. Specifically, in Asia-Pacific, respondents felt that the top three criteria are standards and protocols for managing emergencies, followed by pricing, and then flexibility on commercial conditions.
- A much stronger appetite for dynamic pricing – interesting to note, dynamic pricing is much more preferred to static pricing in Asia than it was before, by comparison to some of the other countries. Despite the prevalence in some of the more mature markets, this is something which we have not really seen before in this region.
And perhaps another trend we saw was, while a lot of customers are quite content rolling over hotel programmes and pricing until next year, it would be more of a trend of micro-cities, not even countries. And I think that is very much in line with how we see recovery working. So in big domestic markets, where maybe certain projects are ongoing in key cities, and where companies will have some type of visibility into the key cities, this micro-RFP will become quite a popular trend.
2. Do you think corporates’ booking behaviour and criteria for selection of accommodation post COVID-19 will change significantly? What will be some of the key things that corporates and their travellers be looking out for when they return to travel?
Duty of care has always been incredibly important for companies, but now as people are likely to be travelling during an ongoing crisis and at post COVID-19 era, then this gets even more attention than before, and companies will be changing their policies to manage the risks associated with travel.
Our survey shows that 56% of companies with an existing travel risk policy, will be changing their policy due to the pandemic. The top 5 drivers that we saw for duty of care are:
- sanitation and hygiene protocols in rooms and common areas;
- the presence of standards and protocols for managing emergencies;
- food and beverage safety protocols;
- attention to security; and
- value for money.
3. Many travel suppliers from airlines to car hire companies and of course hotels have been elevating their healthy and sanitation protocols in preparation for recovery of travel markets. I heard that Accor has recently launched ALLSAFE, a label to represent elevated cleanliness protocols and standards. Can you give us more details on that?
We have developed a hygiene and safety label ALLSAFE, and it’s actually co-created with Bureau Veritas and other sanitation partners. Although this is the global standard, Accor is also making sure that we’re working with local authorities in the respective markets. Here in Singapore for instance, hotels are also SG clean. That’s important because we have multiple locations around the world and we need to make sure they’re relevant in the local markets and adapt those global standards at the same time.
In principle, there is a set of 16 standards which every single Accor hotel must be audited for. Across Asia-Pacific in just 6 weeks, 651 hotels audited out of the 1300 have been audited and we have the commitment to achieve the full remit of hotels by the end of September.
I guess what makes ours slightly unique is that we’ve partnered with AXA, a worldwide leader in insurance, health and personal protection products. And as part of the ALLSAFE commitment, the partnership with AXA means customers who stay in any Accor hotels around the world, have access to free telemedical services. This is an extended level of reassurance and protection for our common customers, so that they know when they stay at our properties, they have the highest level of care and protection with us.
There is going to be some level of anxiety and nervousness around travelling, so anything we can do to make our guests feel safe when choosing our hotel is hugely important for us.
4. On returning back to business travel, many corporates believe their organisation will need to have an increased focus on duty of care as a result of the recent crisis. What can guests expect during a stay at an Accor hotel post-pandemic, from check-in and housekeeping, to dining and meeting experiences?
Further to what I mentioned before, we created the ALLSAFE label to focus on 16 very detailed protocols. To do that, we basically mapped the customer journey, overlaid all the major touchpoints that a customer has, from the moment they arrive at the hotel to the moment they leave, meeting rooms and food and beverage areas.
We have 4 key pillars in terms of delivering this label and the customer experience, and that includes our staff whom we refer to as our heartists. It’s all about providing the right PPE and training for them to ensure all staff regardless where they work, front or back of house, have everything they need to work safely, and to always service guests with safety in mind. So we ensure health checks for each staff member that is documented by a newly created position, which is the ALLSAFE Officer. This is a mandatory position in every Accor hotel and is a dedicated role to train and advise staffs and be the first point of contact for guests who may have concerns.
Second pillar focuses on the new and increased hygiene and sanitary measures, particularly important in high touchpoint areas. What you pick out, what you touch, whether that be in a public space, in a lift well, restaurant, spas, guest rooms, anything that is portable, the light switches etc. In all of those elements, there is a heightened sense of cleanliness around them.
