Experiences Matter: Yigit Sezgin, Chief Commercial Officer - MEA, Accor, On How The Hospitality Brand Is Driving Its Offerings In The Post COVID-19 Era
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With a study by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry noting that "staycation" was one of the most common searches on the internet by UAE residents in the recent past, well, if you’re still looking for a much-needed break in the UAE, then global hospitality group Accor wants to be your ultimate go-to spot. Members of the Accor Live Limitless (ALL) loyalty program can enjoy an exclusive 50% off when staying or dining at over 50 hotels and resorts across the UAE from now until July 31, with stays valid until December 31, 2020. Some of the participating hotels include Fairmont The Palm in Dubai, Fairmont Fujairah, Fairmont Ajman, Rixos JBR, Sofitel Downtownm and Raffles Dubai.
Commenting on the new initiative, Yigit Sezgin, Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East and Africa, Accor, believes that his hospitality group's offer is going to reel in customers in the UAE. “When restrictions started to ease at the end of Ramadan, we already started to experience very positive feedback, especially during the Eid weekend, at our Fairmont properties in Fujairah and Ajman that were at full capacity (with reduced inventory),” he says. “We took this as a positive sign that people still want to travel and stay at hotels which provide reassurance in the implementation of new hygiene standards and procedures to guarantee all the necessary precautions are being taken for their well-being.” The offering, though in its early days, is proving to be a success in resorts such as Fairmont the Palm and Sofitel The Palm experiencing high occupancies (within the limited inventory), Sezgin notes.
With ongoing debate on discount culture in the hospitality and whether it is having a detrimental effect on hotels rather than helping them as business in the long run, Sezgin points out how the hospitality group is mindful of new consumer behavior in light of COVID-19 behavior, and aims to offer stellar experience. “As we all know, hotel rates are driven by demand," he explains. "With borders currently still closed, we strive to increase the demand locally we need to entice guests by giving them a ‘value for money’ experience and proposition." After all, he notes, the company has a range of properties that includes economical brands like Ibis, to luxury propositions like the Fairmont, Raffles, and Sofitel brands. Sezgin also notes that the new offerings not only provide guests affordable rates, but also rewards its customers for their loyalty and trust. “The main key differentiator between our brand-new offer and other discount driven propositions is that our members can enjoy a 50% off on dining experiences (and spa once they reopen) without having to stay at the actual property,” Sezgin notes.
As hospitality groups face the crux of ensuring the safety and well-being of its visitors, the staycation and dining offers at Accor’s UAE hotels has come in at the same time as the company’s launch of its ALL Safe Officer Program. With the program, every hotel appoints a health and safety officer who ensures that the highest cleaning and hygiene protocols are implemented to prevent the spread of the COVID-19. The hospitality group partnered with Bureau Veritas, a global company specializing in testing, inspection and certification, to bring in tailor-made operating protocols, cleaning products technology, and team members training.
The initiative is also supported by Accor’s strategic partnership with global insurance giant AXA, which, according to a release, as of July 2020, is offering guests at its 5,000 properties across the world with free medical teleconsultations and access to AXA’s network of medical professions by phone or in the hotel where they are staying. Temperature control are taken at the hotel entrance, as well as social distancing protocols in public areas, restaurants, elevators and pool areas put into effect. A dedicated hotline is also be available to help guests prep for their stay or address concerns. These, and among other procedures, are part of Accor’s ALL Safe Accor Program to respond to the new consumers’ needs.
Meanwhile, on its digital channels, the company is focusing on strengthening their communication strategy on its Instagram account, @ALL_MEA, with it focusing on creating tailored content around food, sports, and entertainment. Some of the sessions consists of cooking demos from Chef Izu Ani and Chef Bobby Chin, workout sessions hosted by The Andrews Family and performances by DJ Bliss and DJ Sadcat from UAE, DJ Aksak and DJ Jabbar from Turkey and DJ Nawfel from Morocco. The platform even welcomed interviews with artists and celebrities such as Tom Felton, Amir Khan, Nargis Fakhri, Alexander Ludwig, Russell Peters and more, with more sessions planned throughout July.
As for what’s ahead for the hospitality and travel industry in the post COVID-19 world, Sezgin is optimistic. “Based on the already positive results that we have started to see once the ease of restrictions has started to take place, we believe that there will be a phased bounce back, which will take between 18-24 months to return to 2019 levels.” He explains it in three phases: the first is the rise of the staycation business, which is driven by the local market, which will be followed by the regional market once borders reopen, with the third phase occurring once long-haul flights resume to normality, along with the increase of consumer confidence. “We are very fortunate that our region has a number of demand drivers, from religious tourism in KSA, to the Expo in Dubai in 2021, which will naturally grow inbound tourism. There is of course the need for ever occurring business related travel which we foresee will pick up as travel restrictions are lifted in the various countries we are present.”