Posted in People on 25 May, 2023

January 2023 saw the launch of Handwritten Collection, Accor’s latest addition to its collection brands segment. Positioned in the midscale sector, Handwritten Collection will join the Group’s existing collection brands; MGallery Hotels and Emblems in the upper-upscale and luxury segments respectively. Talking to Emma Kennedy from a very rainy Paris, Caroline Bérnard explained the concept behind the new brand, and why now is the perfect time for independent hoteliers to get on board.

I begin by asking Caroline to share a little about her background and how she arrived at her current role with Accor. “I have an MBA in marketing, which I knew I always wanted to do, but while I was studying, I met the general manager of a hotel, who told me all about his job. I thought it sounded fantastic because as he described it, I realised that essentially you were running a business, one where you were involved in everything – from managing a team, negotiating sales, delivering the guest experience, and of course marketing. So that’s what I did”.

Learning the hospitality industry from the ground up, Caroline spent much of the next 10 years in the UK working her way up General Manager in various hotels. On her return to Paris, she finally felt ready to set her focus on marketing. Accepting an opportunity with Accor, led to her involvement with the launch of Greet, a smaller brand in the economy segment offering alternative hospitality and sustainable tourism, with a focus on socially responsible travel.

Hotel Les Capitouls Toulouse Centre

Handwritten Collection has been two years in the making. With collections already established in Accor’s upper-scale and luxury segments, a white spot was soon recognised in the midscale segment of the market. With the relevant experience gained from the 2019 launch of Greet, Caroline was an obvious choice to head up this new brand. Taking me back to the beginning she starts. “I was given an outline of the business opportunities that had been identified and was asked to translate it into a strong value proposition for the guests. We first looked at what would be a common denominator for the brand – when we are talking about collection brands, these are soft brands, so it is more complicated” she explained. “The aim was always to bring together a collection of independent hotels, with what we call a unique personality – a story, something to justify their place within this new collection. We had to provide a unique proposition that would differentiate from what our competitors were offering and ultimately redefine what would be the guest promise. But most importantly, we needed to identify why a guest would choose to stay at a Handwritten Collection hotel as opposed to somewhere else”.

Wanting to understand more about what differentiates Handwritten Collection from its competitors, I ask Caroline who decides the criteria that needs to be fulfilled for an independent hotel wishing to be considered, and what that criterion is?

“It’s a joint decision between the Marketing, Development, Design and the Operational teams” she begins. “We looked at the market and decided primarily we wanted hotels located in city centres of capital getaways, along with those in smaller cities which are popular destinations. Ideally, they would have 50 to 150 rooms and in terms of design, they needed to already meet the Accor standard. We looked for properties we considered to be both charming and stylish, as we didn’t want to impose an expensive refurbishment plan. This is always an environmentally friendly option, and why 80% of the properties are conversions. But I would also like to stress, we put as much focus on the host, as we do the design. We feel this is often overlooked by the other brands, and it is so very important. This is where the passion lies. The host’s personal touch. For this there is no checklist, no script. They are the subtle, personal touches throughout the hotel which enrich the guest experience – like a handwritten note. But within that, we also have to ensure that the hotels are already strictly meeting the quality standards attached to 4-stars, so that might be the quality of the bedding, 24hour food and beverage service, gourmet breakfast with home-made products etc. We then work hand-in-hand with the owners to really ensure they achieve the ‘Handwritten’ touch that we are looking for.”

Clockwise from top left: Bar at Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa; Lobby area at Le Splendid Hotel Lac d’Annecy; Bar and restaurant at Hotel Morris

Once all these boxes are ticked, maintaining these standards, outside of a traditional brand management model is inevitably a challenge, and I wonder how this is monitored. Visualising the clichéd image of the mystery guest, Caroline is quick to dispel that vision. “No!” she says with mock horror at my outdated notion. “We don’t like to do that. We always prefer to have a conversation. We can see when a hotel is not matching the Handwritten Collection standard and will sit down with the owners and have an honest and open discussion to see how we can help them achieve the standard and meet the criteria. If this doesn’t work, we have more than 40 brands – so there is always a solution for them. But no mystery guests! You know we have banned mystery guests from Accor?” she continues. “Years ago, we had them for all the hotels – and all I can tell you from experience, is that every time a mystery guest arrived, I was able to spot them straight away. They never behave like a real guest. But the real reason I am convinced this never a good idea, is that one visit on one day at a particular time, is never a true reflection of the standard of that hotel. So many things could happen on that day, both good and bad. We always prefer to work with a deeper knowledge of the guest experience in our hotels – we trust the owners to measure the satisfaction of guests all year round, looking at all the touch points. This gives a much better level of quality – across all the hotels”.

Public space at Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa

Having firmly put that notion to bed, my next question is ‘why’? Why would an independent hotel, who by their very nature has chosen to be independent, choose to sit under the umbrella of a brand the size of Accor?

“This is interesting”, Caroline begins. “It is a trend we have watched grow over the past five years. These collections are one of the fastest growing categories, showing a 25% increase on the average room rate. The trend had already been on an upward trajectory for five years prior to covid, but since the crisis of the pandemic we have seen a huge acceleration. Why? because owners are looking for the support of the bigger chains to help them cope with all the post pandemic cost increases. However, we have also realised that owners are quite cautious about two things. The first one is the increased cost. They often believe, that to comply with the standard of a new brand, they will have to make a huge investment which they might not be able to afford, and secondly, as you say – all those independent hotels have created their own identity. They have considered every single detail, and they are afraid they will have to compromise on these details. They like the fact they are independent and very singular. So, basically ‘collections’ are the perfect answer – they embrace the best of both worlds. We are not keen on owners having to make lots of investments, and we like to highlight their personality, so they will be able to keep what they have created in their hotels. In addition to this, from day one they will benefit from the Accor eco system in terms of sales, distribution, and loyalty platforms. They will be able to maximise their revenues and optimise their costs because they will benefit from everything that has been negotiated by Accor.

Le Splendid Hotel Lac d’Annecy

Caroline’s argument is compelling, and it is clear to understand why this sector is enjoying an upward trajectory, proving beneficial to both parties. Most of the hotels within Handwritten Collection have a franchise contract, as opposed to a management contract allowing them to maintain control of the operational management. With over 110 properties in negotiations and 13 already committed, in locations including Shanghai, Perth and Paris, the aim is to secure 250 properties by 2030. While success is never a given when launching a new brand, considering the calibre of the hotels already in Handwritten Collection, it’s easy to see why Caroline is both optimistic and confident about the future.


Hotel Shanghai Sheshan Oriental, Shanghai, China
Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa, Saint Gervais, France
Wonil Hotel Perth, Australia

Le Splendid Hotel Lac d’Annecy, Annecy, France
Hotel Morris, Sydney, Australia
Hotel Les Capitouls, Toulouse, France
Relais San Martino, Puglia, Italy
Square Lodge Hotel Le Roche sur Yon, Roche sur Yon, France
Oru Hub Hotel, Tallinn, Estonia
Paris Montmartre Sacré Coeur*, Paris, France

*name may change










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