Interview: AccorHotels' lifestyle community

AccorHotels lifestyle division head Cedric Gobilliard embarks on his quest to engage the new breed of global traveller with Mama Shelter, 25Hours and Jo&Joe

AccorHotels lifestyle division head Cedric Gobilliard.
AccorHotels lifestyle division head Cedric Gobilliard.

The community of brands currently comprising AccorHotels’ new lifestyle division had one singular thing in common before falling under the hotel company’s corporate umbrella; each one had a different provenance. Mama Shelter came to life borne out of a partnership between  Serge Trigano (a son of the Club Med founding family), hotelier Cyril Aouizerate and Philippe Starck. In Germany, 25Hours was founded by hotelier Kai Hollmann, after the success of his first Hamburg property.While AccorHotels bought stakes in Mama Shelter and 25 Hours – 35% and 30% respectively – Jo&Joe was created out of an incubator project initiated by the hotel group.

Another commonality that the three brands presently share is Cédric Gobilliard. With extensive experience in hospitality, eight years of which were spent with AccorHotels, the Parisian gives Hotelier Express an overview of how the lifestyle division has helped shape the three brands.

“We’ve been working with Mama Shelter for two years now and it was more concept than product when we started out. We understood that Mama Shelter was a specific type of product for a specific type of clientele and generation – a new segment that we need to develop for them,” he says.

“With 25Hours, the people are considered more important than the product. The creators of the brand invested more in the common areas and the people, than the rooms. The offering happens to be a restaurant with rooms upstairs because it’s all about experiences, sharing moments and all around F&B – which is a crucial anchor for this brand,” he adds.

But AccorHotels’ efforts to cover ground in a rapidly developing segment saw it develop a brand of its own – Jo&Joe. “We noticed the rise of the millennial traveller, who tend to look for Airbnb-style accommodation and so we developed Jo&Joe.

“We did not create this concept, but our consumers did. It was an incubator project, bringing new people together, asking them, ‘what do you want?’ Gobilliard says. Interestingly, the project revealed that the guest wants “everything”.

He explains: “We understood that it’s total schizophrenia. They [millennials] want everything, and all at the same time. They want the local aspect by understanding the culture and people. This generation is also digital. They are totally addicted to their iPhones and to any type of communication and connectivity, but on the other side, they look for a physical relationship as well.”

Gobilliard says that this doesn’t always translate to the guest seeking cheap accommodation but it should be affordable and of good quality. “They want to share, the power to decide, and privacy, all at the same time,” he reveals.

He states that AccorHotels has reinvented the wheel via Jo&Joe. “We decided to create a new product to reinvent a new type of concept. And that led to the inception of the ‘open house’, a space for mixed clients, both locals and travellers. It’s a location where you can meet and discover new people but you will still have privacy.”

The ‘open house’ gives way to a slightly more private enclosure, the ‘happy house’, accessible only by hotel residents for them to share, cook and do their laundry. In addition, Jo&Joe will offer three types of accommodation: shared rooms which can accommodate from four to 13 beds, private rooms and the ‘out of ordinary’ rooms.

“All of this is done keeping the local culture in mind, which is absolutely key for the lifestyle sector. We don’t want to be standardised. We need to adapt our product to the local approach. Ultimately through Jo&Joe, we want to build a strong community around the brand, a feat Mama Shelter and 25Hours have already managed to do.”

Gobilliard says a new generation of travellers has quashed previous travel perceptions. “To me, the new generation is  breaking the rules; they don’t care if it’s economy or luxury; three-, four- or five-star. It’s about having experiences.”

“When you look at Jo&Joe, it’s economical but not economical at the same time, especially when you look at the bunk beds. I found something amazing when I visited the showrooms in Paris. The guests were impressed with the bunk beds and compared them to the first-class beds in an Emirates flight,” he says.

Gobilliard makes it clear that Jo&Joe’s endeavour is not to stuff rooms with guests. “Jo&Joe is not a classic hostel where you put 20 young guys in a small room. We want them to live in an experience. We are reinventing the hostel and calling it the ‘open house’. In lifestyle, we believe that the customer is not the guest anymore, but they are our friends,” he says.

The old adage of ‘the guest is king’ does not hold true in this case, Gobilliard says. “In lifestyle, your guest is not the ‘king’; he/she is your friend. You will be able to have lunch together, discuss and share your passions. We are creating a community, which is the biggest difference from a classic hotel.”

With Mama Shelter set to debut in the Middle East with its first hotel in Dubai, 25Hours is sure to follow as well, Gobilliard surmises. “I strongly believe the market here is ready for such a product,” he says. He, however, remains wary about Jo&Joe’s future in the region because of the model on which it operates. “I’m a little skeptical about Jo&Joe, not because of the product, but because it has shared rooms and there is less privacy. I don’t know honestly if there is potential in Dubai,” Gobilliard says candidly.

The group is willing to be flexible on a few aspects of the concept. “I believe if we split the accommodation with a higher number of private rooms and a lower number of shared rooms [it might work]. If we are able to modify this mix, it’s going to be interesting for the region. If we can adapt Jo&Joe for this region, I’d love to have that,” he says.

“We are going to be agile, that’s the basis of lifestyle. The concept for Jo&Joe is shared, private and out of ordinary rooms – that’s mandatory. I have no issue with the percentage of these categories [being represented in the hotel]. But I don’t want the shared room to be a gimmick and just have one shared room for the sake of it. The concept will not be negotiated, but we can adapt to the culture,” Gobilliard points out.

Through the lifestyle division, Accor will also up its F&B game. Gobilliard says: “F&B is the way to attract new clients and to create the destination. Mama and 25Hours are already well respected in this space. We need to change our mindset; we are no longer a hotelier. We have to be a destination manager with hotels and F&B.”

Gobilliard reveals AccorHotels is close to signing a partnership with Groupe Noctis, a Paris-based company that specialises in F&B, events and clubs. “This will enable us to adopt and create, and to be a true player in the F&B-oriented space. Rooms revenue is absolutely key but if you want to create a destination and increase your profitability per square metre, you have to develop your F&B,” he states.

Ultimately, Gobilliard says each hotel within the lifestyle division has to be managed carefully, and the division will not look at controlling them but help them. “It’s kind of like a family at the end of the day.”

The objective of the lifestyle division is to protect the founders of the brand, Gobilliard says, and enable them to keep innovating. “My first job is to protect these brands and to make sure the founders, the CEO, and the people working with the brands are not [distracted]. They stick to their task, without Accor interfering in their decision. I told Sébastien [Bazin], we need to protect them, Accor cannot impose anything on these guys,” he says.

“At the end of the day, these guys represent the essence of the brands. We want to continue developing the brands. I’m an Accor man and that’s what I am focused on,” he concludes.

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