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Champions Of Change: Accor's Maud Bailly And Yigit Sezgin Global hospitality enterprise Accor is engineering a cultural and digital transformation.

By Aby Sam Thomas

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Yigit Sezgin, Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) of Accor, and Maud Bailly, Chief Digital Officer of Accor

"Many companies talk about gender equality, diversity, and inclusion, but only a small percentage put meaningful programs in place to ensure their vision becomes a reality," says Yigit Sezgin, Accor's Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East and Africa (MEA), as he describes what's particularly noteworthy about RiiSE, the gender parity and diversity platform that his global hospitality company has been spearheading. Sezgin's sentiment is echoed by Accor Chief Digital Officer Maud Bailly, who co-chairs RiiSE with AccorInvest CEO John Ozinga. "RiiSE was unveiled a year ago, and it announced Accor's renewed commitment to gender parity and equality," Bailly says.

"Previously known as WAAG (Women at Accor Generation), this platform was in place for over five years. However, the time came to update this platform and to ensure that men were also part of the conversation; hence, the double ii's in RiiSE. We also widened the platform to deepen the commitment on not only gender parity, but also diversity as a lever for collective performance." The RiiSE platform today boasts of 30,000 men and women from 4,900 hotels in 111 countries as its members, and more than 30% of them are working out of the MEA.

Besides its own efforts with RiiSE, Accor is also a signatory of the HeForShe campaign initiated by the United Nations, which invites people of all genders "to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for a gender equal world." The company has made several public pledges to realize this, which include eliminating the pay gap between men and women at the enterprise, as well as raising the number of female general managers for its properties from its current figure of 29% to 35% by the end of 2020, with a longer term goal of making it 50%. Of course, such efforts will require Accor to change internally as an organization, and that's a task that Bailly has on her hands as she leads the RiiSE initiative. "RiiSE has a mandate to permeate our organization and serve as a foundation, especially during waves upon waves of change at Accor, from acquiring new brands, to integrating new companies and cultures," she explains. "The mindset that I am trying to create, in line with our cultural transformation, is one of transmission, empowerment, mentoring, celebration, and trust."

Now, it's not just culture that Bailly has been tasked with changing at Accor- she's also been spearheading the digital transformation of the enterprise as well. "Our "IMPACT' strategy was launched at the end of 2017, with a concrete roadmap of three years- to precisely support Accor's digital and cultural transformation. But, beyond this timeframe, IMPACT strategy is a never-ending process, enabling our company to constantly reinvent itself, in a fast-moving environment facing three main trends: consolidation, diversification and acceleration, and in an asset-light environment, where we have to prove, more than ever, our added value to our guests and to our owners."

Yigit Sezgin, Chief Commercial Officer for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) of Accor, and Maud Bailly, Chief Digital Officer of Accor

Given the size and scale of the Accor enterprise, saying that converting this vision into reality is a complicated process is definitely an understatement, and while one may think the complexity involved is largely owing to the tech element in these kind of efforts, Bailly disputes that notion. "The biggest challenge of any digital transformation is not about technology, but the human element," she explains. "There is no digital transformation without a deep cultural transformation. In order to fully embrace the digital change, you need to change the mindset- from a culture of a project, to a product."

"Contrary to what I can read online and hear in some specialized events, digital transformation is not a smooth process; it can be long, difficult, and not everyone in the organization is ready to embrace this dramatic change," Bailly continues.

"I think that one of the hardest parts of the transformation is to make sure that your internal assets match with your ambitions. Migrating your digital assets into the cloud to be ready for next AI-based or API-based technologies is one thing, but what about our most valuable asset: people! At Accor, we are convinced that technology is nothing without people, and this is why the digital transformation is strongly supported by initiatives to accompany the teams. These include pedagogy on all new concepts, creation of an agile center to coach teams, set up of trainings around product culture, perpetuation of three feature teams, creation and animation of three communities (scrum, product owner, data worldwide), rapprochement between IT development, and IT operations in a shared open space."

"On top of all these initiatives, the "Tech Inside' project aims at internalizing 100 IT developers in order to secure today's and tomorrow's skills. On a more personal perspective, transformation is also a challenge for me! I need to be able to constantly challenge the roadmap, accept to deliver fast but one step at a time, renounce to projects with a lower priority to respect the capacity planning, let the customer or data make the final decision, when we hesitate between two features or design."

One of the efforts that Bailly and her team at Accor have been working on in terms of its digital transformation is an initiative called Accor Live Limitless (ALL), which is a reimagination of its online portal ( and its loyalty platform (Le Club AccorHotels). "ALL is quite simply a platform that gives customers access to the world of Accor– a doorway to new benefits, loyalty status levels, and experiences that will redefine how the group interacts with guests, and this cutting-edge lifestyle-focused digital transformation is part of our DNA," Sezgin explains.

