Of four CEOs Accor picked to lead its luxury and lifestyle division
brands, Mark Willis, CEO of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, probably has
the hardest job – at least concerning brand identity.
Raffles Hotels & Resorts and Orient Express Hotels, under CEO Omer Acar, need no defining thanks to their classy pedigree.
Sofitel, under CEO Maud Bailly, who also leads Accor’s MGallery and
Emblems collections, boasts a certain “French-ness.” Ennismore, under
co-CEO Gaurav Bhushan, earns the lifestyle crown.
Fairmont is harder to place. Its “grand since 1907,” said Accor in a brand portfolio brochure.
It’s a little clearer when viewed by the brand ladder rung. At the
top are Raffles and Orient Express. Fairmont comes under them. Sofitel
is under Fairmont.
“It’s interesting to define, actually, where Fairmont is sitting,”
said Willis, when asked who he considers Fairmont’s competitors today.
“We’re due to communicate that out. So, without pre-empting that and
mentioning names, Fairmont sits in the luxury segment, not the
ultra-luxury where Raffles, Orient Express, Rosewood and Aman are, and
you know who those competing brands are.”
But where Fairmont sits does not define what Fairmont is. Since Accor
completed the acquisition of FRHI in 2016, more luxury hotel brands
have appeared, but not a lot was done to differentiate Fairmont. Accor
was astutely focusing on lifestyle, buying 25hours Hotels, 21c Museum
Hotels, sbe and Ennismore between 2016 and 2021.
Fairmont sits in the luxury segment, not the ultra-luxury where Raffles, Orient Express, Rosewood and Aman are, and you know who those competing brands are, Photo Credit: Mark Willis, CEO of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
Now the chain is making a serious investment on luxury and lifestyle
by having a dedicated CEO and team for each of its top-floor brands.
“We have our own brand team, our own commercial team and operational
support structure with our own COO, etc.,” Willis explained. And like
the three other CEOs, Willis runs Fairmont autonomously, like a chain
within a chain, but supported by a shared global platform for digital,
technology and procurement services.
“The new structure makes it easier for customers, owners and media to
understand what we’re doing and where we are going because we’re
communicating just Fairmont, as I am today with you,” Willis added. “I
have this specific remit to look after one global brand with 90 hotels,
rather than 32 brands with 450 hotels across India, Middle East, Africa
and Turkey [as CEO of the region previously]. This allows us to change
how we approach the business, how we approach our customers, and the way
that we’re going to develop the brand and move it forward. So, lots of
In progress is a repositioning of the brand, which will include areas
such as design to “take it to next level” and “attract next-generation
modern travelers while retaining its history.”
But a number of oldish Fairmont hotels has also clouded brand
clarity. Examples are the Fairmont Singapore or the Fairmont Chateau
Lake Louise in Canada.
When asked about capex, Willis admitted it’s a valid point. “I, too,
stayed at the Fairmont Lake Louise before I joined Accor. The property
and Fairmont Banff Springs must be two of the most photographed hotels,
along with Burj Al Arab [Dubai]. I was disappointed with the hotel at
the time; it was really in need of a renovation. They are halfway
through a full renovation, which includes a multi-million-dollar spa and
wellness facility overlooking the lake. If you return to the hotel, you
will be surprised.”
Willis said that the Fairmont Singapore is also going through an
uplift. “I’ve visited 76 of 90 operating Fairmont hotels globally since I
took the role – 56 days at home – and I can say probably around 15
hotels are due for renovations and, of that, 11 already have plans or
are being discussed.”
Five years ago, Fairmont had 75 hotels in operation. This has grown to 90 hotels, an addition of 15 hotels in five years.
Raffles fared better, doubling the number of operating hotels to 20 during the period albeit on a smaller base.
“Actually, it’s been very positive for Fairmont in the last five
years,” Willis said. “The outlook also looks positive with 30 hotels
opening globally in the next 36 months.”
He dismissed any notion that the new structure sets the stage for four brand-led CEOs to compete with one another.
“Previously, I sat on the board of Ennismore, responsible for the
lifestyle hotels, Sofitel, Fairmont, Raffles in my area. So, I know the
brands well and I’ve signed them all, opened those hotels and operated
them,” Willis said. “There’s no competition [among the brands]. To give
an example, I had looked at a wonderful project in Europe, 65 bedrooms,
and the owner had a real desire to do luxury. It’s a historical building
and with that size and in that city center location, it should be a
Raffles or an Orient Express, not a Fairmont. There are many other
examples where projects are handed over to the right colleagues.”
Willis’s goal is to be the top brand in the luxury segment. “And for
that, we need to make sure that we grow in fabulous triple A locations,
with the right partners.”
While there are some good openings coming up in Saudi Arabia, Europe,
China and Asia, Willis aims to plug Paris, Berlin, Jeddah, Miami and
Las Vegas, among key cities. “We’re a French organisation and it would
be wonderful for the brand to be present in Paris. We don’t have a brand
presence in Australia, which is a key feeder market with some great
cities to explore,” Willis said.
He’ll also take a firm swing at growing golf hotels. “We have close
to 20 golf hotels around the world and golf will be a big focus for us
as we go forward,” Willis said.
Source: Hotel Investment Today