If nations were brands, Switzerland scores high – in Brand Finance’s 2020 it tallies a third place among the world’s strongest nations. It’s not only watches, chocolate and cheese, but the Swiss more or less invented the present day hotel, and the grand hotel in particular. That’s why connecting anything Swiss with a brand name is a match made in heaven, think Swiss Army Knife and Swatch. With hotels that brand would be Swissôtel, and yes it already exists. But it is not so great as it should be. Time for the present owner, French Accor Hotels, to invest in one of the hospitality business strongest names.
Swissôtel was founded in 1980 as a joint venture between the Swissair and Nestlé. 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. Finally in 2006, Colony Capital and the Kingdom Group, which had a 35.3% stake in Fairmont Hotels, entered into a joint venture as FRHI, which in turn was sold to Accor in 2016. The Kingdom Group’s owner, Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, is now a minority stakeholder in Accor.
Bin Talal also had a stake of 33.3% in the 83-strong hotel chain Mövenpick, another Swiss brand, which he sold to Accor Hotels two years later. Mövenpick is better known for its ice cream division, though originally with the same roots, now part of Nestlé. Mövenpick 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 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.
So Accor with two Swiss brands has the opportunity to capitalise on things Swiss and hotel. Swissôtel is obviously the stronger brand. For consistency (usually not a strong point for chains after several mergers) the ‘lesser’ properties should be rebranded to other (midscale) Accor brands while premium Accor brands, especially Pullman, could add to the Swissôtel stable.
There is a third “Swiss” brand: Hong Kong based Swiss-Belhotel International which operates 78 hotels, mainly in Asia and especially Indonesia. If Accor would buy it, 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 hotel brand: Swissôtel – true to its origins.
So what would that Swiss hotel ’empire’ look like? Here are some examples:
Switzerland – home turf
After the Swissôtel Zürich has closed, only two Swissôtels remain, the recently revamped Kursaal Hotel in Bern and the rather tired looking Basel Le Plaza outlet, which is in need of a refresh. Alternatively, the brand new Mövenpick could be a new Basel option with Le Plaza rebranding to Sofitel. Zürich itself is a bit of difficult territory, the market has not seen much change. Perhaps a completely new built as contenders as the Marriott, Sheraton and Renaissance will probably not change flags anytime soon. 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 tower or the former Hyatt Regency, the Royal Plaza. Switzerland has a large stock of venerable grand hotels – which too would make great Swissôtels. I sense a flagship property!
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. The Etoile outlet won’t be missed in the Pullman portfolio as the Pullman Paris Montparnasse (which used to be a Sheraton) will open as the brand’s flagship.
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. Signage: what not to do: putting red lettering on a red wall.
Mövenpick is particularly strong in Egypt with 9 properties. It already started operating in the Middle East country in 1976. None of the properties, with the exception of the Aswan property pictured, is particularly outstanding. Most are resort properties – something either to dispose or turn into a new brand itself. And if these properties would leave the Accor stable, there is the Swissôtel Sharm El Sheikh opening this year.
Another pick from the Mövenpick stable would be the Malabata Hotel in Tangier pictured (here the Swissôtel logo would look great in the upper right on the building). Other African locations include Accra, Abidjan, Nairobi, Casablanca, and Tunis – making great Swissôtels and complementing Accor’s strong presence in Africa.
Swissôtel has currently one hotel in Sydney. That begs for a sister in Melebourne. Accor is Australia’s largest operator of hotels. With a whopping 53 hotels in Melbourne alone it is not to difficult to pick a sibling. Our choice would be the Pullman Melbourne on the Park, which is a former Hilton.