Hotels

Accor CEO shares COVID-19 lessons and trumpets “essential” travel agents

Huntley Mitchell

Huntley Mitchell

Accor chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin delivered by far one of the best speaking sessions at Travel DAZE 2020, admitting his own mistakes and giving credit where credit’s due.

Bazin kicked off the session by going through all the lessons he’s learned as a leader throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which were “quite a few, actually”.

The first lesson I’ve learned is accept you do not know much. So, accept to have doubts,” he told Travel DAZE attendees.

“Even if you do have doubts, don’t ever stop communicating with your people, because silence is worse. They need to see somebody at the helm, and the y need to be in contact with you.”

Bazin also learned not to stress over what he couldn’t control, “because it is unnecessary and stupid”, and to always display positive energy around his team.

COVID-19 also taught Accor’s boss a big lesson in humility.

“I really felt until COVID that I knew pretty well where Accor was going, how to do things, methodology, human resources, pace,” Bazin said.

“I realised that all of that vanished away in a matter of two weeks.”

But, the biggest challenge for Bazin during the crisis was having to make the decision to furlough 280,000 Accor-branded employees in less than 48 hours.

“It was unfair, [a] total injustice, and I had no other options because my hotels were closing,” he explained.

“That was the toughest-ever moment for me, probably for my entire life. I hope I don’t have to do it again, and I hope everyone of them will be back in those better years.”

Bazin also talked about the big decision to “open the engine of Accor” and “turn it upside down”, resulting in a major corporate restructure.

“The company was too fat, not agile enough, too many layers. So, we announced in September to cut the layers of all the regional offices, which has been the strength of this company forever,” he said.

“The only way to have better agility is to be closer to the field, and [we] decided that we can’t afford to have seven layers between me and a hotel general manager. We have to cut it to five and not really operate the regional offices, but go directly with eight hubs.”

However, Bazin noted that the corporate restructure had nothing to do with COVID-19 or being more cost-efficient.

“It’s just something I should have thought of a long time ago,” he admitted.

“I did not because I was probably too comfortable.

“But, there is some blessing as a company to have gone through this. I think we have a better knowledge, we’ve created better relationships and better empowerment within the teams.”

The Accor supremo also voiced his support for travel agents during the session, arguing they were “essential” for the hospitality industry “to breathe and be sustained”.

“I want them to grow as much as they want me to grow,” he said.

“We need to not be depending only on Monsieur Booking, Monsieur Expedia, Monsieur Google, because if we are, we’re going to have some very bad days in front of us.”

Bazin said he pushes his staff at Accor to accept the terms of travel agents.

“It may be a bit more than somebody else’s, but they need to stay alive, because those guys are going to be the ones showing you a hand in the bad times.”

You can watch Bazin’s brilliant Travel DAZE session in full, on demand HERE.

And, there are still more speakers to come this week as part of Travel DAZE 2020. Check out when they will be featuring HERE.

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