Hotels are desperate to extend services to the community. Which ones might work and which ones might fall flat?
Last month I had a great opportunity to interview Sébastien Bazin, CEO of AccorHotels, at the South America Hotel Investment Conference in Buenos Aires.
Bazin doesn’t speak much on the global hotel industry circuit, so when he does, people listen. Before the interview, he told me I could ask absolutely anything I wanted and he would answer candidly and honestly.
One of the topics I was most interested in asking him about was something he and other executives had mentioned a few times in passing, usually on earnings calls or analyst conferences—this notion that the company wanted to expand its scope into what he called “community services.”
Some details of the program, called Accor Local, had dribbled out over the last few months, but I wanted to know exactly what he was thinking about for this.
Bazin’s reasoning is that hotels exist as brick-and-mortar structures, often in big cities, and are open around the clock, staffed by people. On the pro side of that, it means hotels are accessible. On the con side, it means that accessibility costs a lot of money in salaries paid, utilities bills and so forth.
So what if there were ways, Bazin said, to really maximize the accessibility factor. Enter Accor Local: Hotels partner with local businesses to extend some hours and services. The example he gave me was for drycleaning: Let’s say I drop off clothes I need for an event to my neighborhood drycleaner, but I know I need to work late on the day that I need the dress, and my drycleaner closes early that day. The drycleaner can send my clothes to the Sofitel half a block away, where I can pick them up on my way home from my late day at work, in time for my event.
As Bazin described it, when I go pick up my dress at the hotel, I’ll notice how nice the lobby bar is, therefore acquainting myself, a local, with a potential new neighborhood place to hang out and spend money.
On paper it seems reasonable. But I have a few doubts about the execution. First off, while this may be a good model for cities with lots of small businesses (that want to close early) and large hotels, I’m not sure it’s a great fit for everywhere. Take New York City, for example: That drycleaner already is open late, and I’m guessing that partnering with the hotel down the block may not be high on his priority list. If he has enough customers who need later pickup times, the laws of business dictate that he’s going to just extend his hours.
And is there a cost involved? Who pays to walk the clothes (or courier) them down to the hotel? Does a GM say to an idle doorman, “Go run down to the drycleaner, would you?” What if that doorman gets hit by a bus on the way back, or drops my dress into the street? Who’s responsible? And where is the hotel going to store all of this hypothetical drycleaning?
I’m getting nitpicky, I know, and I trust the minds at AccorHotels are far more in tune to the details than I am. I’m sure certain services would make more sense in certain locations, and I’m interested in seeing how the France pilot works.
It opens up a lot of ideas for similar service extensions, though. Hilton already has an Amazon Locker on location at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner (the one right next to Hilton HQ that the company owns and manages). It’s serviced entirely by Amazon, which charges no fees, and both guests and locals can use it.
I imagine that’s a service that could be a great extension for hotels and still accomplish a lot of the community engagement goals Bazin has for Accor Local.
The other potential for hotels—and I tread lightly here because this one is a lot more controversial in the socialverse—is Bodega.
Have you heard about this? It’s a startup from some ex-Google employees to create small self-service “stores” (similar to a super-powered vending machine) in locations without full-service amenities, like apartment buildings, gyms and so on—select-service hotels, anyone? These machines would sell convenience items like toiletries, shelf-stable snacks, papers—in other words, all of the stuff that the beloved corner bodegas in most big cities already offer.
The internet went nuts when Bodega launched, in a huge backlash against everything from the name to the notion that it would put real bodegas out of business.
As a great article in Entrepreneur put it, “For many, (the launch of Bodega) was an almost gleeful middle finger to the mom-and-pop institutions that the budding tech (company) is trying to put out of business.”
Whoops. OK. Maybe not a great idea for hotels after all.
The warning here is that there’s a fine line between efficiency and authenticity. Yes, hoteliers want to maximize their resources and appeal to guests. But before you do it, make sure it’s something your guests—and your community—really wants.
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