In conversation with…Christophe Vanswieten, chief operating officer, Accor Hotels, Benelux, Switzerland, UK & Ireland*
EP Hospitality Business Insight: exploring key questions from the BHA Hospitality and Tourism Summit
EP working with the British Hospitality Association to promote thought leadership
Christophe was part of the “Links for Success” panel at the Summit, which looked at the success of international events and their important relationship to tourism activity. The discussion sought to explore how the industry can power smarter outcomes through better links.
On the panel, Christophe spoke of the need for greater collaboration and stronger infrastructure in order to support the UK hospitality and tourism industry.
EP picked up where the panel left off and asked Christophe for his thoughts on the challenges in the market at present, and the issues specifically affecting the UK.
“I always say we have the same issue in each of Accor’s larger European destinations. In each country we really have two countries – the capital city and the rest. Business wise and tourist wise, the capital cities of these larger places are in a phase of growth which will continue for the coming decades.
“The situation is that tomorrow the BRIC countries are huge markets. The numbers of Chinese tourists are increasing from 10 million to 100 million and when they come to Europe for the first time, what will they do?
“It’s very similar to what we saw 20 years ago when the Japanese travelled abroad for the first time. These tourists will take a holiday which covers the whole of Europe in two weeks, which by definition means that they are going to the main capital cities. On the second visit, they might go to important secondary cities or ‘touristy’ destinations.
“During a tough market, we have seen that capital cities are always more resilient. In 2009, for example, London decreased by around 4 percent whilst the rest of the UK decreased by around 15-20 percent. I don’t think we will see this situation again; whilst countries like Spain are facing challenges, the larger, established markets are trading well.
So given the comparative challenges facing operations in London and the rest of the UK, what view does Accor have on how to address these at a strategic level?
“London is and will continue to be a world destination, it’s the most vibrant city in Europe and there is a lot happening. But even saying this we as a business see that there are ways to improve and that we could be stronger if we collaborate and work together.
“For the rest of Britain there are many fantastic destinations with a lot of heritage and beautiful countryside. However, these are not known abroad. When a tourist speak about the UK they mention London, Edinburgh, perhaps Manchester, but there is less recognition for Wales or the South East coast for example.
“In order to address this, one of the things that a panellist spoke of today was for the private sector to invest at a local level in direct marketing initiatives. I agree that this can be done; it’s actually not so expensive anymore due to the internet.
“There is just one problem.
“Transportation is a key issue for these areas. Between the UK and the continent we have the EuroTunnel, ferries and planes, but these less well known destinations are not well served by these and there is no effort to find ways to bring in traffic.
“There are many examples in Europe where a lot of cities have allowed Ryanair to use their airports for free and even sponsored this, meaning that each day one or two planes arrive. It brings 400 guests which is is good for shops, hotel, restaurants – for everyone. There is a small city called Carcassonne in France which is now building hotels due to the increase in tourism activity from opening up its airport to Ryanair.
“Sometimes people say you cannot create markets, but I say you can create markets. It was not that long ago that no one thought we would all need a mobile phone, but today everyone has at least one! What we see with partnerships between local communities and budget airlines like Ryanair is that it creates traffic and brings a new market of people, some of whom may have never travelled before. They are getting traffic by pricing and in turn this opens up new destinations. We see that some European regions are stimulating such activity, but there is not a lot of this happening in the UK.”
*Accor, the world’s leading hotel operator and market leader in Europe, is present in 92 countries with more than 4,400 hotels and 530,000 rooms. With more than 180,000 employees in Accor brand hotels worldwide, the Group offers to its clients and partners nearly 45 years of know-how and expertise.