INTERVIEW: FEDERICO TORESI, GLOBAL VP DESIGN, PREMIUM & LUXURY BRANDS, ACCOR
As part of NEWH’s online BrandEd discussions, where industry creatives come together to explore ideas, Sophie Harper was delighted to moderate the first global event in October where we heard the insights of Federico Toresi on a number of engaging topics, from adaptation and research to design collaboration.
Star of the first global NEWH BrandEd online discussion, Federico Toresi, unphased in the limelight, has over 20 years’ experience in hospitality – in both architecture and interior design. Although Italian born, Federico grew up in the UK and formed his career in London working for the likes of Gensler, Anouska Hempel, Aedas Interiors and 1508, where he specialised in hotels and resorts, private residences and high-end retail projects. Now he lives in Paris and is Global Vice President of Design for Accor – one of the largest hospitality companies in the world. With a focus on experience driven luxury hospitality projects, and with a track record for developing innovative and award-winning restaurants and bars that become destinations in their own right, Federico leads the team that defines the design and product strategy and creates standards and concept guidelines for Accor’s luxury and premium brands.
Reassuringly, during our discussion, Federico tells us how despite lockdown measures across the globe, progress with hotel projects hasn’t slowed and that actually the future for Accor remains very positive. “Our development team has been really good at maintaining the pace and signing new properties,” he says. “There is definitely a future in hospitality. We’ve already seen it in the summer – people want to be out enjoying themselves, they want to gather, they want to share moments, which is so positive. The development hasn’t slowed down really, our pipelines are stronger than ever.”
That’s not to say the pandemic hasn’t changed things for the industry of course, and he goes on to tell us how Accor has been adapting the use of its hotels to suit changing consumer demand. “The whole industry has been hit with empty hotels and we have to find ways of making those spaces work for us. After having to close our properties there were a lot of ideas around making rooms more functional, about making sure the spaces could be used for work purposes – things other than simply staying to sleep in.” He tells us how numerous studies have gone into creating multifunctional spaces and that having tested these sorts of environments out in some of their hotels, Accor has had some fantastic feedback. “As the lockdowns ease, we’re trying to carry out more studies into what our guests want to use those spaces for and the percentage of guests that actually want to use spaces as an office for example, or as conferencing rooms, or even as showrooms for their products. It redefines the use of the room as not just a multifunctional space, but perhaps a room that’s more specific than that. The kind of Swiss army knife of rooms is a fun exercise to play with and it’s quite ingenious to have rooms that can offer more to the guest.”
And it’s not simply the guest rooms that are being adapted. Federico tells us how public spaces can play a major role in making a hotel more accessible and user-friendly. “We’ve always introduced a co-working element to most of our properties and brands,” he says. “We work very closely with a company called WoJo, a flexible office space company that has helped us develop various concepts in our lobbies and in our media rooms and conferencing areas where we can create a flexible working space. We’ve really tried to integrate it into the flow of the hotel as opposed to having a bolt-on that sticks out as a temporary measure – it’s become a way of looking at a hotel in a slightly different light – it’s really enhancing the guest experience.”
Equally, public spaces in hotels aren’t simply restricted to indoors, and so Accor has been making the most of its properties’ gardens, courtyards, and even rooftops. “One big discovery we’ve all made since various lockdowns is how much we miss the outdoors and that actually we’re happy to spend time outdoors. We realised a lot of our hotels have beautiful rooftops and amazing gardens that were only accessible to the guests of the hotel, so we’ve literally opened our doors to those things and what’s great is that the local crowds have discovered that there are really amazing spaces on their doorstep.”
Another topic that has been at the forefront of many people’s minds has been wellness. Prior to the pandemic spas, pools, and gyms were drawing more popularity, and are seen as a huge asset to a hotel. But, whilst the pandemic has accelerated people’s want for these sorts of spaces, they have also been the most difficult to operate in times where physical contact has had to be distanced. “Wellness and wellbeing have been topics that we’ve been looking at for many years at Accor but with the pandemic we’ve had to look at how these things would work under these difficult circumstances,” says Federico. “We’ve built on the foundations that were there already, looking at hotels that really have wellbeing at the core of their offer. I think the sanitary solutions we’ve applied with Accor All Safe – where we were one of the first brands to come out with a proper protocol to sanitise our environment – has helped. What we’ve tried to do is to bring things out into the open and we’ve looked at adding pop-ups into our gardens or in spaces where we’re not limited by the number of people that can attend.”
