Accor’s Chief Loyalty and Partnerships Officer, Mehdi Hemici

Since the launch of its ALL (Accor Live Limitless) in 2019, Accor has catapulted loyalty to another level, driving direct bookings on by between 3-5 points.

Accor’s Chief Loyalty and Partnerships Officer, Mehdi Hemici, spoke exclusively to HM about the leading loyalty platform, the evolving rewards landscape, and the power of data in creating uniquely personal experiences.

How has the hotel loyalty landscape changed in the last five years, from your perspective?

Loyalty has evolved from being largely transactional to being fully encompassing, emotional, and recognition based. In the hospitality industry, we were largely duplicating the airline industry’s points rewards system, but we decided to capitalise on our own strengths. We have a unique view of the customer when they come into our hotel, we have access to first party data, and we can use that to create exceptional and memorable moments that are connected to loyalty.

Customers are saying three things. They’re saying to us, ‘Make my life simple’, ‘Make my life special’, and ‘Look after me’. The [latter] was particularly true during COVID when we had to have specific hygiene measures, but also the introduction of new insurance schemes to ensure that we have our most loyal customers’ backs as they travel.

Accor signed a global partnership agreement with AXA through which we have introduced different insurance schemes for members, but also have medical teleconsultation services available in 70% of our global network free of charge for members. That’s something that we introduced five months ago, and it is being rolled out progressively and will soon be in the Pacific region.

‘Make my life simple’ is about making loyalty a bit more readable by cutting through the complexity of points and making it simple to utilise. That’s largely been digitally enabled. While ‘Make my life special’ is about going from the transactional to the emotional.

I think on these three fronts, loyalty in the hospitality space has taken a life form of its own. We’ve now got a very different offering to the airline loyalty programs – we are creating new experiences within the hotel and outside of the hotel.

How are you using this information to create personalised experiences at Accor?

One thing the OTAs will never be able to know is how consumers are behaving within a hotel – what they like and don’t like. Through guest knowledge sitting at a property level, we’re able to deliver the best service to our customer that is unique. And we’re deliberately asking for their consent in order to do that. Customers want to be exposed only to the things that they would like to receive. They want to be in control. Our members are giving us that right to communicate with them quite freely because they’re seeing the value. That consent is provided globally and escalates to a global databank which enables us to cater for guests’ global needs as they travel.

It takes time to earn points to enjoy the best experiences. How does Accor’s loyalty program appeal to new customers from the outset?

One thing that is very important, and specifically in this market, is to be able to reward our new members and have an element of rational value that would entice them to stay more before earning the right level of points to be able to enjoy experiences. That is why a couple of months ago we introduced a Members’ Rate which is a commitment to provide our members the most attractive and competitive rates versus alternative channels. As a member you can book with confidence and get a further 5% discount on your booking compared to a non-member. We guarantee that this is the best price that they’ll find, otherwise we’ll reimburse them 25% of the price that they were able to find through an alternative channel. It’s a very strong commitment to make and that is available from the first level – on signing up, you’re able to access that. From there, the more you spend, the more you earn. We have five different tiers, where you are able to earn up to 75% more points versus a classic tier if you’re a platinum member or above.

Have you seen an increase in direct bookings as a result of that?

Yes, fortunately, vs. 2019 is up a minimum of three points. Our direct channels have grown three to five points since we launched. People are booking more on than they used to on our previous e-commerce platform. We’re showcasing our brands in a better way, and we’re establishing a better rapport with our customers who are choosing to download the app and book on our website.

How important is the loyalty offering in attracting new customers to Accor in a competitive accommodation landscape?

