• Ibis gets social

Europe’s biggest hotel brand, Accor-owned Ibis, is to be revamped to focus on being “genuine living spaces” that offer social interaction.

Mobile check-in, music and flexible design are some of the key features of the new look which will have been installed, at least in part, across the whole network by 2022.

Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin, speaking at the Paris launch last week, said Ibis was almost half of Accor and Ibis red (the hard brand distinct from conversion offer Ibis Styles and former Formule 1 label Ibis Budget) is almost half of this.

At the year-end there were 1,174 Ibis (red) hotels with 150,748 rooms in total (Styles numbers more than 430 hotels with around 45,000 rooms and Budget has more than 600 hotels with more than 60,000 rooms).

Bazin said he tried to stop having the same design deployed across the globe, name checking his global major rivals in the form of Marriott, Hilton and IHG. He claimed that Ibis was ahead of Hilton in spontaneous awareness outside of the US.

“We want customers to recognise it is Ibis but know they will be feeling something different,” said Bazin of the objective of the repositioning.

A key aspect of the brand transformation is to offer a “life hub” where the hotels are not just about sleeping, but centres to dine, meet people or enjoy live music. It was described as a “venue” concept.

In 2017, Accor launched its AccorLocal programme in France. The idea is to give non-guests access to services only previously available to guests such as the gym, plus new services such as yoga classes, cookery workshops and birthday events, all of which will be developed in conjunction with local partners.

The mobile check-in, first trialled in 60 hotels in the UK, is a proprietary solution (PSM FOLS Mobile) will be in all of the network by 2022.

There are three new design concepts on offer; from Europe, Latin America and Asia. “From a uniform and standardized approach into a flexible and personalised one”, said the press release. A key development is rooms that can sleep up to six people.

An in-house dining concept called Charlie’s Corner has also been developed but high street restaurant brands will continue to be a feature at ibis properties where appropriate. The “disruptive” f&b concepts from Accor’s new lifestyle brands are more likely to feature in Novotel and Mercure than ibis just yet.

Steven Taylor, chief brand officer at Accor, said that the aim was to position Ibis hotels as “vibrant lighthouses”. Music is to play a critical role in this push through team-ups with Spotify and Sony Music.

There will be more than 100 live performances this year in Ibis properties with Ibis championing the best of them and taking them to the Budapest music festival Sziget this summer.

Taylor said social media will play a “critical” part in amplifying the brand. A new campaign has just been launched created by the agency MRM which features profiles of ibis staff (ibis Smile Team). This will run in France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

It was important that the hotel engages the local community, added Taylor, and ibis is to develop this social interaction in a way that has been initiated in Accor’s lifestyle hotel brands.

HA Perspective [by Andrew Sangster]: Ibis is not suddenly turning into a lifestyle brand. When pushed, Taylor admitted that the “bed factory” status of ibis remained important and would still be on offer to those owners that wanted a straightforward product.

But the fact that the largest hotel brand in Europe, a “hard” economy offer, is preparing to embrace the experience economy so emphatically demonstrates just how much is changing and just how quickly.

The days of offering a range of brands separated on the basis of which price segment they fit have disappeared.

The challenge for ibis is going to be balancing this new, experience economy offer, with its reputation for being a cost-effective machine for retailing sleep. Owners and investors like its bed-factory approach because of the great margins they can extract from the operations.

The new frills have to be as reassuringly inexpensive to operate as the ibis rooms themselves. Doing this and making the frills meaningful is going to be the challenge.

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