The Accor hotel group is poised to start rolling out its Big App solution, aiming to capture its customers on mobile by offering a better service than any OTA or other intermediary.
The French hospitality giant, which counts Ibis, Sofitel, Novotel, Mercure and Pullman among its portfolio of 4,000 hotels in 92 countries, claims to see £200 million of annual mobile revenues.
However, Romain Roulleau, senior vice-president of e-commerce, admitted at the recent Travel Distribution Summit in London that mistakes made in the past meant its mobile strategy was flawed.
Its prior multi-brand approach meant it was left with mobile portals for each if its nine main brands and apps for multiple devices, so that in total it had 29 mobile solutions in the marketplace.
“We know we won’t make it at a large scale with 29 solutions,” said Roulleau. “We need to explain why everything is now in one app, why you would use it more and more.”
Accor has been digitising its entire offering to make all of its services available and bookable on the app including spas and restaurants, so it can offer a full concierge service.
Having Integrated Wipolo trip planning technology into the platform, the brand apps will start to be closed to new users in June, signally the start of a cross-over period that will run until March.
Roulleau said the success of the new unified app solution, called ‘Big App’ internally “was a question of usage” and being able to deliver an enriched experience based on consumer demands.
“You do not download an app if you are not going to use it at least several times. If you want to compete with the guys only on the booking process there’s no way you are going to win.
“You need to deliver services on the whole journey and only the hotel chain is going to be able to do that, an OTA cannot, they are focussed on the booking process.
“We need to deliver a service that gives all the information and service at whatever location and focuses on the stay.”
Roulleau said hotel operators are best placed to deliver destinations information and advice and event tickets for local attractions because they have a physical presence and staff who live locally.
“On the app we will provide a technical solution for concierge in the hotel with updated information and rich content based on their knowledge. No one can match this, no OTA, no TripAdvisor.
“Today people will trust reviews about the overall experience in a hotel but when it comes to what to do around the hotel we have a huge advantage.”
To incentivise use of the app by direct bookers Accor has started offering users Digital Welcome by Le Club Accor check-in, whereas OTA customers still have to queue.
Accor believes it to be the biggest supplier of hotel rooms in Europe to OTA giant booking.com and that this puts it in a position of strength to grapple back the direct consumer relationship.
“We cannot just rely on Booking.com only, because it costs us a lot of money. We need to get back the direct relationship with the customer,” added Roulleau.
He said getting the message across that the consumer will always find the best available price on the hotel’s website was the start of building that trust in the brand.
In corporate travel Accor has strong partnerships and Travel Management Companies help it reach certain markets, but Roulleau said this sector is not where he expected growth to come from.
“If we want to drive business up we need to get first of all web direct and control our OTA business. Overall online business is the one that has the fastest growth potential.”
Accor’s online transactions saw 15% growth globally last year for a business that sees €2 billion of revenues.Mobile currently accounts for 12% of that total and mobile revenues generated in the first quarter of this were up 60%. The operator has seen 3.3 million app downloads.
A key challenge will be to educate the public about what brands sit under the parent Accor name, so the loyalty club has been named after Accor.
Guests will be encouraged to join Le Club Accor so they understand it is a multi-brand loyalty scheme.
“We are going to put very significant investment in the second semester of this year to make sure that the link is established between Accor the mother brand and the hotel brands,” Roulleau said.