THOMAS DUBAERE, MANAGING DIRECTOR of ACCORHOTELS UK
Thomas Dubaere, Managing Director AccorHotels UK and Ireland, talks to Can Faik about how they are making guests Feel Welcome across the portfolio…
AccorHotels is a world-leading travel and lifestyle group and digital innovator offering unique experiences in more than 4,000 hotels, resorts and residences, as well as in over 2,500 of the finest private homes around the globe. Benefiting from dual expertise as an investor and operator through its HotelServices and HotelInvest divisions, AccorHotels operates in 95 countries. Its portfolio comprises 20 internationally acclaimed luxury brands, including Raffles, Fairmont, Sofitel Legend, SO Sofitel, Sofitel, onefinestay, MGallery by Sofitel, Pullman, Novotel, Mercure and ibis.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for AccorHotels?
My first career was as an athlete. I was a sprinter for the 100 metres for Belgium. But while training for the LA Olympic Games in 1984, I got an injury and my career as a professional athlete stopped. I have always been interested in great food and great wine. I ran a pop-up restaurant with a friend and finally I got a job as a MD – that is Maitre’d – in Belgium in 1990 at the Novotel Bruges Centre. Today, I am still a MD but as Managing Director for the UK for AccorHotels. I still run though every week.
What does your current position involve?
In 2014 we re-organised the company into two complementary businesses – Hotel Services and HotelInvest. I run the HotelServices arm of AccorHotels UK & Ireland, the hotel operator and brand franchisor. This involves ensuring we continue to grow our portfolio in the UK across our brands from economy to luxury; forging the right franchise partnerships and giving the best possible experience for our guests. AccorHotels currently has more than 220 hotels in the UK & Ireland and we have ambitious expansion plans, so there is a lot to look after.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
If there is one reason why I am in this business, it is because of people. I am passionate that our guests feel welcome and that our own employees are free to welcome them. Design and technology play a big role here.
Two years ago, we abandoned the reception desk equipping our staff with tablets to check people in. Now, guests can do all of their check-in and-out online through the AccorHotels app. The more you can do for the guest before they arrive the better.
What does this mean now for our hotels? The staff are free to anticipate and communicate with the guests as the administration has been taken away. It allows them more time to be spontaneous and less scripted. The guest immediately experiences the hotel. We have re-configured the design of our lobbies to allow guests to relax in comfortable, fun and informal areas, as we no longer take up space with reception desks. I really enjoy making the experience of the hotel the best it can be for all of the people in it.
What does AccorHotels have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
Be aware of change and adapt quickly. We have been doing this in the digital space with the AccorHotels app, which the guest can book through, find restaurants and bars and we are even piloting an in-room concierge through the app. We have opened up our distribution channels for high-quality independent hotels to join accorhotels.com. And in remembering that we are a hospitality company – so our offer does not stop at hotel rooms – we are investing in launching innovative new Food and Beverage concepts for our guests in-hotel, out-of the hotel and those who might just want to takeaway.
What is next for AccorHotels as in new openings?
Our biggest opening in the UK this year will be Novotel London Canary Wharf, which will have over 300 rooms and nine meeting rooms and breakout areas, all of which will have innovative and individual designs. It will be a flagship Novotel with a cutting-edge restaurant and bar concept and excellent sustainability credentials. It is 39 floors and 127 metres high – so you are not going to miss it!
Setting the benchmark in the economy segment is the ibis brand with a new hotel set to open in Autumn in Cambridge. It will boast the 1,000th Sweetroom by ibis designed to give a great sense of comfort and emotion centred around our very own Sweet Bed by ibis™, designed to give a comfortable and happy sleep. Next year we will also open a landmark ibis Styles hotel at Trocadero in the heart of the Capital.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
If you think how hotels were designed a few years ago to now, I think many of us can see the difference. The classic structure of – a reception area, a bar area, a restaurant area etc have changed. We now have big open public areas where you can work, eat, check-in, talk, drink – do whatever you want – in an open, relaxing atmosphere. And these areas welcome people whether you are guest staying or not. We have broken down many old structures to a more open approach.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
It is key! More than this, it can be fundamental to how the staff can do their jobs and how the guest will feel as they walk in. When we started to think about Novotel London Canary Wharf, we went to local businesses and asked what they were looking for, what did they want to see? This influenced our design choices. Design can make people feel comfortable, at ease, at home – welcome. If you ask some of my team, they may tell you I get very passionate about lighting too.
What would you say are the best places you’ve ever stayed?
This is a hard question! I can tell you my favourite place. This is in Sitges just outside of Barcelona. There is a small beach and a tiny hotel with about eight rooms. There is no pool even. We used to go there all the time on holiday when I lived in Spain and it is still a place I love to go with my family now.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
Balance is really important to me and I don’t think you can be at your best unless you are balanced physically, emotionally and intellectually. Making sure I do my daily exercise is an important part of this – I do a half-hour routine seven days a week and it acts as a form of meditation for me. People complain about being time-poor nowadays, but who can’t find 30 minutes in a day? I think those closest to me know that I like to challenge myself with this!