Accor UK hotels get free Wi-Fi [victory for the traveller!]

accor-sa-logoJust the kind of news I like to see hitting my inbox, after all, you know how much I hate paying for Wi-Fi in hotels.  Accor, the name behind brands such as Ibis, Mercure and Novotel, have announced that they are to offer free Wi-Fi across 194 properties in the UK.

Accor will be officially rolling out free Wi-Fi in all Ibis budget, Ibis, Ibis Styles, Novotel, Mercure, Pullman and MGallery hotels in the UK, most importantly incorporating all bedrooms and public areas.  When I saw the announcement I did wonder if it would include bedrooms (as so many chains have led with similar PR exercises, but only provided coverage in reception) so this is good to see.

The service will provide visitors at Accor hotels, including 59 Ibis hotels, 76 Mercure hotels and 31 Novotel branded hotels, with access to free, high quality Wi-Fi throughout their stay, with many hotels offering the fibre optic Wi-Fi to guarantee the best possible service.  Guests will be able to access free Wi-Fi in bedrooms, meeting rooms and all public areas of the hotel.

Accor go on to say that this initiative is in-line with their wider commitment to emphasising guest satisfaction for both business and leisure customers and follows industry research from the BDRC highlighting the significance of free Wi-Fi for hotel guests (they could have just asked me).  Recent figures revealed that free Wi-Fi throughout hotels is the most important factor for business travellers when choosing where to stay. Demand for high quality, free Wi-Fi has been boosted in recent years by the increased use of connected devices such as tablets.

Thomas Dubaere, Managing Director of Accor UK & Ireland explains, “Free Wi-Fi has become the norm at many coffee houses or bars but in the past with hotel groups it can vary from property to property, and differ between the public areas to bedrooms. We recognise that guests expect to have free Wi-Fi wherever they are in the hotel and for it to be a quick, high quality connection.

This is why we invested across all our brands in the UK in super, fibre-optic Wi-Fi so that guests can use smartphones, tablets, laptops – whatever technology device – at ease, anywhere in the hotel and for no charge.”

Now the small print (but in line with what you’d expect) – the hotels will offer free Wi-Fi to 512k, which allows guest to browse the Internet and check emails at an efficient speed.  Premium high speed Wi-Fi is available to buy in many properties using fibre optic Internet, ideal for data streaming.

Will the other global chains now follow suit?

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New IHG brand EVEN Hotels announces first property signing

More news from hotel giants InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) this week (my, haven’t they been busy?) as they announce the signing of the first EVEN Hotels property which will be located in New York City.  The IHG managed hotel will be located at 219 E 44th Street in the heart of midtown Manhattan, and will be a flagship property for the new brand. A new build hotel, scheduled for opening in late 2014, will feature 230 bedrooms across 23 floors, dedicated meeting areas, and indoor and outdoor exercise and eating spaces all spread over 87,000 square feet.   

“This is another important first for IHG. By developing our portfolio of preferred brands in line with emerging consumer preferences, we are meeting the needs of a new type of guest who’s looking for hotels with an intrinsic focus on wellness in terms of food, work, exercise and rest,” said Richard Solomons, chief executive officer, IHG. “New York City is an ideal location, being one of the most health-minded cities in the U.S. – so it will provide the EVEN Hotels brand with the right exposure to its target guest, the healthier-minded traveller.”

The EVEN Hotels brand comprises four priority areas: eat, work, exercise and rest – sound familiar New York?  You can see why New York was picked as a great first city for this concept.  IHG clearly have this in mind and have pointed out that New York City was ranked one of the top 50 healthiest cities in the U.S. in 2012, with more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the five boroughs providing multiple opportunities for exercise.  New York City has also led the charge on changes aimed at a healthier city experience including: banning the sale of sugary drinks over 16 oz., posting all calorie counts on menus and menu boards and banning the use of artificial trans-fats in foods.

“New York City is a key part of EVEN Hotels’ distribution strategy and provides strong market exposure to healthier minded people both living and travelling to New York City, looking for a holistic wellness hotel experience,” said Kirk Kinsell, president, the Americas, IHG.  “We are excited about the start of this new owner relationship with CWC Inc. as it brings together IHG’s branding and management expertise with CWC Inc.’s strong presence in the New York City real estate market.”

