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AccorHotels Sees Bright Future in Greece – Interview with VP Leisure Sales Jean-Claude Balanos

Jean-Claude Balanos, Vice President Leisure Sales, Global Sales Division.

Jean-Claude Balanos, Vice President Leisure Sales, Global Sales Division.

AccorHotels, a leading group in the hospitality industry that owns, operates and franchises more than 4,300 hotels, resorts and residences in 100 countries, plans to boost its business in Greece in the following years, according to the groups’ Vice President Leisure Sales, Jean-Claude Balanos.

The portfolio of AccorHotels includes 18 hotel brands that range from luxury and upscale to economy. Balanos has been working with AccorHotels for three decades in key posts such as heading the group’s popular ibis Styles brand. Besides being in charge of Leisure B2B Sales for the group, Balanos is also on the advisory board council of the European Tourism Association (ETOA).

GTP Headlines caught up with Balanos during his latest visit in Athens and had the chance to discuss the company’s plans for the Greek market, as well as a number of key trends taking center stage in the hospitality world such as short-term rentals and technology innovations.

GTP Headlines’ pick
“It is time to start and have more brands present in Greece…” – Jean-Claude Balanos

Novotel Athens by AccorHotels.

Novotel Athens by AccorHotels.

GTP: How does AccorHotels see its business developing in Greece?

Jean-Claude Balanos: AccorHotels already has three brands in Greece: Sofitel, Novotel and our latest addition in Greece ibis Styles, which we opened on Crete last year. We do have other plans for the following years in Greece, to open many more hotels. As you know we are a European leader and have been very weak in Greece for a long time. Now it is time to start and have more brands present in the country.

GTP: ibis Styles opened in summer 2017. What was the feedback from opening this brand, which is mainly targeted at millenials?

Jean-Claude Balanos: Its target group is millenials but not only. Crete is a fantastic island of course, especially in the summer, so the opening was very good. In fact ibis Styles is a very nice trendy brand in the economy level, so it worked very well.

ibis Styles Heraklion Central, Crete.

ibis Styles Heraklion Central, Crete.

GTP: We’ve been informed that there is a consideration for an ibis Style hotel in Athens and a Novotel in Piraeus. Is this true and do we have details?

Jean-Claude Balanos: Nothing is officially planned yet or signed. We do have many plans for Greece and we are trying to develop more hotels in Athens but not only.

Latest brand: “Jo&Joe” by AccorHotels

GTP: AccorHotels last year launched a youth hostel brand called “Jo&Joe”. What did Accor see in this market to launch a whole separate brand to target it?

Jean-Claude Balanos: Well this brand is a lifestyle brand created by millenials. We opened the first hotel in the western part of France. The next one, to open with 600 beds, will be in Paris at the end of 2018. We plan to open 50 Jo&Joes around the world, so it is a new brand that has been created by young people which is really the trend of the lifestyle of today. The idea is for the people who are going to live in that hostel to socialise much more with the locals.

GTP: Since you mentioned local, Accor has in fact launched a local initiative. Could we have some more details on this?

Jean-Claude Balanos: This is a fantastic initiative of our company. We launched it on our 50th anniversary last November, aiming to take advantage of the neighborhoods where we are present, as many locals are passing through the hotels but never entering. The idea is to host, for example, the neighborhood’s shoe keeper, who can come in our hotel and present his merchandise to our guests. Under this concept, our hotels can sell their services to local people instead of always selling to foreign guests.

GTP: Would you see this initiative coming to Greece?

Jean-Claude Balanos: Yes of course. With our Sofitel in Athens, it is a bit complex, as it is an airport hotel and it is not that easy. But with the Novotel in Athens and the Ibis Styles on Crete it has already started.

GTP Headlines’ pick
“The sharing economy is challenging because it makes you wake up and move and always be innovative…” – Jean-Claude Balanos

GTP: Regarding the sharing economy, does Accor see short-term rentals as a threat or do you think that there’s enough room for all in the market?

Jean-Claude Balanos: First of all, let me say that there is enough room for everyone in the market. As you may know, we also own an online home rental site Onefinestay. We have 10,000 private homes and apartments in the luxury segment, so I think it is a different need for every client. The sharing economy is challenging because, of course, it makes you wake up and move and always be innovative, but I think people have several needs, sometimes for hotels, sometimes for sharing economy and some times for family hospitality. But in the end, depending on the mood of everyone, we are here to offer all options.

GTP: Would this be something that would keep you up at night? Would this be one of your main concerns about the tourism industry?

Jean-Claude Balanos: I think it is foolish to think that we can stop it, so we have to deal with it by finding ways even to collaborate with it. So, for me, it is a good opportunity. On the other hand, of course, in terms of regulations and taxes, we are not playing in the same field. So this is where the different governments have to put some rules in terms of being in parity for the good growth of our industries.

GTP Headlines’ pick
“Greek hoteliers have to keep their “philoxenia” despite the technology.…” – Jean-Claude Balanos, referring to how important technology is in the hotel industry

GTP: In regards to technology in the hotel industry, how important is it? How much has technology actually changed the industry?

"Phil", the personal assistant, by AccorHotels.

“Phil”, the personal assistant, by AccorHotels.

Jean-Claude Balanos: Technology, of course, is very important and its evolution is quicker and quicker. If you want your sales to have a good performance, you need to embrace it totally and deal with it. There different ways of course. You have the basics, which are the websites, but you now have the mobile app. We have already put all the evolution on all this technology but for the client in fact. For example, we launched the “Online check-in /Fast check-out” in our hotels. Also, our customers can interact with our personal assistant that can assist them before, during and after their stay (Phil, the AccorHotels bot, by using Google Assistant), which was launched in late October 2017 in Google Home. Each time you start something, it is soon obsolete so we have to move fast to be on top of technology.

GTP: Many hoteliers read our website. So, what would be your advice for them in order for them to succeed in the digital era?

Jean-Claude Balanos: I advise them to use the best technology tools. But, I would insist for them all to be the best hoteliers in hospitality. Greek hoteliers have to keep their “philoxenia” despite the technology.

GTP: Where does your business stand in regards to direct bookings, in relation to the costs of customer acquisition?

Jean-Claude Balanos: We have a big loyalty program and it is mainly important because it’s how you keep the clients with you. The most important thing is not to make them come the first time, but to make them return. Thirty percent of our hotels’ performance is coming from loyal clients so it is quite impressive. They consume more, they pay more and they are the best repeaters, so it is very important for us.

The portfolio of AccorHotels includes internationally renowned luxury brands such as Raffles, Sofitel, Fairmont and onefinestay; mid-range boutique hotel brands such as 25hours, Novotel, Mercure, Mama Shelter and Adagio; and very popular budget brands such as JO&JOE, ibis, ibis Styles and ibis budget.
With a rich history spanning close to five decades, AccorHotels has a purposeful mission: to make every guest Feel Welcome. Guests also enjoy access to one of the world’s most rewarding hotel loyalty programs – Le Club AccorHotels.

About the Author
Nikos is Greek-American born in New York, USA, and has lived in Greece for over 30 years. He is the managing editor of Greece's leading monthly travel and tourism guide, the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) since June 2008 and of news site GTP Headlines since its launch in September 2012. Nikos has also served as international press officer for the City of Athens and for the mayor. He has a degree in Mass Media and Communications, specializing in Journalism. Nikos is a native English speaker and speaks Greek fluently.

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