Third pillar focuses on the services to include contactless payment and the respect of social distancing regulations, and a massive focus on food and beverage with new offerings in a way where we can meet F&B expectations in a much safer way.
Fourth pillar is all about the guest, providing them with the new hygiene standards to include masks and sanitisers. And something which we think would be the game changer as mentioned before is the partnership with AXA in the telemedical service.
5. It has always been important for travel partners to work closely together to meet the needs of our shared clients, and even more so in this current situation. FCM has worked with Accor for a long time now. How is Accor working with TMCs to cater to the evolving needs of our shared clients?
It is our duty as an industry to make sure that our travellers feel confident when they get back on the road again. Whether that is booking an airline, how they get to the airport, the experience to the airport, the car hire companies you may or may not use, the hotels that you choose from, we are all in this together to deliver that personalised experience for guests, and I think this is where the relationship that we have together is going to be paramount.
Together, we’ve done a lot of customer engagement sessions to steer what’s going on, and it is important to let our common customers know that we’re flexible to work together, and when they are choosing our properties, they know what to expect.
We are also highly engaged with the FCM SmartStay programme, and we’ve linked that to some loyalty campaigns, so it’s a win-win for both our customers. I’m also delighted to see that we’re doing our first panel in China together in local language, it becomes more and more important to speak to customers in languages that they feel most comfortable with.
We’re going to work together a lot more in terms of our loyalty offerings, because we do need to find out more information about our customer whether that is related to their personal or corporate preference, so they can feel better when travelling, which is good for the company at the end of the day. With the right information, the more we get to tailor their stays, and provide relevant information to them before and during their stay, which is important in a world that changes by the minute at the moment.
In an environment where we are still expecting people to travel for business in a macro-environment which is filled with nervousness around COVID and before a vaccine, we need to do whatever we can to take away the anxiety that could be associated with travelling.
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6. What’s next in the pipeline for Accor Asia-Pacific?
2019 was the year of openings, there was one hotel opening every 24hours which was crazy. We do have openings in 2020 and a few of them may be delayed to the first quarter of 2021. Asia-Pacific remains as the powerhouse for development, as we have more than 360 hotels due to open in the next 4-5 years.
We have just extended our Raffles collection with an opening in Bali mid-crisis. It’s not a corporate location but a notable opening nonetheless. We also just brought the Mondrian brand into the region with an opening in Seoul in the middle of the COVID crisis. Mondrian is a luxury lifestyle brand and it is incredibly trendy, with very trendy food and beverage, floor to ceiling screens in the lobby.
Later this year, we will open the Fairmont in Seoul as well, so these gives us two luxury and lifestyle products to add to our collection in the destination. And we also have our first Novotel living brand, which is our extended stay residential brand opening in Bangkok later this year.
Asia-Pacific has always been a focus point and of the 1300 hotels, we really do offer that broad spectrum of brands from economy to mid-scale, premium to upscale, and luxury, as well as residential stay brands. There is a nice balance of options depending on what the customer needs.
7. These may be challenging times, but COVID-19 has taught us many valuable lessons as well. What would be your top 3 insights or takeaways from this pandemic, professionally and personally?
Personally, I’ve realised that I need a lot less, and I can thoroughly enjoy spending time alone. Being here in Singapore alone, with my family in Sydney and not being able to get there is quite challenging to deal with. However, I’ve learnt to appreciate time, and taking time out to do the important things. I’ve always regarded having good family and friends as fundamentally critical, but I think when your accessibility to travel to see them is taken away during COVID, you learn not to take basic things for granted.
On the professional side, I can 100% tell you I don’t want to work from home full-time. Whilst I learnt to do more virtually and will do more virtually in the future, there is no replacement and nothing more important than face to face engagement, be it having meals with my teams, flying to see customers. I feel confident that when the COVID situation is under control, that travel will resume.
And as a good learning outcome from COVID, maybe we are reshaping (I’m not sure I would call it balance anymore) work-life integration, and I hope we reshape the expectations and working dynamics of our particular industry to be more favourable for the working mums and dads in the industry. On a note that crosses the two, kindness, compassion and authenticity is extremely important as that goes a long way.