Hilton goes to the dogs 

The pandemic has forced hotel companies to look where they previously had not for guests. On this week’s podcast, Magnuson Hotels’ CEO Tom Magnuson spoke about the company’s decision to get “down on the ground” and work with its hotels to find custom with construction and health workers, amongst others. Vivek Chadha, founder of Nine Group, said that the pandemic had made him “a much better hotelier” when the company could no longer rely on the brands to deliver guests.

The strategies Chadha and his team used to fill their rooms were an example of the innovative thinking which is amongst the many reasons we at NewDog and the wider sector will miss him.

So what of those brands? In the early days of the pandemic they turned to the OTAs to put heads on beds, but more than a year and a half on, the current results season has given us all a look at how they’re doin’ it on their own. 

At Hilton, as at all the other brands, it was forced to look at the leisure traveller as something other than just people cashing in loyalty points. The suspicion now is that leisure will drop off – after all, the schools are finally back – and it’s time for everyone to compare cards over the corporate market. 

At the group – where revpar was down roughly 19% on 2019 (2019 is the only year that counts at the moment, as hotel valuers will tell you), CEO Chris Nassetta told analysts that business travel had continued to gain momentum with midweek occupancy and rates improving. During the third quarter, business transient room nights were roughly 75% of prior peak levels.

Was this the big corporates unleashing their Gulfstreams and chocking away? Not so much. Around 80% of Hilton’s typical corporate mix came from small- and medium-sized businesses and, the CEO said, “with the lagging recovery of larger corporate travel, we’ve taken the opportunity to continue our work from before Covid to further increase our focus on this segment of demand”. And you would, given that Nassetta described it as higher rated and more resilient.

But this isn’t the only place where the group is rummaging for guests, oh no. Nassetta, like so many of us, added a dog to the household during the pandemic, by the name of Miller. After Miller’s Crossing? Chaucher’s Miller’s Tale? We seek satisfaction in this matter.

And with this addition comes the news that Hilton now plans for all its limited service brands to be pet-friendly by the first quarter of next year, aided by a partnership with Mars Petcare, which will allow it to offer new pet-focused programming and benefits. Nassetta said: “Our guests are eager to travel with their furry little friends. And by making that simpler, we’re able to capture demand and bring new business into the system.” You really can’t fault Hilton for turning over every stone in looking for fresh demand. Although we remain mystified as to what ‘pet friendly’ means, other than a willingness to change sheets which might be a bit hairy. 

That wasn’t all. The group identified that there was a limited amount of meeting space in the world and Nassetta displayed his solid grasp of economics, commenting: “People want it. There’s not enough of it. We happen to have a lot of it”.

So that’s Hilton set, with the profile of the typical Hilton guest now a dog-owning SME sales person with limited meeting space. 

At Accor, where revpar was 37.3% down on 2019, mid-market India, Middle-East, Africa & Turkey
performed best in terms of revpar, with a 15.8% drop. It was luxury and upscale which fared best looking at rate, with a 5.9% increase in rate in Southern Europe for the quarter. That the group has only 75 hotels in that category out of a total global estate of 5,252 is neither here nor there – they’re working to bolster their lifestyle standing, as we saw with the Ennismore deal. 

Sébastien Bazin, chairman & CEO, reported that business travel was at 60% of pre-pandemic levels but anyway, “Our vision of augmented hospitality to serve our guests beyond their hotel rooms, has been confirmed with the acceleration of lifestyle & entertainment activities and takes on its full meaning”. Rooms, we don’t need your dog-stinking rooms.  

Indeed not, because last month saw the group launch its self-driving pods alongside Citroën and JC Decaux. Patrick Mendes, group chief commercial officer, Accor, said: “We are marrying technology, innovation, sustainability and experience. We want to give you an experience before you stay and after you stay. The future of hospitality for us is what we call augmented hospitality.”

First of all they need to completely overhaul how cities work, which makes it more of a medium-to-long-term strategy. In the meantime, the group has been linked to the purchase of The Lido, the Paris cabaret, which has seen performances from Edith Piaf, Josephine Baker and Elton John since its founding in 1946. 

So the typical Accor customer? A burlesque fan looking to overindulge in champagne but who wants something a step up from Uber? Rishi Sunak, is it you? Maybe. Deputy CEO & CFO Jean-Jacques Morin noted that that group had “a strong partner” in China with Huazhu. China, you say? Sounds familiar. And it might just work. 

Picture: NewDog hound Spuddy at The Resident, Covent Garden, illustrating that the international traveller is back. 

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