The new members of the Lifestyle portfolio – which include Delano, Mondrian, SLS and Gleneagles – and Accor’s original lifestyle brand SO/, now come together under one business entity, Ennismore, led by Bhushan and Ennismore founder Sharan Pasricha as co-CEOs. With 12 brands, 73 operational hotels and 178 in the pipeline, the duo have a lot on their plates. We caught up with Bhushan to find out how the new company plans to take lifestyle global.
How do you define a lifestyle hotel in 2021?
Lifestyle is a term thrown around a lot. To me, it's about hotels that are rooted in their local communities. What do I mean by that? At least half of the revenue in our portfolio comes from F&B: restaurants, bars, entertainment and nightlife. For that to be successful, it's got to be a place where locals come. You've got to be – in that particular location – the local hangout where everyone wants to bring their friends. We focus a lot on design and service delivery. But in the end, it's about making a customer very comfortable in an environment that gives them a certain style of experience that makes them want to come back again and again. To me, that is the essence of a lifestyle hotel.
What does luxury mean today and do the two terms overlap?
Sure, they do. Luxury means two things to me: personalization and unique experience. If you can combine those two, you've got a true luxury experience. It doesn't mean you have to have Swarovski chandeliers and marble floors everywhere. During the pandemic, the luxury segment has been one of the most resilient. Miami is a perfect example of that. The performance of Faena District Miami Beach at the moment is beyond outstanding. We've never seen anything like it. It tells you that, when you give people the opportunity to travel and provide them with a unique experience, they are willing to pay a lot for it.
Which Ennismore brands cross over between luxury and lifestyle?
If you look at the luxury end, it will be brands like Delano, SLS, SO/, Faena and Gleneagles. Each of them provides a very different experience. SLS is an entertainment-focused brand, whereas Delano is a lot more subtle. It's luxury chic. It's very much lifestyle, but it's not an in-your-face type of experience. Gleneagles, again, is very different: a total authentic resort experience. I think Sharan [Pasricha] has done a marvellous job in repositioning that hotel. We hope to use that as a flagship to roll the brand out.
Do you plan to take Gleneagles global?
Yes, absolutely we plan to take Gleneagles global, but again, being very selective about it. It's an iconic brand, so we need to preserve it. We've had enormous amount of interest on it, but you’ve got keep the brand authenticity intact.
Accor Lifestyle has grown massively following the acquisition of sbe, the merger with Ennismore and the new partnership with Faena. To what extent have you been the architect of these partnerships?
I started this journey together with Sebastien [Bazin, CEO of Accor], who picked this segment some years ago as a growth area for Accor. I was fortunate enough to work with him on the investment or acquisition of a lot of these brands in my previous role leading global development and mergers and acquisitions for the group. In fact, our journey with lifestyle goes back a little bit further as I was also involved in launching SO/ which is a brand we launched a decade ago in Bangkok. I was in charge of our development in Asia Pacific at that time. Five years ago, we did very little in lifestyle. Now, this is 30% of our entire pipeline by value. In five years, lifestyle has gone from being pretty much nothing to a very important piece of the puzzle.
Why are you so confident in this sector?
World over, the consumer is absolutely focused on experiences, much more than functionality. They're moving away from a pure price-driven product to an experience-driven product more and more, particularly in the upscale and luxury segment. Social media has had a huge impact on lifestyle brands, whether in travel and leisure or other industries. That's driven a lot of awareness on this aspect of the business. I'm convinced that the overall trend towards an experiential product is here to stay and will not go away. This is just the beginning.
As the lifestyle sector becomes more and more prevalent, will there always be demand for those traditional luxury brands like Raffles and Fairmont?
No question. Put life in perspective: the lifestyle segment is about 2% of the global business of branded hotels, but it's 10% of the global branded pipeline worldwide. So that tells you where the market is and where it’s headed. But that's still 10%. I can tell you equally that our Luxury Portfolio with Raffles and Fairmont is growing equally rapidly. Fairmont has been an outstanding investment for us, and it continues to grow strongly. Same for Raffles and Sofitel. The market is big enough for growth of different kinds. If I talk about our leisure brands like Rixos, we've doubled the growth of that brand in the last two years alone. So, the good news is the market is still growing. We are, as Sebastien says, in a blessed industry. Despite everything that's happened in the last 12 months, we have still had a very active number of new signings; not as much obviously as the previous year. But a very, very strong pipeline, nonetheless.
Nature-based travel experiences are going to be a hot commodity in the post-COVID era. With the exception of SO/, most of the Ennismore hotels are city-based properties. Is there potential to introduce some of these brands into non-urban environments, or does the lifestyle sector, by definition, require an urban setting?
