Have 20 hotels in pipeline, expect to have 100 in total in India soon: Accor

Have 20 hotels in pipeline, expect to have 100 in total in India soon: Accor

Marc Descrozaille, COO of India, Middle East & Africa at Accor, spoke about the impact of the pandemic on the company, its India plans, and where the country fits into its global strategy.

Marc Descrozaille says Accor has a lot of scope for expansion in India. Marc Descrozaille says Accor has a lot of scope for expansion in India.

French luxury hospitality group Accor's network in India includes 10 distinctive brands through 55 hotels, encompassing every segment -- Raffles, Fairmont and Sofitel luxury brands; premium brands Pullman, Mövenpick, Grand Mercure; as well as the popular Novotel and Mercure mid-scale brands and the much-prized economy brands including Ibis and Ibis Styles.
A seasoned hotelier with over two decades of hospitality experience, Marc Descrozaille, COO of India, Middle East & Africa at Accor, oversees over 200 hotels across all Accor brands in India, the Gulf (excluding KSA) and Sub-Saharan Africa, with an active pipeline of 70 hotels. He spoke to about Accor's India plans, where the country fits into the global strategy and the impact of COVID-19. Here are the edited excerpts:

In terms of the pandemic, do you think the worst is behind us?
I think there is the acceptance of living with it. For us, in terms of our business, the lockdowns and the sudden decisions of governments across the world to announce quarantines has impacted business. These restrictions are very difficult for a traveller to understand. The only way to be in such a market is to be very flexible with reimbursement and cancellations.

You cannot, any more, get people to pay in advance. We no longer charge cancellations. It's a full refund. People need to feel confident that they will get reimbursed. Secondly, the lead time in terms of booking windows is down from 20-40 days, depending upon the market, to 8 days on an average for the countries that I handle. So it is difficult for us to anticipate things like staffing.

Bookings are now last minute. In India, particularly, it's one week to the next.

By when do you think the hospitality industry will bounce back to pre-Covid levels?

While globally it will probably bounce back by the end of 2023, in India, specifically, we expect to be back to 2019 numbers by the end of 2022. But these expectations keep changing. If you would have asked me two months ago, it would have been a different answer. All in all, we don't really know. It is getting better. The recovery in general is faster.

The element of hospitality that has changed immensely is domestic travel. While earlier you would have chosen to go to Bangkok or Dubai, you are now keen to go to Rajasthan and Goa. There is that element of revenge travel. The minute you are getting an opportunity to travel, you are grabbing it. Then there is also a section of travellers who don't feel safe travelling too far. What if they get stuck? So even when international travel opens many people would not like to take the risk. So many things have changed.

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In countries of South East Asia, the government restrictions are still in place and it has impacted business. There it will take much longer to bounce back to pre-Covid levels.

How important is India as a market for Accor?
It is important on two levels. First we have a significant presence in India. We have 55 hotels here. It's a very large market. We have a lot of scope for expansion. The second thing is that there are enough factors including the growth of the middle class which can afford to go to hotels. There is also increase in leisure opportunities, be it in Rajasthan, Goa or other places. We feel that one market that has been a little untapped for us is the luxury pure premium segment in the key getaway cities. We don't have enough of them. We are very strong with our Novotel and Ibis properties, which we will continue to push. But we also want access to these key getaway cities. We need more of our luxury hotels. We have a Sofitel and Pullman. And we are constructing a Fairmont in Mumbai, but we need more of these.

I would expect to have 100 hotels in India soon. That will be the aspiration in the mid-term. We have 20 hotels in the pipeline right now that will be operational over the next 3-5 years. It is still very much a story of Novotel and Ibis for us since we have established those brands and we want to continue with the traction we have. Along the way we will also explore more lifestyle brands.

The four new hotel openings in 2022 include an Ibis in Bangalore and Mumbai (Thane) and two new Novotels -- one is in Jodhpur and one in New Delhi city centre.

Will we see any more Raffles in India?
We will have one in Jaipur in early 2023. It is under active construction. But we would like to have one in Mumbai and in Delhi and other key getaway cities.

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