Maud Bailly, AccorHotels’ chief digital officer, explained the six ways the French hotel company is transforming its digital offering to better serve guests and ultimately to take share away from OTAs.
PARIS—AccorHotels has been out in front of the hotel industry’s digital change since CEO Sébastien Bazin began building the company’s strength against online travel agencies and other disruptors back in 2014.
Maud Bailly, AccorHotels’ chief digital officer, said the French company remains committed to transforming how hotel rooms are sold to its guests but admitted the battle won’t end any time soon.
“To ensure the change continues long into the future, any digital transformation must be accompanied by a cultural transformation, all supported by a culture of continuous investment and innovation, making the transformation a never-ending process,” Bailly said. “As these technologically powerful competitors and intermediaries attack the value chain and the relationship between hoteliers and their guests, traditional hospitality has to adapt to thrive.”
Bailly said AccorHotels was one of the first hotel companies to anticipate the threat from digitalization and how digital functions can support the necessary reinventions of businesses in order to compete.
“In 2014, our digital plan saw us investing heavily in initiatives from information-technology infrastructure to data management capabilities that laid the foundations for the much broader transformation taking place in our business today,” she said. “The group has completely reinvented itself in recent years.”
AccorHotels has also undergone a radical transformation in its structure and business model, having transitioned from being asset-light to asset-heavy under Bazin and now returning to being asset-light.
AccorHotels also has enlarged its portfolio of brands from 13 to 27 in Bazin’s five years at the helm and has made a significant number of acquisitions and equity investments outside its traditional hotel business, including home-rental businesses such as Onefinestay to co-working brands such as NextDoor, from concierge services provider such as John Paul and digital services companies such as Fastbooking, AvailPro and Gekko.
Bailly and AccorHotels know that making the guest experience easier, fuller and more valuable is at the heart of its digital transformation.
“These acquisitions are all part of our ‘augmented hospitality’ strategy, which will see us providing our guests and partners with an increasingly wide range of complementary services,” she said. “The vision is that these services will give our guests an unmatched overall experience—far beyond the stay—and help our partners build a much deeper relationship with them.”
AccorHotels’ global portfolio recently surpassed the 4,500-hotel and 650,000-room marks, but Bailly said working to becoming a distribution player in the same weight class as the OTAs is still challenging.
Finding success is not just a case of buying the right companies, Bailly said, and added she sees the firm’s digital function as the key enabler to move from vision to action.
“My role is to embrace this new DNA and make it a reality for our two clients, (our) hotels and guests,” she said.
Bailly sees six areas in which AccorHotels’ digital structure is being transformed and needs to be in place to better able to be competitive.
1. Building an agile IT infrastructure
Bailly said one of the challenges of adapting the company’s IT infrastructure is to get away from systems solely designed to deal with selling roomnights.
These infrastructures have to be “able to move from a model based on selling hotel rooms to, in our case, a model offering enhanced hospitality experiences, including rooms, co-working, private rentals, and a variety of travel services,” Bailly said. “Your IT infrastructure also needs to be agile, integrating new services much faster and being able to constantly adapt to a fast-moving technological environment.
“Services provided by IT—central reservation systems, revenue-management services or payment solutions that are secure, efficient and match geographical and cultural specificities—must be almost ‘plug-and-play’ so that hotels can integrate them quickly (and) efficiently and at minimum cost.”
2. Making data the battleground
Data remains at the heart of AccorHotels’ digital strategy, Bailly said.
“Our challenge is to collect, process, analyze and aggregate data in order to better know and interact with our guests. … (If data is) collected and processed in respect (for) customer privacy and put into the hands of ‘guest-passioned’ people, (it) becomes an amazing lever of personalization, satisfaction and, consequently, business,” she said.
3. Putting IT and data at the service of personalization
Bailly said any digital strategy to compete with OTAs must have the right muscle, which must be ultimately structured to provide better guest experiences. AccorHotels is using its Accor Customer Digital Card to put IT infrastructure, 130 terabytes of data and its expertise in terms of digital experience at the service of hotel staff, she added.
“Because ACDC aggregates and synthesizes all the customer information the group has, this General Data Protection Regulation-compliant tool and its ultra-fluid interface allows hotel staff to better know our customers and then better welcome, delight and surprise them,” she said. “Artificial intelligence has a key role to play in delivering such a hyper-personalized service. As we are moving from the interactive to the predictive era, AI can react to the search terms a guest enters online, push the most relevant offer regarding customer preferences and the history of their stays.”
Bailly said the platform’s algorithms can provide hoteliers with relevant messages and actions, such as wishing the guest a happy birthday and giving a golfer a list of nearby courses.
4. Turning loyalty programs into loyalty ecosystems
In the current era of consolidation, diversification and acceleration, Bailly said hospitality groups cannot merely have a loyalty program.
“Our 50-million-member loyalty program will always remain the key vehicle of the bond we have with our guests,” Bailly said, “(but) it is crucial to embed it within a limitless ecosystem of brands and touchpoints. … A wide ecosystem of brands must be supported by an (equally) wide ecosystem of touchpoints: website, mobile app, chatbot, digital marketing, call centers and last, but not least, hotels.”
5. Bringing simplicity, clarity and speed
Bailly said one major aim of all AccorHotels’ digital transformations and customer touchpoints is a simple one: to make customers’ lives easier.
“Simplicity, clarity and speed are the top priorities driving the revamping of our digital platforms,” she said. “For instance, making bold choices, we divided the speed index of our home page by four on mobile and by two on desktop. We also drastically reduced the number of displayed rates for a booking from 20 to a maximum of four based on customer’s most important drivers.”
6. Creating an agile culture
Bailly said that to enable true transformation, hotel employees need to work differently, anticipate tomorrow’s trends and react to them faster than competitors by accelerating the decision-making process.
“In other words, become agile,” Bailly said. “This includes reducing the number of layers in the organization but also introducing a culture where we constantly test and learn, collect real-time feedback and develop partnerships with all types of companies, from Asian tech giants to French startups.”
AccorHotels is striving to develop an innovative entrepreneurial mindset in which its staff are not afraid of failing, she added.
“At the cutting edge of innovation not every idea works, so you have to be prepared to take risks, and if something doesn’t work, stop it, learn from it and move on,” Bailly said. “These new ways of working are essential to maintain a culture where businesses are constantly evolving to keep pace with ever-changing consumer habits.”