At the heart, you need to have the best brands in the industry, and I sincerely believe that Accor, today, through, our e commerce booking platform, and Accor Live Limitless, our loyalty platform, provide the very best hotel brands in the industry. Beyond that is the personalisation aspect from digital, which is really important, and we’re making great inroads in making sure that we talk to our customers in a very personalised manner, providing opportunities to attend events, or be exposed to specific services, new benefits, or new openings. The last one is the emotional aspect that we’ve developed. I think in Australia today if you look at our competitors, we’ve grown our experiential portfolio in sports, and entertainment in ways that none of our hospitality partners have and that a fact. Accor Stadium, Qudos Bank Arena, NRL, AFL … we provide access to our members and we’re delivering on that promise. Loyalty is not a destination, it’s a journey.

A big part of Accor’s strong loyalty offering is great global partnerships. How are these selected?

We look at the customer journey, and we look at the data. From a customer journey perspective, we’ve mapped out from home to hotel how our members can engage with ALL every day – in their hometown, on the move as they’re transitioning to our hotels, and when they are in destination. That’s why we’ve introduced credit cards for everyday spend. We introduced credit cards for the first time in Indonesia and France, and we’re going to be launching in Germany and in the UAE.

Accor Stadium Australia naming
Accor has secured the naming rights to Stadium Australia

There are also everyday experiences, for example, using points to access a masterclass with a chef, a trip to the theatre or cinema. We’ve introduced a new platform, ALL Activities & Events, where you can earn and burn points with in 70 cities, 25 experiences that are constantly refreshed through the app.

When ALL started, airlines were fundamental because we needed to acquire new members looking for hotel experiences and working on that symbiotic relationship enabled us to do that. But I also had a belief that we could be the best airline program within the hospitality environment. In 2019, we signed an agreement with Air France KLM which has a cost rewards double dip. We duplicated that with Qantas recently, we now have a new partnership with Qatar Airways, and we’re working already in the Americas on a similar relationship, so we have a designated strategic partner airline per continent that will enable our members to accelerate their points and their miles earned that is second to none.

When you have a symbiotic partnership, you look after each other’s businesses. With Qantas, we have an operator agreement where we operate their airport lounges, it’s completely white labelled, so these relationships go far beyond loyalty, they go throughout the organisations at the very highest levels.

Outside of car rental, we’ve launched a mobility solution integrated into our app that currently covers Europe only. Across 490 cities you can ride, hail and book a taxi earning points or using your points. Next in line, in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, we’re going to be introducing a one-stop-shop mobility solution from when you leave the airport or go to the hotel, where that last mile is covered, and you’re rewarded if you’ve booked through the app. Having that whole ‘On the move’ quadrant, facilitated by preferred partners that reward you along the way, is a fundamental element of our loyalty proposition. And it’s developed dramatically across the last couple of years.

For Accor, entertainment and sport is a major focus in the loyalty offering. Can you explain a bit about the significance of those partnerships?

When I arrived, we started signing agreements with AEG which has the Qudos Bank Arena, the O2 in London, the Staples Center in LA – it’s a major venue operator where we have ticket access rights and hospitality areas for our best members. We looked at where we had the highest concentration of members to satisfy and we picked the best venues to satisfy our customers

Just before we launched ALL we asked our customers what could we do better? And universally they said they are looking for experiences in sports, entertainment and food.

Soccer, dare I say, is the most popular sport in the world. And being a French company, Paris Saint-Germain – one of the leading teams in the world – was a very natural fit for us. It was great exposure for us, and that relationship continues today. When we signed Accor Stadium here it was also a fantastic opportunity to provide access to the best stadium concerts in Australia as well to fantastic sports opportunities. We also signed an agreement with IMG, which has the Taste food festivals in France, London and San Paolo, and we’re looking at new operators and partners where we can dial up our food experiences as well.

What’s the feedback from members about these exclusive experiences?

It’s fantastic. Customers that have experienced ALL come back to our hotels 2.5 times more than other members who haven’t had these experiences – the more engaged they are on these non-hotel reward elements, the more they’re likely to come back to our hotels in order to gather points and experience. What we call augmented hospitality – everything that we build outside of the hotels – fuels growth in our core business, so it’s incredibly powerful.