Accor on expansion trail

An artist's impression of the Novotel Al Dana Resort

The Accor Business and Leisure Hotels group of France, which is the number one operator in the economy segment worldwide with 3,500 hotels under several brand names, is on an expansion trail in the Middle East.

The group is number two worldwide in travel agencies and in European car rental market with Europcar.

Accor opened the first Novotel Hotel in 1967, introducing the concept of branded hotels and economy lodging to the European market.

The group is strongly placed for new E-commerce activities with a clients' base of 100 million hotel customers per year, 11 million daily users of services, 300,000 clients, and 800,000 affiliates.

The group will have a significant presence at the Arabian Travel Market. JONNA SIMON speaks to MOHAMED TAHER, Accor's director of sales and marketing, Middle East:

Q: The Accor Group is so massive, it is difficult to know, where to start. I know, you are number one for economy class hospitality worldwide, but here in Dubai, you are known for the City Centre Hotel, which is a 5-star property, Do you have any plans for new deluxe hotels in Dubai?

A: Accor is going to open two new hotels in Dubai in the near future, but details are to be revealed at a press conference at ATM 2001 by Christophe Landais, our director of operations for the Middle East.

Other Middle East hotel openings by Accor include: Sofitel Al Ain with 130 rooms opening in October this year; Sofitel Iaiz in Yemen, also with 130 rooms, also opening in October; Sofitel Makkah with 450 rooms opening this summer and Novotel Al Dana in Bahrain with 180 rooms, which will open in September next year.

With the demand for hotel rooms in Dubai rising constantly, we are already looking at new hotel projects.

Maybe we will concentrate more on 4 star hotels, because there is a serious lack of 4-star properties in Dubai and the UAE.

This does not indicate, that we are not considering the luxury sector in Jumeirah for instance.

Q: Has the Accor Group had a good year?

A: Accor's financial figures show double-digit growth for the seventh consecutive year with net income up 27 per cent last year.

We had a total of 254 hotels openings last year, which gave us 34,785 extra rooms. Among these newly-opened hotels were 12 Sofitels, 14 Novotels and 89 Mercures.

Last year we also launched the website, which is the website for making bookings and reservations on the Internet.

Last year we also changed the logo policies, so that now all Accor hotels carry the name Accor.

Q: I know, you are building a hotel in Bahrain, the Novotel Al Dana, a villa-type development on the beach. Can you give me a progress report? Did you open the new hotel in Sanaa? And is the new Sofitel Al Ain on target?

A: Yes, we opened Mercure Al Saeed in Sanaa in March this year. The Al Dana construction began in the summer last year and the hotel is on target for opening in September next year. And yes, Sofitel Al Ain will open in October this year.

Q: What does the Accor Summer Sales 2001 offer?

A: The Accor Summer sale promotion covers more than 500 hotels with new cities added in Italy, Poland and the UK and major destinations in Asia, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the USA.

New hotels have been added this year such as All Seasons within the Mercure network with eight hotels in Australia. The offer covers more than 250 hotels in France and more than 100 properties in Paris itself.

The offer entails 15 to 50 per cent discounts on rack rates. Does not stipulate a minimum stay. Rates are valid for one or two adults in a single or a double room.

Travel agents receive 8-10 per cent commission. Up to two children under 16 can stay free in parent's room in Novotels, Buffet breakfast is included. User friendly booking formats through global distribution systems such as Sabre, Galileo, Worldspan and Amadeus.

Q: HH Sheikh Mohammed is planning for 15 million visitors to Dubai by 2010. Is this an opening for building more Accor hotels?

A: It is definitely a good reason, but we are looking beyond 2010. We always make exhaustive studies of an area, before we venture there - what sort of people would come to the prospective hotels? Will they be business or leisure guests? Prospects for conferences or incentives? Which nationalities? What are the interests of visitors? etc.

The two new hotels we are scheduled to open in Dubai will mainly be concentrating on business travellers.

Q: I know that your Dubai hotel is mainly aimed at the business visitor, but has the Dubai Shopping Festivals attracted extra guests? Is the location of the nearby golf course attracting visitors?

A: During the Dubai Shopping Festival this year we enjoyed almost 100 per cent occupancy every day.

During the same time, we also had two groups coming from Germany to Dubai to play golf.

We have also recently introduced a discount card for outlets in the shopping centre and for the room rates. The mix of hotel guests is now 40-60 leisure against business.

Q: As a French hotel chain, do you attract a majority of French guests?

A: French people in general tend to support French hotels. We have recently in a meeting in Paris given instructions to modify all rooms in Sofitel hotels around the globe with a 'French touch' in the dŽcor, in the amenities, in the type of flowers in the rooms, in the colour schemes etc. The rooms will continue to have the international outlook, but with a French touch.

We have just finished refurbishing the Sofitel in Tokyo, which was handled by a French architect.

Another reason that French guests come to us, is our loyalty programme. Sofitel as a brand has loyalty programmes with Emirates Airline and Air France.

Q: Do you consider your room factors satisfactory - outside the shopping festival periods?

A: The performance of the Dubai Sofitel is one of the best of this brand of hotels around the world. The hotel facilities and the room sizes are very good. The room facilities are excellent and the location is great.

For leisure guests we have added more connecting rooms particularly for our Arab guests, who often travel with extended families.

We have also extended the amount of vouchers and discounts for guests to the Magic Planet for instance, so children have extra opportunities for going there to play.

We have arranged for beach facilities for guests at one of the beach properties in Jumeirah.

Q: I know that Accor accepts on-line booking - has the Dubai hotel benefited from Internet reservations?

A: Not only the Dubai hotel, but Accor worldwide, we are now receiving more than 10,000 room nights per day on the Internet.

However, the Internet bookings tend to be for the economy type lodgings, the 5-star guests still use the old system of travel agents or direct bookings with the hotels. This makes sense, because if you are surfing the Internet, you are looking for the cheapest prices, which is not the case with 5-star guests.

I saw a study recently, which said that more than 70 per cent of Internet bookings were for the economy class hotels.

Q: How would you describe the hotel scene in Dubai - highly competitive? Too competitive? Needs more marketing?

A: On the marketing side, there have been a lot of activities launched by the Dubai Government.

In our meeting with colleagues around the world, everyone is inquiring about Dubai. Definitely the dream is coming through, the world knows about Dubai.

The Emirates is an acknowledged leader among the Gulf countries.

In my opinion what is now needed is co-ordination. The new hotels being built are jumping onto the market, which is already feeding the city and the only way to get business is to discount the rates.

This will have a negative effect on the overall scene. We will have to open new feeder markets, new countries, new supplies of visitors to Dubai, which will boost the business and revenues of the emirate.