IHG are claiming “another industry first for this kind of hotel and say they are meeting a large and growing customer demand for a healthier travel experience.  EVEN Hotels uniquely provides solutions for all aspects of travellers wellness needs in the areas of food, work, exercise and rest – all under one roof.  Joining IHG’s existing seven hotel brands, EVEN Hotels will be a key pillar in IHG’s portfolio of preferred brands and in the long term, a key driver in market share growth in the U.S.

IHG expects to sign 100 EVEN Hotels in the U.S. in the next 5 years under managed and franchised agreements in key markets including New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco.  

Whitbread delivers double digit growth

Whitbread PLC, the power behind budget hotel brand Premier Inn have today announced their results for the six months ended 30th August 2012.  , delivering very positive news about the company’s continued success.

Financial Highlights

  • Total revenue up 14.2% to £1,018.1 million (2011/12: £891.3 million)
  • Costa underlying profit up 29.9% to £36.1 million (2011/12: £27.8 million)
  • Group like for like sales up 4.3%
  • Underlying profit before tax up 10.6% to £193.4 million (2011/12: £174.9 million)
  • Group return on capital increased to 13.7% (2011/12: 12.4%)
  • Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants underlying profit ip 8.5% to £181.3 million (2011/12: £167.1 million)
  • Premier Inn UK grew total sales by 12.9% with significant outperformance against its competitive set. Like for like sales up 3.7%.

Premier Inn opened 1591 net UK rooms taking total to 49,020 with secured pipeline of over 11,000 rooms.

Commenting on the results, Anthony Habgood, Chairman, said: “Whitbread is continuing on its rapid profitable organic growth path in difficult economic conditions. This is due to our unrelenting customer focus and the use of our strong balance sheet to invest in building powerful brands, developing our people and renewing our estate.”

While Chief Executive Andy Harrison continued: “Whitbread delivered a strong first half performance with total sales growth of 14.2% and underlying earnings per share growth of 13.1%, driven by our outperformance in a broadly flat market.  The combination of our strong sales growth and good returns drove an 11% increase in cash flow from operations to £285.3 million. This created the financial capacity to continue investing in our brands and the quality and breadth of our estate, finance our organic growth and the 11.4% increase in the interim dividend.  Premier Inn delivered a 2.4% growth in revpar during the first half, compared to a decline of 3.6% in the Midscale and Economy sector. As expected, the London hotel market is settling post the Olympics and we wait for a clearer trend to emerge. The regional hotel market has continued its revpar decline. More generally, our consumer market context continues to be broadly flat. Against this background we expect to continue to outperform our competitors and like for like sales growth to be more moderate than the high levels achieved in the first half.  We expect continuing rapid growth in total sales on track towards our five year milestones. Premier Inn is benefitting from a structural shift in the UK towards strong branded hotels. Costa’s growth is supported by its leading UK position in a robust category, together with exciting international opportunities. This growth in total sales, coupled with our clear focus on good financial returns, is creating substantial value.”

So here’s the question to Hotel Insight followers – what do you think the reasons are for Premier Inn’s continued strong growth and success in the UK?  The right brand product at the right price? Quality? Strong marketing?  You tell me – please leave your comments below.

Landmark Reached: Accor announce new Ibis hotel to take Asia-Pacific rooms to over 100,000

I wouldn’t usually choose to write a post about an Ibis hotel launching in Hong Kong…. but this one deserved a special mention as its opening marked Accor’s recent news that they now have more than 100,000 rooms in Asia-Pacific with the opening of this hotel.  That’s a lot of rooms and clearly shows Accor is placing a huge emphasis on driving it’s brand into a more dominant position outside Europe.  The Ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan is the brand’s flagship property in Asia introduces a vibrant, modern new direction for ibis intended to appeal to the growing number of independent leisure travellers in the region.

“We are delighted to witness the opening of this ibis property in Hong Kong, one of our strategic markets in Greater China,” comments Mr. Paul Richardson, Chief Operating Officer of Accor Greater China. “Ideally located in central Hong Kong, Ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan represents the brand’s new flagship property for Greater China. The opening of the hotel strengthens Accor’s presence in this market and will help us further promote the ibis brand throughout the region.”

The opening of the hotel is of significant importance to the ibis brand’s parent company, Accor, which now operates more than 100,000 rooms in the Asia-Pacific region.

