IATA invited AccorHotels's Pierrick le Masne to speak at its WPS 2015 about its own digital transformation and the hotel sector in general, and chances are that most airline people left the room feeling less daunted by their own concerns around NDC, runways and fuel costs.
Accor launched a digital plan in 2014, committing Euro 225 million to the project and promising an overhaul of how business is done. The plan goes a lot further than distribution - it gets to the very heart of how AccorHotels sees its future in a sector where disruption and change are, arguably, more intense than for air.
The future for hotels and airlines share some painpoints and some opportunities. One stat defining the mood music around IATA is that over the next 20 years the number of air passengers will double from 2015's projected 3.3 billion.
IATA's Tony Tyler said in his opening address that "there can be no efficient future growth beyond what the infrastructure is capable of handling."
Tyler was talking about runways and airports, but there is also a question about hotel infrastructure - a lot of these extra travellers will need to book somewhere to stay, and 3 billion-plus represents a lot of hotel construction work. A potential headache for hotel chains, but great news for Airbnb and the homestay sector.
This is one area of disruption where hospitality is on its own- there aren't really a load of alternative transportation providers muscling in on the airlines in the same way that Airbnb is impacting traditional hotels. High speed rail might have an impact on air around the periphery but for most international trips, air is, literally, the only way to travel.
But Accor is not throwing its toys out of the pram in the same way that, say, old school taxi operators are up in arms about Uber and the other disruptive taxi app businesses. le Masne used the phrase "we have to work with that" to describe the impact of Airbnb.
"Airbnb is more than a platform for private accommodations. It's setting a new traveller expectation; they want something more local, more authentic and we have to work with that," he said.
Accor has the same approach to Google: "It's not just SEM. It's Google Maps, G Mail, instant booking. Our customers spend hours with Google, so we have to work with that."
Its relationship with OTAs and Tripadvisor solicited the same response.
Distribution dynamics in the hotel sector are more complicated than air. IATA has launched NDC to make airline distribution through third parties more efficient; Accor Hotels on the other hand has been working on ways to drive business to its desktop and mobile hotels dotcom and away from the third parties.
But it also recently started listing independent hotels on its site to create a "marketplace" selling non-Accor properties through the Accor web site.
Ryanair has talked about something similar, a transactional metasearch function on its airline dotcom which will compare its prices to those of its rivals on the same routes.
Accor's marketplace move indicates the extent to which new distribution constructs are fundamental to its transformation.
If there is a distinction in the distribution landscape, airlines and hotels share common ground in wanting to give passengers and guests a seamless experience. Perhaps this is one area where airlines are more exposed that hotels - the check-in at the hotel is relatively straightforward compared with checking in for a flight.
Touchpoints are another area of shared opportunity and/or pain. Accor has identified the customer journey as starting with dream, followed by select, book, prepare, stay, share, return. Replace "stay" with "fly" and you have the airline passenger journey as well.
"We are not just about the stay, which clearly has to be the best possible experience, but it's not enough. We have to connect the digital and physical world and take a customer journey approach before a product approach," le Masne noted.
"Think like a retailer" has become a mantra for airline and Accor is thinking in a similar way. "We are no longer selling a room, we are selling a personal service," he said.
Data is another area where hotels and airlines can swap notes. le Masne suggested that only the banking sector has more information about its customers than hotels. But he offered a warning over privacy issues which many airlines could also be aware of in the era of personalization.
"We have to be careful how we use analytics and data - we have to respect privacy if we want to protect our primary asset which is the trust of our customers," he said.
More related reading:
Interview: Fastbooking begins selling independent hotels on Accor’s site
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