I think you'll see us make a much bigger push into the leisure sector with some of our existing brands, and also have the potential to take on new brands to embark more on the leisure sector. Resorts are definitely a big focus for us, but we're talking about brands like Delano, SLS and Mondrian. We have active projects with all these brands for resorts in leisure locations, all across the world, whether it's the Middle East or Asia or Europe. So definitely, we will be pushing hard in this in this segment. St Tropez, Courchevel, Ibiza, Mykonos; Southern Europe is a huge opportunity for our brands.
Accor’s Planet 21 CSR roadmap is one of the most robust in the hospitality industry. Has that been derailed at all by COVID?
Absolutely not. I think you'll see announcements in the coming weeks and months that will reinforce Planet 21 and the CSR initiative within Accor. Sebastien is very focused on that as a key priority for the group and I can absolutely assure you that Planet 21 will be a very important part of the culture of Ennismore. We are bringing together brands that have been independently operated as small to medium-sized businesses, into a new platform. Whilst these brands have been immensely successful on their own, some of them haven't had that sustainability initiative as much as perhaps they should have. And it is certainly our intent to take what we've been doing with our initiatives in Accor and put them in place in in these brands. Absolutely no question my mind, the customers of our brands in Ennismore are looking for us to be serious about that, and we intend to be.
You recently launched Working From_ at The Hoxton. Are you looking at building more remote working concepts into your new hotels?
The whole coworking concept or 'workspitality', as we call it at Accor, is a huge piece of the puzzle. I think our brands are perfectly positioned to benefit from that, because they're local hangout spaces. Take the Hoxton hotels in London: if you walk in any of them, the lobby is always full of people working. What we need to understand better is how do we create a business model out of that? Do we see a WorkingFrom_ style component in our other brands across the Ennismore portfolio? Absolutely. You will see that genuinely across the Accor brand portfolio, particularly in the upscale and luxury brands.
Can you tell us more about the new partnership with Faena?
We've embarked on this joint venture structure with Alan [Faena – founder of Faena Hotels] to develop the Faena brand worldwide. As part of that, we will take over the management of the two hotels in Miami and Buenos Aires and we will develop the brand worldwide. We are pretty excited about it and we think the product is quite unique. As you know, we're working on an exciting project in Dubai and we have other projects in the Middle East, Europe and South America.
Alan Faena is the king of place-making: turning rundown neighbourhoods into lively cultural hubs that combine hospitality, the arts and residential elements. Will this format continue or are you looking more at blank canvas sites?
I think it'd be a bit of both. But the end goal is that we're not trying to build a hotel, we're trying to build a destination. It is not about building rooms: it's the art, the theatre, the F&B and all the elements that surround it to create a ‘Faena Embassy’. The residential element is a big piece of the puzzle and we also have a private members’ club called Faena Rose. There's a lot of different elements and we'll be very selective about where we go. I don't see more than 20, maybe 25, Faena Embassies all over the world, so each will be a very carefully handpicked location that can actually sustain a Faena Embassy.
Is that what you’re calling the new projects: Faena Embassies?
That's what Alan I've been talking about. Why 'Embassy'? Because it's actually a representation of what the brand stands for, well beyond a hotel development. It is really a cultural experience.
There are certain brands that are fundamentally associated with a particular place: SLS in Miami; Mondrian in LA; or The Hoxton in London, for example. Taking those brands global must be quite challenging?
You’re absolutely right and that’s the challenge we've got to face. But I think we're up for it and I'm excited. The Hoxton in Paris is a very different experience from the Hoxton in London, right? You still have a cool vibe, you still have a very casual ambience, you still have a style of service which is consistent across the brand. But the look, feel, sense of place is very different. The courtyard in Paris is so quintessentially Parisian, you can't provide that same experience in the UK, because you'll do it in a very different way. We opened a Mondrian in Seoul last year at the peak of the pandemic and it has been an outstanding success. It is very much cool chic: the place to hang out, the place to be and be seen. But the offering, the service, the people: they're all adapted to the local market, because otherwise it just wouldn't work.
The impact of COVID has been immeasurable for the hospitality industry. What have you learned in the last 12 months and how do you plan to grow back better?
Essentially, we're a start-up: we're putting together 12-plus brands from different parts of the world, so we are actually embarking our journey in an immensely difficult environment. But I'm confident that we can find a way forward. We're setting up an organisation, which is different from a traditional hospitality organisation: it’s much more of a brand-based, brand-focused organisation. And candidly, that's actually more expensive than a traditional hotel operating structure, where you tend to see a lot of brands being operated under the same structure. We are taking a different approach, because we want to do it differently and we want to do it better. We want to be absolutely authentic in our brand delivery. So we're actually embarking on building a structure that is not as profitable, but I absolutely believe that in the longer term, it will be, because we will get better assets, better partners and better contracts because we can perform better. For me, the approach is not about cutting costs. It is about taking a deep breath and building an organisation that will stand the test of time.