“I am proud to announce that Accor’s network has grown beyond 100,000 rooms in Asia-Pacific, with the opening of ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan,” said Mr. Michael Issenberg, Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Accor Asia-Pacific. “It is only fitting that we celebrate this milestone at this stylish hotel, which represents a new flagship for the ibis brand in the region and emphasizes our commitment to offering our customers an exceptional economy hotel product.”

The 550-room property is one of the first in Asia to showcase the brand’s new identity, currently being rolled out across the world and offers quality accommodation and the peace of mind of staying with an international chain.

Bright, fresh design is complemented by a young and energetic team that will deliver all the essential services of a modern hotel, around the clock. The hotel offers a full eight hours of breakfast service beginning at 4.00 a.m., with drinks and snacks served at the 24-hour bar. Complimentary Wi-Fi Internet is available throughout the hotel.  In addition, a 15-minute satisfaction promise is given to all customers for requests they make through the front desk.

Ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan features three room types; Studio, City View, and – offering spectacular views of Hong Kong’s famous harbour – the high-level Harbour View rooms. Light wood timber floors, 3-metre high ceilings and large bay view windows give the rooms a spacious, modern and inviting feel. Free Wi-Fi, 32-inch LCD televisions, hot drink stations and on-demand wake-up calls complete in-room facilities.

A bright, open-plan décor invites guests to explore the hotel, including the airy lobby and the bar and dining areas that lie beyond. Vibrant burnt orange, splashes of red, crisp white and caramels create bright, contemporary interiors.  Two dining options cater for guests day and night. Le Bar, which neighbours the lobby and reception on the fifth floor, offers snacks and drinks, and has a full bar that never closes.  Attention is on catering to the often-unpredictable schedules of independent travellers.  The Early Riser menu served at Le Bar from 4.00 a.m offers pastries and other continental options, hot drinks and juices and is conveniently available until 6.30 a.m.

Taste is an open, breezy restaurant on the sixth floor, offering flavours typical of Hong Kong. Up to 20 local authentic dishes are offered, and include staples such as dim sum, baked rice dishes and noodles alongside Western favourites.  An expansive all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast is also offered.

Travellers keen on exploring their destination will discover Hong Kong’s unique heritage right on their doorstep. The hotel is ideally situated in Sheung Wan, where heritage blends with bustling new enterprise. Streets filled with dry seafood stalls sit next to hip coffee shops. Historic sites include Man Mo Temple; Possession Point, where British fleets first landed in Hong Kong; as well as the neighbourhood’s elegant cafes and bars on nearby Hollywood Road. The restaurants and lively nightlife of Central’s Soho district is also a short walk away.

“We are thrilled to satisfy the expectations of today’s independent leisure traveller with our friendly and high-quality offering,” commented Warren Tam, General Manager, Ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan. “We have the strengths of an international brand coupled with a very affordable price point.”

The unique brand of Tune Hotels can capture a whole new budget segment

Over the past twelve months I’ve been watching with interest how budget hotel chain Tune Hotels have been expanding.  Originally when I learnt about this brand I wondered how it would fit into such a competitive budget hotel environment in the UK.  Launched as a Malaysian brand, I saw the ethos of the brand developed very strongly in its homeland, but did wonder what the reaction would be when properties started popping up here.

Back in March I sampled the brand for the first time, completely out of interest, and was incredible impressed with what I found.  Six months on, Tune Hotels have opened more UK properties and their reputation and brand is really spreading.  So last week I decided to re-visit the chain and went to stay at their newest London offering in the heart of Paddington.

I found this a very welcoming property with extremely knowledgable and efficient staff (something I’ve not experienced at similar grades of hotel or ‘budget’ brands) and I was given a very genuine  and warm welcome.  Booked into a  had a standard double room, I decided to check out the public areas, which to be honest, didn’t take long.  For those who’ve not discovered this brand yet, the idea behind Tune Hotels is to offer a no frills services, so as you can imagine public areas are fairly small and without extensive facilities.  However, this property  had a snack bar located in the lobby, along with a comfortable seating area and public computers for guests to use.  Being a new opening, everything was very clean, tidy and well maintained.

