AccorHotels challenges Airbnb with new Jo&Joe brand

(AccorHotels Jo&Joe Lounge)

Last month, AccorHotels launched Jo&Joe, a brand that the company envisions challenging Airbnb with a product offering flexible and varied accommodation in one building. 

Jo&Joe architects Penson said that the design, their first in the hotel sector, was a new model that guests could use “for whatever they want.” 

The hostel-like offering will start at €25 per night and the company plans to have 50 properties open under the flag by 2020 “in destinations popular with millennials,” with the first two, in Paris and Bordeaux, by the end of 2018. Sites will be in city-center locations close to public transport and less than 15 minutes away from the major points of interest.

“Jo&Joe represents the very essence of hospitality: welcoming, exciting and beyond our guests’ expectations,” Sébastien Bazin, chairman & CEO of AccorHotels, said. The design was the result of “a co-construction process with future guests, external experts, students, the shadow executive committee and AccorHotels teams.”  

The new brand is AccorHotels' most recent effort in capturing the lucrative millennial demographic and cashing in on the "sharing" economy. In April, the company purchased UK-based home rental start-up Onefinestay for an estimated $168.45 million and announced plans to invest a further $73 million in the group to help it “scale internationally.”

Bazin has said in the past the company "made a mistake" when it passed up the chance to invest in Airbnb. “We are accelerating the transformation of our business model to capture the value creation linked to the rise of private rentals and also strengthening our presence in the luxury market with a complementary offer,” he said in a statement when the Onefinestay acquisition was announced. 

Designing for the Airbnb Generation

UK-based Penson has previously worked on campuses for Google, YouTube, Jaguar Land Rover, Playstation, Jay-Z’s ROCnation and interiors of the world’s fifth tallest building, Lotte World Tower—but had never been involved in the hospitality sphere.

Lee Penson, CEO of Penson, told HOTEL MANAGEMENT what AccorHotels had been looking for: “Something holistically game-changing that can’t be defined by what we already know and expect. They didn’t want a hospitality architect or designer, they wanted someone who hadn’t done hospitality ever before. This program needed an entirely new operational strategy, experience, price and adventurous model.”

Each property will have 350 to 500 beds, with AccorHotels estimating that they will be split into one-third ‘together’ space and two-thirds private rooms and apartments for two to five people. The company is looking at either new-builds or conversions and each site will also feature a sleeping option that can be called “out of the ordinary,” with yurts, hammock and caravans—different at each property. 

“More than just an accommodation solution, Jo&Joe has been conceived as an experience enhancer thanks notably to its offbeat design, innovative digital ecosystem and catering offerings,” Frédéric Fontaine, SVP, Global Marketing Innovation Lab, said, citing the brand’s “open house” concept that can appeal to guests and locals alike. 

“We see Jo&Joe as being a new model,” Penson said. “It’s an open house. It has life, vibe, socialness, services and in a way, it’s almost a dating agency, or culinary experience, or anything you want it to be. It’s a model that isn’t predefined to cater for a particular market. You, as an individual or as a group of friends, or a group who met in another Jo&Joe, can literally use the Open Houses for anything you want. 

“When a concept is strong, things tend to flow well and quickly,” Penson said about the process of creating Jo&Joe. “But the skill with creating a new experience, whether it be for Jo&Joe or for a global organization’s working culture, is to ensure that the business model behind the creativeness and uniqueness, is to the point, works, is realistic, scalable and viable operationally. 

“There are a lot of very clever ‘simplifications’ that I brought to Jo&Joe. Less is more. No gimmicks. No tricks. Just honest spaces for honest relationships. A genuine experience brings trust, which helps people sit back and discover life, themselves and others.”

Penson said that AccorHotels had approached the design company about the project, rather than the other way around. “Our global brand meant that, without our knowledge, AccorHotels put us on a list of the world’s best 20 global designers. We were shortlisted to eight, then four and we then secured the project. This is how work tends to come into the studios at Penson–with a phone call out of the blue.”

When being tasked with the project, Penson said that the team did not look to other hotels for inspiration. “At University, when a new project was given to us, there was always a mass exodus of my Uni chums hurrying off to the local architectural library and magazines in their search for inspiration. Instead, I went sailing. 

“I was the only person in my year that got a first-class degree. My mantra with design is that you need to improve life at the core. You make things more efficient, more fun, more to the point. The good things in life are often very simple but very satisfying. I think first, before doing anything. At Penson, we solve things. It just so happens that we draw, visualize and virtualize, too.

“We had such a great laugh developing Jo&Joe,” Penson said. “My dad used to say that good business is about putting your arms around shoulders. This was very much the spirit. We were all under a lot of pressure to deliver with an ambitious target time wise. On launch day, it was great watching the team enjoying the moment. What we achieved as a team is quite instrumental for the industry as a whole.”