AccorHotels has evolved its digital strategy in recent years, with a focus on further personalizing the guest experience. Given that the company now has roughly 4,600 hotels in 100 countries and more than 30 brands, that's no easy feat. But thanks to initiatives like its Accor Customer Digital Card (ACDC) platform, which creates a database of guest information and preferences, and its ever-evolving chatbot, Phil Welcome, the group has made significant strides. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently sat down with Maud Bailly, Accor's chief digital officer, to discuss the company's latest efforts.
Q: Can you provide an update on how the ACDC program has changed things for Accor thus far?
A: The ACDC is a really good illustration of the power technology can have. We have been co-designing the ACDC program with our staff, and since launching in January, it's gone live in 3,600 hotels in 80 countries. We are really trying to ensure that our hotels are using it at a worldwide level. And it's a global shared database. You just open it, and you can access all the information. Before ACDC, each hotel had its own client database of its regular clients. But with ACDC, it's different, in that they can now share knowledge of those clients worldwide. So no matter whether you're traveling for business or leisure, alone or with your family, we can follow you, and we can personalize your stay and recognize you.
Q: The hospitality industry has been somewhat slower than other sectors to adopt technology, with many properties still doing manual check-in, for example. What's your take?
A: As an industry, we need to improve our digital usage so that everything is more fluid. At the same time, making the check-in process completely digital is, to me, not a good thing. First of all, because it's sometimes just not doable. In some countries like Spain, for legal reasons, you can't skip the manual check-in process. You need to have an ID scan and have someone check the registration. We are, however, developing a more mobile approach in Europe, where instead of waiting to check in to your room in line at a reception desk, you have an employee proactively coming up to you with an iPad, greeting you by name and saying, "Let's have a seat and enjoy a cup of tea. What do you want to do tomorrow? I can offer you a yoga class because I see on your ACDC profile that you love yoga. We have prepared your favorite room for you, with your favorite green tea. Welcome. Here is your key."
Q: In addition to data collection and a more fluid check-in, are there any other technologies Accor is using to enhance guest experience?
A: Artificial intelligence (AI) and becoming more predictive are going to be key. We have developed a chatbot called Phil Welcome, and we've also had a partnership with Google Home. I think that the way you're going to book a room is going to completely change. Instead of typing a hotel request and waiting for the ranking on search and metasearch, we are going to be able to say, "OK, I can see your Outlook agenda. I can see that you had a very busy week, and I know that you've been showing interest in San Diego." With this data, combined with artificial intelligence and our chatbot, we can move to taking a more proactive relationship with predictive tools and push the most relevant product. We can reach out to you and offer you a hotel deal in San Diego for this weekend because we see that you are available, and I see that you love to go there. It's moving to predictive thanks to AI.
Q: Are you implementing AI into the actual room experience, as well?
A: Yes, we're definitely going to start testing connected devices in the room with our chatbot. For example, we have worked on some proof of concept with Phil Welcome working in a room to facilitate a room service order. But this technology has to be as discreet as possible. I don't want people to arrive in a superconnected room full of devices. I think that some clients may also expect some digital detox experience and say, "Hey, I don't want to be surrounded by devices, I just want to detox." We should work on both concepts at the same time.