The room itself is where I think Tune Hotels have captured the market perfectly.  For a budget hotel, the rooms are actually very generous in size and finished to a high standard.  They have concentrated on the key elements that make up a good quality hotel bedroom.  A very comfy bed with fresh crisp linen, good shower, contemporary decoration and finish along with high quality television and Wi-Fi (at a supplement).  If you get these basics right, customers will like your offering.  For the average rate, the rooms at this property are fantastic value.

I’m also very impressed with the hotels TripAdvisor ranking.  Given it’s not been open a year yet, they have steadily climbed up the city ranking to number 99 from over 1000 listed hotels.  This is very impressive and the reviews really summarise what I found – great service, great quality at a great price.  If you do take a look, you’ll also see that the hotel are very responsive on Twitter, thanking guests for comments and responding professionally to any negative comments.  I’m sure the high quality of service is a huge factor in why this brand is becoming so popular so quickly.  Just because your hotel chain operates in a budget and no frills environment, it doesn’t mean to say service levels should not be taken seriously.  If anything, this is the one area you have the chance to add extra value to your guests stay.

A lesser known brand message behind Tune Hotels really goes hand in hand with what you see at each property.  The General Manager of the Paddington hotel I visited explained to me that the hotels aim to run as environmentally friendly as possible.  Of course, as with many modern hotels, initiatives such as  solar panels generating power to heat  water, help to achieve this.  But a key reason Tune Hotels offer this no frills service is to reduce waste – they don’t generate rubbish from left over food and half used toiletries left behind in bathrooms.  It’s optional to have towels, shampoo and the like where guests are asked to pay a supplement, meaning less waste and in my view, giving the consumer the choice in exactly how they want to stay.  This doesn’t restrict a guests choices – it adds a level of flexibility in their hotel booking.

So going back to the title of this post, why do I claim that Tune have captured a new budget market?  Well, maybe I’m a bit early in this claim, as the public need to have the time to experience and understand the brand, but here’s my thinking.  When you look at pricing and room options, I would say that Tune Hotels is directly comparable to chains like easyHotel and some small guesthouse accommodation you find in large cities.  Except, this is not what you experience at Tune Hotels.  With Tune Hotels, you get choice, quality and value for money.  When I book one of their hotels, I know what to expect.  I know that I am actually going to want to spend time in my room, not want to get checked out as soon as possible and regret the day I was too budget conscious.  This is where Tune Hotels have found an untapped part of the market.  Their service and room quality coupled with incredibly competitive prices means they are in a great positive to expand and dominate the budget sector.

Hilton reveals ever growing Middle East market

Some interesting statistics coming out of Hilton Worldwide, describing the patterns they see for inbound tourism from the Middle East.  This market has always been important for London hoteliers (Hilton included) but new figures show the Middle East is one of the fastest growing markets for the UK travel industry.  I will leave you in wonder with the numbers:

  • London Hilton on Park Lane has increased its visitors from the top five Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries by 21.34% (2011 vs. 2010). UAE is the top producing market with a 33% increase year on year (YOY), followed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which has seen a growth increase of 104% YOY.
  • One in four guests welcomed at London Hilton on Park Lane is from the Middle East (17% of the total occupancy in 2011) and a third of those guests are from the UAE.
  • Recent VisitBritain research has found that visitor numbers from the UAE increased by 11% in 2011 (vs 2010). According to London and Partners, from Q1 to Q3 2011 total spend was £259 million (Saudi Arabia and UAE) with an average spend of £1770 per person, compared with £600 average for other overseas visitors.

Hilton go on the explain the reasons why London is gaining in popularity with Middle East travellers:

Shopping – There is a passion amongst visitors from the GCC to shop while on holiday in London. This was made clear from research undertaken by VisitBritain during 2010 – in particular there was an appetite for dedicated shopping holidays that gave access to brands and products that are not readily available at home, such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Marks & Spencer.

Welcoming and ‘safe’ environment – London is perceived to be a safe and welcoming destination by ME travellers compared to other European countries. This is also helped by a simple visa process and no significant language barriers. There is a perception that London is cosmopolitan, diverse and open to all cultures resulting in Middle Eastern travellers feeling comfortable and respected.

Historic family ties – Often Middle Eastern visitors have spent time at a British University earlier in life and feel welcomed and at home in the UK.  Families will frequently stay while visiting someone who is attending a British University.

