Saudi Arabia Hospitality Investment Conference

14-16 April 2020 | Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, U.A.E


Mark Willis - Advisory Board Insights

Accor's belief in the industry’s recovery has enabled it to make strides in its plans, despite the hard-hitting impact of the pandemic. It’s a sentiment shared by its CEO, Sébastien Bazin, and echoed by its leadership, as you can hear from Mark Willis in the video. Mark also shares with us what his key learnings have been for the past 14 months.

Please introduce yourself & share with us your learnings over the past year?

Mark Willis: Hi, My name is Mark Willis. I am the CEO of Accor, in charge of Middle East, Africa, India and Turkey. Key learnings - we knew that it was paramount. But as always, communication and transparent communication throughout this last 12-14 months has been unbelievably invaluable, regardless of which stakeholder you're talking to. Guests, team members, our owners, and of course, intermediaries, whether it be a government entity or other. It's been a very solid period of open and transparent communication on a number of fronts. We've needed to be flexible, more so than ever with regards to our decision making. We've needed to be quick, something that as an industry, sometimes we're not very good at. Changes and impact of the virus - you needed to respond in a faster and concise manner. And I think we did that. throughout the period. Key learning for me however, I knew that we had fabulous people on the ground and in the regional support offices across the area. But how people responded, how the teams responded. As always, I'm humbled by such such scenarios. It's been a truly wonderful period of team supporting all our efforts and all our actions on the ground during what has been this awful period and a key learning for me, that's for sure has been, has been how people have taken up the challenge. Opportunities - so many. Long stay came into the business. I think I see that ever more as an opportunity as we go forward. The whole staycation piece has been a very interesting topic. Our need to be totally flexible with regards to bookings, cancellations, how guests use the hotel. Huge opportunities moving forward there. We thought we were set in our ways and have had to change so many things. So that along with the lifestyle revolution, which seems to be going on, which, of course, from an Accor perspective we're leading that one with 12 wonderful lifestyle brands. Huge opportunity for us because we have such a solid brand footprint. So, yeah, these are the key topics for me. I feel from an opportunity perspective.

Many are calling this period the Great Reset. In your view, how should the industry build back better & rise together?

Mark Willis: Yeah, it's an interesting topic. I mean, a lot of there is a lot of comments. The terms great reset and re-evaluation of our business. Of course, it's a very relevant topic after 14 months of what has been a very difficult situation for everybody in the industry. But I'm much too sure that I would agree with the title. For me, the industry will bounce back. The desire to travel will not go away. It is always been in place and it's escalated as we've seen dramatically over the last 3-4 decades, as travel has become easier. The desire to do business face to face, the desire to meet the desire to interact with new people, and enjoy new cultures. I really don't forsee that will go away. I think you'll see that the industry bounce back quicker than perhaps we anticipate. Sebastian always uses the term blessed by this industry and really, I have to agree with him. I think we truly are, and I think like I say, I think you'll see the industry bounce back quite quickly,

Why are you coming to AHIC 2021 and what are you most excited about it?

Mark Willis: Yeah, why come to AHIC? It's a simple question. We look forward to business returning to some normality. Any event that I've attended in the last six months, they've been well attended. There is a really positive interaction. People want to meet and do business, which is great to see. I'm going to visit, speak to my current partners, hopefully find some new ones. I look forward to introducing our wonderful lifestyle portfolio, which again you can see actively growing within Accor globally, but also no more so than in the region. I look forward to meeting the African hotel industry stakeholders, which again a very solid footprint in Africa. We are the largest operator there. That's also something that I'm looking forward to doing. And this combined event, I'm sure it'll be extremely positive

What do you want to take away from your experience at AHIC?

Mark Willis: Also a very interesting question. AHIC is an institutional event within the industry, and that's not an overstated comment. It's a key place to do business, a key place to interact with your business partners and future business partners. And I very much look forward to that. Of course, it's been a very difficult last 14 months for the industry in general. But now it's time to look forward in a positive manner and AHIC and what AHIC means to so many people. That's one way of starting that. So yeah, I'm looking forward to a wonderful AHIC.

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