Accor has bought a 35% stake in edgy French hotel brand Mama Shelter, in a bid to grow its brand portfolio.
The investment will allow Mama Shelter to increase its pace of growth. It also promises to give the new brand access to the Accor group’s distribution system, just as it starts to expand internationally.
Mama Shelter was established less than six years ago in France. Today the brand has properties open in Paris, Marseilles, Lyon, Istanbul and Bordeaux, a portfolio totalling 633 rooms. The concept was created by the Trigano family, who helped build the Club Med concept, with support from Michel Reybier and design collaboration from Philippe Starck. The company combines accommodation with a strong food and beverage offering, which delivers 65% of revenues.
Interiors at Mama Shelter are busy and colourful, drawing on the existing interior of the converted buildings used. In Marseilles, the reception was once a butcher’s shop.
The bedrooms are small yet funky. While the accommodation offering is at an economy price – from EUR79 a night in Paris – reviewers note that the extras, such as the restaurant offerings, are less keenly priced.
Without Accor’s help, the brand was already heading international, with a first overseas opening scheduled for Los Angeles next February. The team is already eyeing up Lille, a second Paris property, with Zurich, Mexico, Seoul, Amsterdam, Barcelona, New York and London on the expansion list.
“This agreement is the outcome of a beautiful encounter and a shared desire to learn from our respective talents,” said Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin. “I am very happy to be embarking on this new adventure. Thanks to this partnership, Accor is enriched by the original know-how that has made Mama Shelter such a splendid success.” In a press interview, Bazin has revealed he has stayed at the hotels as a guest over the last few years, adding: “I was absolutely convinced the brand has some initiative about it.”
Bazin also noted that “the population going to Mama Shelter is coming from many different origins both in terms of culture and wealth because it’s affordable and it’s fun.” He also added that most appeared to be younger than 45.
The deal will give Mama Shelter the support of Accor’s development and distribution network, with the likelihood that openings will accelerate. But Bazin has said the decision to only take a one third interest is based on preventing Mama Shelter’s innovative ideas from being watered down. “The minute we’re integrating too much into their system, we may defeat those fresh eyes that they have, which is part of their success.”
“We are pleased and proud to welcome Accor alongside us,” said Mama Shelter general manager Jeremie Trigano. “Their presence will allow Mama to benefit from a major international platform and to share our philosophy with an even greater tribe.”
HA Perspective [by Chris Bown]: While several of the US based hotel groups have been busy launching a plethora of new brands, Accor has been quiet until now. It has, however, spent considerable resources in the last couple of years tidying up and rebranding its economy offerings into a tripartite Ibis family.
The move to buy into Mama Shelter looks to have been inspired by Bazin’s own mystery shopping. Buying something new that is working is a sensible way to add new brands to the portfolio, without the hassle and expense of developing and focus testing new concepts.
While growing the chain, the challenge will be keeping the corporate hands off, so that Mama Shelter keeps its edgy feel: as others have noted in the hostel space, the target audience is almost anti-brand and if forced to book through an Accor branded site, will probably be off elsewhere before too long.
Developed with wilful design, and no corporate hotel executive in sight, Mama Shelter seems to be delivering what Millennials want, without mentioning the word. Small, basic but comfortable bedrooms are balanced with edgy, exciting bars and restaurants downstairs. Squint at a picture of the ground floor areas at Marriott’s new Moxy, and there are similarities.
Where things are different is in the confident food and beverage offer, which provides the majority of the revenue. As several reviewers comment, it is easy to match the cost of the room with a bill run up eating and drinking. But the basic accommodation cost is kept low, so that guests have more to spend on enjoying themselves. In the experiential age, isn’t that what the target audience want?
The question remains as to how well Mama Shelter’s preoccupation with a great food and beverage offering will travel. France has proudly protected its culture of fine dining, resisting the onslaught of fast food outlets across the country. But if Mama Shelter has discovered the secret formula of making its bar and restaurant hip places to hang out, whatever the location, then it could be on to a winner.