Climate – Middle Eastern guests often plan their visit to escape from incredibly hot summer temperatures in the GCC, enjoying London’s much cooler climate.

Socialising & Entourage – Sheiks from Middle East regions commonly own residences in London and often their entourage will stay in nearby hotels.  London’s wide range of restaurants and coffee shops offer a varied nightlife and social scene for visiting guests.

Medical Tourism – As Europe’s leading medical tourism ‘hub’, London has around 20 private hospitals and NHS hospitals with private patient units. The square mile of London around Harley Street alone is the base for over 1,000 leading specialists in all areas of medicine.  Guests are known to visit London specifically for medical reasons, as well as building this into a wider schedule, often recuperating in hotels following medical procedures.

Middle East travel habits for the UK hospitality sector to take into consideration:

No one segment from the ME/GCC market is the same and the market is defined by different socio-economic backgrounds. In spite of this,there are general patterns associated with geographic origin, for example there is a high population of Saudi Arabian guests on southern Park Lane, while Kuwaiti guests tend to prefer Edgware Road locations.

There is an increasing trend for travellers to use their time in London for a full range of activity, not solely leisure.  Middle East guests are increasingly organised with the time they spend in London, with children being sent to summer schools in Regent’s Park, business meetings, property viewing, shopping, medical visits – as well as entertainment. Families are know to also use managers to organise their time while in London, with our hotel management working directly to assist.

Of course, it’s all very well researching this kind of data but the key for a hotelier is to respond to the facts.  This is something the London Hilton on Park Lane is doing very well be implementing some simple changes such as providing dedicated Guest Relations teams with Arabic speakers, adding Arabic TV channels and newspapers and even 24 hour room services from an Arabic menu.

It’s understanding your market that will drive your occupancy and create loyal and satisfied guests.  Every guest, regardless of nationality, wants to feel at home and welcome, so if your addressable market points clearly to one direction, respond to the need.  Right on the doorstep Hilton are competing with so many hotel chains, even specialists in Middle East tourism such s Jumeirah, so taking the time to understand their customers and implementing chance is a game winner for such a hotel as this.

Thanks to London Hilton on Park Lane for sharing the research with Hotel Insight.

Accor gives the UK it’s 2nd MGallery branded hotel with the launch of The Francis Hotel Bath

Accor have certainly been busy this year, and have now announced the launch of their second UK hotel in the MGallery collection, the Francis Hotel located in Bath, which is  the first member of the MGallery collection outside London.  It follows an intensive £6 million refurbishment by the hotel partner transforming what was previously the Mercure Bath Francis Hotel to its former glory.

MGallery is the high-end hotel collection brand of the Accor group.  Each hotel of the Collection stages with talent a unique personality and story, experienced by guests through its architecture, interior design and services.  Hotels are inspired by ”Heritage” origins, with places filled with history, by a “Signature”, a personality who contributed to their decoration or stylish aesthetic universe, and by “Serenity”, the promise of a relaxing moment in a natural or urban retreat.  Launched in September 2008, the MGallery collection has rapidly expanded to cover five continents with 50 hotels and will grow to over 100 locations by late 2015.

The Grade 1 listed property, well-located in Queens square, Bath, boasts 98 hotel rooms including individually-styled executive and feature bedrooms, a lounge and bar, front parlour and breakfast room and on-site parking.  The interiors have been designed by architectural and design firm Househam Henderson.  Brasserie Blanc (the latest addition to Raymond Blanc’s successful group of brasseries), will adjoin the hotel and welcome both guests and the general public.

Jonathan Sheard, Managing Director Operations for MGallery and Mercure hotels commented, “The opening of our second MGallery hotel in just six months is further evidence of Accor hotel’s commitment to growing the MGallery collection in the UK.  The MGallery collection stands for quality and distinction, and this hotel has both as well as being located in the centre of historic Bath.  Guests who stay at the Francis Hotel will experience the truly special personality of this totally transformed hotel.”

Accor hotels launched the upscale MGallery Collection in the UK in October 2011 with the opening of the St. Ermin’s Hotel at St. James, London.  The MGallery Collection started in 2008 and today encompasses around 50 hotels in 18 countries.

Has anyone stayed at an MGallery property yet?  If so, please leave comments and share your experiences – did you like the brand? A good concept?