Maud Bailly, Chief Digital Officer of Accor

"ALL, which goes live before the end of the year, brings together and Le Club AccorHotels to create a single global distribution and loyalty platform for our guests, delivered through a new app and website, and supported by a dedicated call center. This centralization transforms augmented hospitality into a tangible experience for customers. Mirroring Accor's vastly expanded portfolio, ALL offers guests premium statuses, enriched benefits, exciting partnerships, and inspiring experiences. Benefits apply to the group's entire ecosystem, and experiences go beyond hotel stays In the MEA, we've built genuine partnerships with Bulldozer Group, which brings a network of leading edge restaurant and entertainment brands. This includes BASE Dubai that plays host to Alist celebrities, as well as exclusive access during Formula 1 to the Cipriani terrace in Abu Dhabi overlooking the stunning Abu Dhabi Yas Marina Circuit, special offers at Gaia, Scalini, Shanghai ME, and more."

The manner in which Accor is currently reimagining itself as a hospitality enterprise is especially interesting to watch given its current standing on the global landscape- its international network boasts of more than 726,000 rooms across 4,900 hotels in 111 countries, and a robust pipeline of 202,000-plus rooms in 1,153 hotels. In the MEA, Accor is the largest hotel operator in the region, handling more than 61,000 keys in 282 properties across 31 countries, and 150-plus hotels are signed and under development. "But the numbers alone do not make us different," Sezgin says.

"Firstly, our portfolio of 39 unique hospitality brands is unrivalled. It includes some of the most dynamic and innovative lifestyle concepts, following our partnerships with and equity stakes in companies such as sbe, 25Hours, Rixos, and Mantis, to name a few. We also remain a leader in the luxury hotel market with brands such as Raffles, Banyan Tree, Fairmont, and Sofitel. In this respect, Accor is much more than a hotel operator- it is an augmented hospitality group, with a growing portfolio of brands and services designed to shape the way its guests "Live, Work, and Play', and this is what really sets us apart from the competition. We aim to be a "lifestyle enabler,' connecting different parts of guests' lives, so they can enjoy Accor hospitality anytime, anywhere. We believe extraordinary experiences should elevate everyday life, not just during a vacation, so augmented hospitality offers experiences beyond overnight stays, and makes a pledge to interact with guests more frequently.

While initiating changes like these are challenging in their own right, they do bode well for the future of the industry as a whole, and Bailly agrees with this notion. "Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO, and my boss, said it best when describing travel and tourism as a blessed industry," Bailly says. "To put this into greater perspective, the industry accounts for 10.4% GDP (as a percentage of global GDP), one out of 10 jobs is supported by travel and tourism, there were 1.3 billion international outbound travelers in 2017, as opposed to 300 million during the 1980s. While our industry has a significant impact globally, the competitive landscape that we operate in does pose challenges. It is polarized around three intertwining buckets; namely, digital giants such as, Expedia, Airbnb, and Ctrip; 10 major hotel groups ranging from six from the US, three from China and one in Europe (Accor); and independents such as Tencent, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, and Facebook."

"I believe what I have described earlier with Accor's digital and cultural transformation, our IMPACT strategy, increased guest personalization and stickiness, a completely new ecosystem vis-àvis loyalty and ALL, and empowerment, diversity, and inclusion as the foundation of this transformation, will well equip us to navigate and excel in this landscape. We want to multiply touchpoints with our guests, as it is key to better know them, and offer personalized experiences."

While it's pretty evident that Accor is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to tackle wide-ranging shifts in its sector, the company's leadership is also very clear that all of what needs to be achieved will have to come from within the enterprise. "The key to achieving organizational goals is always to create the right company culture," Sezgin explains. "You can have a great strategy in place and invest in the best technology, but if you don't communicate this well to your team, you are unlikely to meet your goals. At the same time, equipping talent with the right knowledge and training and motivating and inspiring them, is paramount. We are providing the team with cutting-edge digital tools designed to help them deliver maximum results."

"At the same time, in preparation for the launch of ALL, we launched practical training seminars to over 800 colleagues in 15 countries across the region. The intention of these seminars was to demonstrate how ALL will transform our approach to generating customer loyalty, and its importance to our overall operational strategy. I believe that with our exceptionally talented team, brilliant brands, and an unrivalled digital presence, we are well placed to not only maintain our edge as the region's leading hotel operator, but attain new heights of success over the coming decade."

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1. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS "Don't just talk about the importance of gender equality, diversity, and inclusion, put a meaningful program in place to ensure your vision becomes a reality."

2. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH "Demonstrate to your team or workforce that you are putting the program into action, through training and development, etc."

3. COMMUNICATION SPEAKS VOLUMES "Make sure you communicate the program effectively to all staff members to ensure they understand what it is, and why you are doing it– and what your goals are."

4. IT WORKS BOTH WAYS "Once you have communicated your program for gender quality and diversity, ask for staff feedback. Ask if it hits the mark, or if it requires finessing through colleague input."

5. INVEST IN TRAINING "Workshops or seminars can help communicate your gender quality program, and provide a platform to share ideas for improvement or fine-tuning. Once a program is in place, invest in training or tools that meet your program goals."

6. COMPANY CULTURE "Ensure all of the above is implemented to effectively transform, enhance, and shape your company culture, based on teamwork, collaboration, respect, empowerment, and above all, equality."

Related: Rewriting The Narrative: Noor Sweid, General Partner, Global Ventures

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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