And which third ‘Swiss’ brand Accor should be buying to operate a truly global Swiss empire.
Now, Swissôtel, that is a brand marketeer’s dream. Everything is there in just a short name – and it even doesn’t need a tag line or slogan to explain things further. Switzerland stands for quality and precision. If countries were brands Switzerland would probably top the charts. The Swiss more or less invented the present day hotel, and the grand hotel in particular. That’s why a connection between Swiss and hotel is a match made in heaven, plus the ô giving it a flair of joie-de-vivre and things French, on which brands as Marriott’s Le Méridien and Accor’s own Sofitel capitalize.
In September 2018 Accor (also) became the owner of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, another Swiss brand with 83 hotels and 20,000+ rooms across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Mövenpick might be better known for its ice cream division, though originally with the same roots, which is now part of Nestlé. Mövenpick Group was founded by the late Ueli Prager in 1948 when he opened his first restaurant in Zürich. The name was apparently inspired by the feeding action of a gull (in German, a Möwe) and how its simple movements reflected the restaurant’s theme of food served as quickly as possible. The company’s catering business, Marché International, which also operates restaurants under the Mövenpick name, was not included in the sale to Accor. Apart from the confusion that the name is used by several companies, gulping down your food may not be a suitable name associated with a quality hotel chain.
Saudi based Kingdom Group which is owned by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal had a stake of 33.3% in Mövenpick Hotels before selling to Accor. Not coincidentally, the Kingdom Group held a 35.3% stake in Toronto based FRHI (which operates the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel brands) which Accor acquired two years prior to Mövenpick in 2016. Alwaleed is now a minority stakeholder in Accor. Swissôtel was founded in 1980 as a joint venture between the Swissair and Nestlé (again) groups. Initially hotels were operated in Berne, New York City, Geneva and Zurich. In 1990, the hotel group became a fully owned subsidiary of the Swissair group. In 2001, with the parent airline in serious financial difficulties that eventually lead to its demise, Swissôtel was sold to Raffles Holdings Limited, the owners of the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. In 2005, Colony Capital, a private international investment firm, acquired Raffles International Limited, the company that by this stage owned both Raffles and Swissôtel brands. Finally in 2006, Colony Capital and Kingdom Group entered into a joint venture as FRHI, which was sold to Accor in 2016.
As with all these mergers and acquisitions (FRHI at some stage also owned Canadian Delta Hotels, now by Marriott), the brand’s portfolios are not very consistent. Accor should further develop Swissôtel, in my opinion one of it’s best brands. It should do so combining the Swissôtel and Mövenpick portfolios, picking premium properties for consistency and rebranding others to midscale Accor brands such as Mercure. Other premium Accor brands, like Pullman could add to the Swissôtel stable while resort properties (I think Swissôtel should be an urban brand) would also rebrand to other Accor names, or Accor should develop a new line of resort properties along the lines of its Rixos brand.
There is a third “Swiss” brand: Hong Kong based Swiss-Belhotel International which operates 78 hotels, mainly in Asia and especially Indonesia. Many of its properties would fit into several Accor brands and with eliminating the brand name (and that of Mövenpick) would create a truly, unique and global Swiss brand: Swissôtel – true to its nature.
Without going into all the details (these combined three chains would have an overall of around 200 hotels worldwide), what would -specific- regions look like?
Switzerland – home turf
Currently, Swissôtel currently has only two locations in its home turf: Bern, the capital (although Switzerland officially has no capital) and Basel. The latter, looking tired and in need of a renovation. Maybe to be replaced by the brand new Mövenpick, which is finished but not open due to Covid19 yet. In that case the Le Plaza, the current Swissôtel could be a great Sofitel as there already is a Pullman in Basel. The Bern Swissôtel Kursaal has been recently renovated and is a good fit. Other Mövenpicks in Switzerland (Egerkingen, Lausanne, Geneva, two near Zürich) are rather non-descript: Mercure, the rater large Geneva property a Pullman. Zürich is without a Swissôtel, the iconic 31-floor former tower in the Oerlikon district has closed in November 2020 and is poised to be redeveloped into business apartments. Remaining five star hotels in Zürich (grande dames not incorporated)?: the Marriott, Sheraton and Renaissance hotels. The old Swissôtel in Geneva, the venerable Métropole with its renovated modern rooms is still open. Back to Swissôtel? Other Swiss locations: Montreux! Like the iconic 1960s Eurotel or the former Hyatt Regency, the Royal Plaza.
Paris neither has a Swissôtel or Mövenpick. Being Accor’s home turf, a Swissôtel outpost is a must. Accor operates 205 properties in France’s capital. The best fit for Swissôtel would be the Pullman Paris Paris Etoile, which opened as the Paris Hilton in 1967 and was sold to Accor in 2009.
Amsterdam has both a Mövenpick and a Swissôtel. The Mövenpick would be very suitable to the Swissôtel brand. Basically it would be a change of signage – they can leave the Swiss flag hanging (the flag on the right is the City of Amsterdam). The Swissôtel Amsterdam is inconsistent with the brand. However, its location right in the city centre of Amsterdam on Dam Square would be a great fit to Accor’s individually styled MGallery brand. And a perfect sister to the Hotel INK around the corner, which went from a Sofitel to MGallery. Branding: what not to do. Almost identical red signage on a red wall.
Mövenpick has 33 hotels in the Middle East, while Swissôtel has 6 (10 in Dubai total). All are rather inconsistent, with no outstanding properties. Key is to develop a flagship property which is true to the Swissôtel brand spirit.
Mövenpick is especially strong in Egypt (9 properties) where it already started operating in 1976. With the exception of Aswan and Cairo, all properties are resort hotels, and include Nile River boat cruises, which could be a core to a to be created new brand of (resort) hotels, or under the Rixos banner – another Accor brand. And that would include the Swissôtel Sharm El Sheikh, scheduled to open this year.
Mövenpick has locations in Accra, Abidjan, Nairobi, Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakech and Tunis – making great Swissôtels and complementing Accor’s strong presence in Africa.
Australia & New Zealand
A Mövenpick has recently opened in Tasmania, a rather unusual location for the brand. Probably it is because of Accor’s strong presence is the region with a multitude of brands, including Mantra. Swissôtel has long held an outpost in Sydney. Key to creating a strong portfolio of Swissôtels in the region is making use of other Accor branded properties, like Pullman Melbourne on the Park, Art Series The Johnson Brisbane, Novotel Perth Langley, and Grand Mercure Auckland.