In a massive step to overhaul the Sofitel Hotels brand for a new generation, CEO Robert Gaymer-Jones said last week that over the last few years, Accor had rebranded 60 properties, closed 52 and opened 29 new spaces, for a grand total of 121 hotels worldwide. By 2016, the team is hoping to bring that number to 204, with at least 30 of those as all-new developments (rather than renovations of existing buildings). A new property in Casablanca will open next month, and nine new hotels are opening this year, including a fourth Sofitel Legend in Colombia (Santa Clara) and a second Sofitel So in Bangkok. Next year will see a new property in Dubai, among others.
Gaymer-Jones came to New York to discuss the future of Accor’s luxury brand during the 34th Annual New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, although the session was not officially part of the NYU program.
In order to effectively recreate the brand, Gaymer-Jones said he and his team went to luxury manufacturers like Chanel, Hermes, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton to learn how they create their own forms of luxury. Once they had a stronger idea of what the brand needed to stand out from other luxury hotels, they hired designers to play with the different spaces and create something new. (Gaymer-Jones cited names like Jean Nouvel, who designed the Vienna property; Didier Gomez, who designed two new Sofitels in Morocco as well as the Sofitel Paris le Faubourg; and Pierre-Yves Rochon for the Sofitel London St James, pictured.) While these designers are big names in their field, Gaymer-Jones noted that there is a “shelf life” for design, and that properties have to be refreshed regularly lest they begin to feel dated.
In the wake of the renovations and other initiatives, Gaymer-Jones said JD Power and Associates has ranked the brand the most-improved among luxury hotels. Sofitel earned a cumulative 90 awards in 2009; last year, the brand earned 200 and have nabbed 45 so far in 2012.
While the brand is doing well internationally, Gaymer-Jones acknowledged that it doesn’t yet have a very strong presence in the United States. Still, he added quickly, Sofitel is “trying to remain in the picture,” and is working with travel agents to help steer the brand properly. The team is also trying to determine what markets in the U.S. are ripe for development—even if they already have a Sofitel in the area. (Cities like New York or Miami could have three or four Sofitel properties, Gaymer-Jones said.)