Mr Bazin expresses confidence in Accor`s future business in South Korea.
Europe`s largest hotel group AccorHotels remains confident it has a bright future in South Korea making hotels "more than just a stay", even though it admits to encountering challenges in the competitive market.
During a recent event held to mark the 30th anniversary of alliance with Ambassador Hotel Group, its key Korean partner, the two hospitality chains did not deny that there are worrying concerns over the perceived drop in hotel occupancy rates.
However, they said the issue had been greatly exaggerated.
"It`s partially true there may be oversupply of hotels and perhaps the next few years will be difficult for us. But it all depends on global supply and demand," Ambassador chairman Jungho Suh said.
In his view, tourism and how a hotel services or makes connection with its guests, will play a major role in the balance of demand and supply.
According to Accor, Chinese tourists topped the number of foreign visitors with 5.9 million in 2015, almost half of the total number of tourists in Korea. Looking ahead, Mr Suh expected the number to continue increasing as South Korea and China are tightening their relationship.
Domestically, more Koreans have better quality of life and are able to afford to travel around. They too will boost tourism, he said.
Another reason behind the his belief that tourism will continue to grow, which will increase demand for hotel rooms, is budget airlines.
Accor chairman and chief executive Sebastien Bazin said cheaper travelling costs now counter-argues analysts` expectations of an excessive supply of hotel rooms in major cities, a prediction he has heard over his 20 years in the hospitality business.
Although the demand and supply in the tourism and hospitality industry are different from country to country, at the end of the day, "there will be more demand than supply", he said.
While the number of hotels worldwide only increase by 2.5% a year, the number of travellers -- now standing at more than 1 billion globally -- is expected to increase between 3 and 5%, he said.
Thai travellers, especially women, are another major group of visitors to Korea, attracted mainly by the country`s reputation for skincare products. Statistics compiled by Accor found that in 2015, among the Southeast Asian tourists visiting South Korea, Thais came only second to Filipinos.
Though Korean immigration officers have applied more stringent screening of Thai visitors, following the rapid increase of illegal Thai workers in the country over the past three years, Mr Suh said he did not think the glitch will affect the number of Thai clients for his hotels and other brands under the Accor umbrella. These include Novotel, Mercure and Ibis -- which are familiar among Thais.
Mr Suh believes the friendly relationship between South Korea and Thailand will continue to give Thai visitors a good feeling about travelling in the East Asian country.
However, a look at the occupancy rates is not enough proof of the good reputation of Ambassador and Accor in Korea. Sharing Mr Suh`s view, Accor believes they have to build a stronger connection with hotel guests. The group is confident that it is on track to make its hotels more than just places offering beds to clients.
Ambassador said it will continue to act as "ambassador" for the country, bringing Korean hospitality to the world, a commitment made since its establishment in 1955. Accor is walking in the same direction, by building an emotional connection with its guests as well as offering more services.
In particular, Mr Bazin urged hotel managers in Korea to express the true spirit of service.
"I`ve told them `please move from your desks. Don`t hide yourselves behind computers` Mr Bazin said. This will allow them to meet hotel guests and visitors even though this is a main duty of staff at the front desk.
"Ask them [customers] what they want, how they feel and share with them what you [managers] have."
Jerome Stubert, Accor`s cluster general manager supervising the newly opened Seoul Dragon City hotel complex, even managed to answer a visitor`s query with information he did not immediately have at hand.
The visitor wanted to know the length of a glass walkway that is part of the complex`s Sky Bridge linking its two high-rise buildings. Mr Stubert walked from one end of the walkway to the other in quick, long steps before he turned back and told the visitor the length was "between 15 and 16 metres".
A caring and quick response to customers` needs are at the heart of hospitality, said Accor.
It offers partygoers and diners a rooftop bar and restaurant on its 21st floor of Ibis Styles Ambassador Seoul hotel in the shopping area of Myeongdong, as well as caters to the need of children by providing a relaxing kids corner at Novotel Seoul Gangnam.
Accor is planning to extend these services to attract more customers by opening 32 more hotels in Korea by the end of 2021, a sharp increase from 23 hotels run by Accor-Ambassador joint venture in six major cities in the country.
Mr Bazin is aware of the huge investment Accor and its partner have to make in order to enjoy a bright future; winning the hearts of clients is key in their quest for success.
"The more you give good experience to them, the less they will remember the prices they have to pay", he said.
By Bangkok Post
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