Accor Plans Significant PacAsia Growth

Accor is looking to boost its profile in the U.S. travel community and spread the word about its expanding portfolio throughout Asia and the Pacific at a trade expo stop in Los Angeles on March 27. It will take place at the Sofitel Los Angeles, the newest Sofitel in the U.S.  Accor is seeing strong growth in U.S. travel to its Sofitels in French Polynesia; Sofitel Bora Bora Beach Resort is shown here

In advance of the expo—which is calling on 14 destinations this year—we conversed with Ray Stone, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Accor Asia Pacific, about why Accor's so bullish on the region and what travel agents and their clients can expect.

Accor is poised to launch its 300th hotel in the region, the Grand Mercure Xidan Beijing, and by year's end will have almost 350 hotels open throughout the region.

"Some of our standout openings in 2007 are top-of-the-range Sofitels in Beijing, Krabi and Chiang Mai," Stone says. Accor is taking a balanced approach to expansion, growing across the spectrum, from deluxe to mid-market to economy. It is also looking to expand in a range of location types, including capital cities, regional centers and resort destinations. The variety that insulates Accor against major fluctuations in the travel industry also makes for a greater variety of choice for travelers.

Thus, in 2008, Accor will open hotels in more than eight countries in the region, including China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. Accor also has plans to expand strongly in Vietnam to tap into the country's appeal to travelers. "It offers something very special—distinctive French character, but in a very Asian tropical setting," Stone says. A multicultural flair also contributes to the attractiveness to travelers of the Sofitel properties in French Polynesia.

Ay Stone

Among the factors spurring Accor's Asia Pacific expansion are airlift and rapid economic growth. "There is an unprecedented level of air access to and from the region, with new low-cost air carriers now increasing their long-haul routes, as well as opening up new destinations," Stone says. "This will have great significance for growth in travel in the region.

"Tourism in Asia Pacific is very open to new ideas, and when you see what is happening in India and China, you can understand why the Asia Pacific region is seen as the powerhouse of world tourism."

Accor's approach in the region is to establish a flagship hotel in key gateway cities in each destination, Stone says. In China, for example, Accor has 19 Sofitel properties in place, including two in Shanghai, and is adding Sofitels in Beijing, Guangzhou and Macau. That Beijing hotel, the Sofitel Wanda Beijing, will become Accor's flagship in China when it opens in mid-July. "It will really help raise our profile in the city at exactly the right time—just a year out from the Olympics," Stone notes.

Meantime, Accor is covering its other bases in China by adding mid-market Novotels in such major locations as Beijing, Nanjing and the new Baiyun airport in Guangzhou, along with more than 50 Ibis hotels in the country's most rapidly emerging commercial centers.

As for India, Accor will be opening a flagship Sofitel in Mumbai, as well as Novotel and Ibis hotels in many of the major commercial centers, and up to 100 budget Formule 1 properties in emerging city areas.

"However, where we already have critical mass, such as Australia, the projects will be more opportunistic in our expansion with a heavy emphasis on resorts," Stone explains. "In Indonesia and Thailand, where we are the largest international operator, we are concentrating on resort projects in key tourist destinations such as Bali, Chiang Mai and Krabi, all of which are well established with the American market."

A villa at the Novotel Nusa Dua in Bali

Accor's current ratio of U.S. travelers to the region is weighted 70 percent leisure to 30 percent business, but Stone says there will be an increase in corporate travel with the growth of Accor's China network and the opening of hotels in key commercial centers. As for the leisure market, he adds, Accor is seeing strong growth from the U.S. to its Sofitels in French Polynesia.

"We are really targeting the American market because the Sofitels were only relaunched last year and are amongst French Polynesia's finest—and the U.S. market is a very discerning one," Stone says. "We are also seeing encouraging growth in the U.S. leisure market for our hotels in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Thailand."

When it comes to growing its share of the U.S. market, Stone says Accor decided to bring its trade show to Los Angeles to heighten awareness of the company's depth and breadth of product in Asia and the Pacific.

Accor is initially targeting the West Coast because it is already established as a source market for travelers bound for Asia and the Pacific. The greater visibility of Sofitel with its properties in New York, Chicago and Washington has played a major role in building Accor's corporate travel market from the U.S. to Australia and China.

"It is fair to say that Accor is not as well known in America as some of its American hotel rivals," Stone acknowledges. "We have to face strong competition from well-known U.S.-branded hotels, but when we have a hotel such as the Sofitel Wanda Beijing next to major U.S. corporate houses such as HP and Microsoft, we need to demonstrate that Sofitel is not only the match for the U.S. brands, but can offer even more. That's our challenge, but we wouldn't be holding the World of Accor in the U.S.A. for the first time if we didn't believe we were up to meeting that challenge."

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