Hotels Haunted By The Flabbergast This Results Season

It’s hard to try and improve yourself during a pandemic, when making it through the day without entertaining murder/suicide pacts burns up all your calories, but some can lay claim to educating themselves against the odds.

One of these heroes of culture is Sébastien Bazin, chairman & CEO, Accor, who used the group’s results to comments that he was, “as the British would say, flabbergasted” by the “leadership, tenacity, humility, generosity” shown across the people at Accor. We applaud Bazin finding time to add to his vocabulary.

Bazin was more than merely complementary about his heartists, he was also negotiation with pharmaceutical companies to vaccinate them all by late summer. He told the Financial Times: “We are not going to wait for government. We will be buying our own vaccines if we can get them.”

On the face of it, good employer pick by Accor’s people and a follow on from the staff support programme announced at the beginning of the pandemic. But then – and we’ll be getting into this more in next week’s podcast – how appealing is it for guests to know that all a hotel’s staff have been vaccinated? Very. And how much more appealing to be able to offer those guests a vaccine? If only. The group already has a deal with AXA to offer medical support to its guests. One suspects they have vaccination capabilities.

The results themselves were not lacking in flabbergast, with an Ebitda loss of €391m. But the company was no outlier – the sector has been screaming into the pillow menu all the way this results season. The group – which is heavy on the economy and budget hotels which will lead the way out of the pandemic, whatever its lifestyle aspirations – is well positioned to ride the bounce back like so many Tiggers. And until then, it had reduced its average monthly cash burn to €61m for the year,  against €80m in the first half.

Also providing an education this week was Airbnb, with its first results in the real, probing analyst world. The company delivered $3.4bn in revenues, down 30% on the year, with adjusted Ebitda in Q4 nearly $250m better than Q4 2019.

We knew Airbnb would do better than the hotel sector. But what the sector really wanted to see was signs of a strategy from the peer-to-peer platform, where past tactics have been more about blowing with the wind.

Brian Chesky, co-founder & CEO, told analysts: “Our plan for 2021: educate the world about hosting, recruit more hosts and set them up for success, simplify the guest experience and deliver world-class service.”

The platform needs to keep feeding supply. Its largest source of hosts in 2019 were prior guests with 23% of hosts in 2019 guests first and Chesky commented: “We think there’s big opportunities for us to continue to convert our guests to become hosts”. The platform is leaning in part on necessity – it was born out of recession as people needed to find ways to pay the mortgage and it will do so again.

Chesky added: “People are living more nomadically. Some people are taking longer-term stays, one or two months at a time in Airbnb. People are taking extended three-, four-day weekends, like many weekends in a row because they don’t have to be in the physical office.” And all those long stays leave property uninhabited somewhere else.

By leaning on past guests, the company hopes to keep marketing costs down, relying on PR ahead of brand marketing. Chesky noted “we got more than 0.5 million articles in last year, in 2020, and we had as much share of voice as most of the other major travel companies combined”.

And that’s to be expected, with the group seen as a covid-safe option and, y’know, it was having an IPO last year, drawing not a little interest.

But journalists are fickle. As Boris Johnson noted, they are also very abusive. How awful. The longer Airbnb is around, the more it will be challenged and the past year has come with a share of negative press, both on its treatment of hosts and the experience of guests. The company can rely on PR as much as it likes – and we would say that – but you still need the offering to back it up, or it’s Achilles Heels all around. And all the fancy words you can find won’t help with that.

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