Federico talks about different markets and the drive for wellness. He uses Swissôtel as an example of how wellness offerings don’t just apply to spas but that an overall feel of wellbeing in a hotel is a winning formula. “There is a market for wellbeing and for wellness, but you can introduce those aspects into the whole guest experience,” he says. “If you provide elements of biophilia and purified air and you can design a space with natural materials, that’s also beneficial in attracting guests who are concerned about looking after their wellbeing. Spas and gyms are always going to be present in the bigger properties, but smaller properties that might not have these things might have outdoor spaces they can use in conjunction with local companies to offer pop-ups. The philosophy of wellbeing, and designing properties for wellbeing, we really embraced maybe three or four years ago when we launched the Swissôtel Vitality programme to design all our hotels with vitality in mind – to help our guests find a space where they could feel better, relax and meditate. We’re taking this concept through to our other brands: Raffles has just launched what we’re calling ‘emotional wellbeing’ which, as part of one of its pillars we have a programme called ‘design for harmony’ where we’ve been using our knowledge of wellbeing and designing spaces in a more natural, relaxed, calmer way.”
Speaking more on the topic of calm, fluid design, Federico tells us how feng shui is used throughout Accor hotels. “One of the things we try to do is to design something that isn’t evident. We don’t want guests to see something different in our hotels, we want them to feel something different in our hotels. Feng shui has been around for thousands of years and it’s really about creating an environment where you feel comfortable and the energy flows.” He explains how much research goes into creating the best spaces for guests depending on the market each brand is aimed at, and that generally wellness and relaxation is something everyone seeks whilst travelling or booking into a hotel, but that this can mean something different to different people. “You can’t design a hotel for everybody, and this is why our brands have different levels for different needs, so that our guests have a choice.”
We talk about sustainability and how, as a member of Accor’s carbon committee, Federico and his team are constantly assessing the ways in which they can decrease energy consumption from a design and operational perspective. “Accor has signed up to the Paris agreement in the same way as many companies and countries have, but we have set ourselves a more stringent target, so we’re really having to look at our carbon footprint to work out where we’re consuming the most.” From sourcing local materials and products to using renewable resources and working with companies that reuse and recycle products, Accor is working hard to apply as much of a circular economy as possible to all areas of its hospitality offerings. “We’re even working with universities in Belgium and Switzerland to see how we can recycle the waste from hotel bathrooms and how we can reuse the water, but also how we can get a biproduct that can be used in our roof gardens or our allotments – and everything in between. What’s exciting about working with universities or suppliers that have done really amazing work creating products from renewable resources or reusing materials to give things a second life, is that we’re putting our standards together to make sure that what we’re specifying is something that will last. We want to make sure we’ve got great quality materials, that we are using products that are durable, that we’re using companies that not only respect the environment but also respect their staff and the people who work for them – that’s also very important to us – it’s an overall concept.”
Working collaboratively with as many specialists as possible ensures Accor is leading the way not only in sustainability but in technology as well. “My department is called Design Solutions,” Federico says, “so it’s really part of my DNA to be the one that collects information and ideas from everybody else – from operations to development to everybody in our supply chain. We’ve got a really tight-knit community of all these people and we tend to be the ones in the middle that reach out and connect and start the dialogue.” He goes on to tell us how keen people are to collaborate and develop new ideas, including property owners. “University collaborations are great. Often they come to us as they know we’re trying to develop new ideas and they might already have ideas of how to do things in a better way. We really learn a lot from them. As scientists they often don’t know how to take an idea to market, so we provide a platform for them and we have some amazing owners that have embraced these ideas and are willing to try out new things – it’s an inspiring process to be a part of. Collaboration is key in moving these things on.”
And the collaborative approach doesn’t stop behind the scenes. Federico explains how valued external design studios are to Accor in creating concepts and real-life spaces that are both beautiful and usable and that creative vision and freedom of expression are things they really embrace. “We always leave masses of opportunity for designers to interpret and to give their insight into a project, which means no hotel looks the same,” he says. “I really like being able to test out smaller, younger companies that have a different take on things. We’ve worked with some really amazing studios around the world who are so talented and we try to give them an opportunity to showcase what they do. We don’t want to see the same thing over and over again. I like to see something that challenges the norm, and if it doesn’t work we’ll tweak it until it does.”
It is of course imperative that whichever design studio is selected to work on any Accor project understands the company’s main objectives and principles. Federico says that a lot of the design studios they work with help to put design concepts and guidelines together as well as actually working on physical projects, but that all very much begins with getting to know one another – and finding those studios in the first place. “A lot of design studios we discover at events, and then a lot of course we find through magazines like SPACE, which publishes work we might not have seen first-hand. We also have a global team: I’m Italian but I grew up in the UK and now I live in France, so I’ve got access to that pool, and we have our colleagues from North America that have access to a different pool of designers, and this is why the collaboration works, because we have regular get-togethers with our colleagues and yes we do scout designers and yes we want to know what’s going on. We encourage everyone to say hi, even if we can’t say hi back to everyone.”
For the full interview and to find out more about NEWH BrandEd conversations or to find out how to become a member, visit www.newh.org.