Up Close With Accor’s Luxury Growth

We met with Leslie Dodson, senior director global luxury sales, North America for Accor, to get her take on the luxury leisure market and how Accor is working with travel advisors in this new era. 

“In terms of how we’re working with advisors right now, we’re starting to spend some time in person where we can,” said Dodson. “There are still a lot of office closures. We know that some people are still uncomfortable. We’re not putting pressure on anyone. But we’re slowly getting out there. We’re focusing more of our efforts on going to where the advisors are meeting, the larger organized industry events.”

Dodson added that Accor is also slowly meeting advisors in more intimate environments but that things look different now. Once upon a time, she’d organize large luxury showcases with agency visits in key cities with 40-plus hotels and questions whether that practice will continue post pandemic and what the future looks like.

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“I also know, prior to COVID, advisors were just inundated with supplier visits,” she says. “So hopefully we can brainstorm on what’s the best way to come back to market. I think we’re still trying to figure that out.”

At the same time, Accor during the pandemic was able to virtually meet more advisors in remote areas than it had before and whom it wouldn’t have met before on a big sales mission. It also met some of the independent advisors who work from home. “So we’re able to reach a large audience,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor, noting that she still sees the value in what virtual meetings can deliver.

Luxury virtual showcases that ran for 45 minutes were another new strategy, as were experiential virtual meetings where advisors were brought into a destination to go tango dancing in Rio, for example. Accor also created a luxury B2B sales-tool website that is easy for advisors to access.

Like Alexis Romer of Marriott International, Dodson has felt some emotions along the way as she worked with travel advisors during the most trying times (see page 36). “I shed a few tears. You could have a virtual hug and they were still meaningful and impactful, and we were able to keep the relationships alive truly face-to-face,” she says.

That means that instead of pitching a hotel, the conversation was more focused on meaningful connection, human to human. “It was more about life. You just realize what’s more important. And we’re in this together. There are two sides of this world, the suppliers and the advisors. But we’re more successful when both are prosperous,” said Dodson. “I think we’re now able to really see both sides of the partnership in a different light; in a much more meaningful, positive way.”

Leslie Dodson

Accor sees the value of the travel advisor distribution channel very clearly, she says. “Advisors are going to help us navigate the future and help our clients feel comfortable when visiting us. They’re the experts, and we need them.”

Accor’s luxury brands have a strong lineup of new openings, and perhaps the bigger news is that the company has appointed Stephen Alden CEO of Raffles and Orient Express brands. Formerly with Set Hotels and the Maybourne Hotel Group, he’s leading the next chapter for both luxury brands including the opening of the highly anticipated Orient Express Grand Hotel de la Minerve in Rome in 2023. Raffles will nearly double its footprint over the next three to five years with flagship openings in London, Moscow, Boston, Dubai and many other gateway locations. The Boston locale is the first Raffles property in North America, opening in 2022.

Looking beyond those brands, Accor is excited to open Fairmont Century City in Los Angeles in September with Phil Barnes as the general manager and will also debut two new Fairmont hotels in the United Kingdom — Carton House, A Fairmont-Managed Hotel near Dublin and Fairmont Windsor Park.

Lifestyle hotels are going to be more important than ever, too, she said, noting that the SLS Dubai just opened up, as did the SLS Cancun.

“The Onefinestay collection of private homes has been thriving over the pandemic as larger, multigenerational family travel has never been more popular,” says Dodson. That portfolio has just added Greece and Aspen.

With so much going on, this is a very exciting time for Accor’s luxury and lifestyle brands.

“As our CEO Sebastien Bazin says, ‘And, we’re not going to stop,’” said Dodson, noting that when she started her career she was working for 26 hotels, “and now there are over 5,000 hotels across 40 brands. But it’s been exciting. It’s been quite the ride.”

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