Road to Berlin: FRHI's Jennifer Fox leads group amid merger


Back in December it emerged that France's AccorHotels, following in the footsteps of Marriott's deal for Starwood, would be acquiring FRHI Hotels & Resorts (FRHI) for around US$3 billion—further evidence of a tide toward consolidation within the hospitality industry.

At the time of the deal, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohammed Bin Saud Al-Thani, CEO of Qatar Investment Authority, which owns FRHI along with Kingdom Holding Co., the investment arm of Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, and Oxford Properties Group, said in a statement: "This deal generates the scale needed to drive the next phase of growth in our real estate and hospitality investments."

Jennifer Fox, the president, international for FRHI and president of the Fairmont brand, will be part of IHIF's "The Changing Face of Experiential Luxury" panel, alongside Susan Harmworth, chairman & founder, ESPA International; Marek Reichman, chief creative officer and design director, Aston Martin Lagonda; and Eddy Tiftik, deputy GM development, Wanda Hotels & Resorts. The panel will be moderated by Margaret McMahon, SVP & managing director, Wimberly Interiors.

Fox has more than 25 years of experience in the luxury, resort and business segments of the hospitality industry, with an extensive background in hotel operations, brand development, marketing and hotel brand & market repositioning. Prior to joining FRHI, Fox spent 10 years at InterContinental Hotels Group, where she was chief operating officer.

Ahead of the conference, Fox discussed with IHIF her thoughts on the AccorHotels deal, her expectations for 2016, how she defines luxury and her lessons learned from 2015.

Jennifer Fox, FRHIIHIF: How do you foresee 2016 shaping up as it relates to the global hospitality industry: what will be the big stories or trends in investment, technology, distribution, et al.?

Fox: In terms of bookings and performance, we expect 2016 to be very similar to 2015, which was an excellent year for hoteliers. As for trends, we saw some slight shifts begin to develop last year and believe we’ll see continued evolution in some areas in 2016. In particular:

•Multigenerational travel: It is a rising trend over the last couple of years.There are several contributing factors to this, namely, more extended family living further apart than ever before; consumers being so hyper-connected that this now puts a premium on vacations and travel escapes; the rise of the boomer generation, who has more disposable income and want to spend more time with family, and a greater emphasis on the “milestone” trip

•Personalization: While consumers today seem to have more choices than ever before, this has led to an increase in travelers craving authentic, personalized experiences. Research shows that discovering untouched, unique places and creating unforgettable memories are major motivations for today’s traveler

•Growth in key destinations: We will continue to see a rise in travel to certain destinations and this is really tied to some of the trends I have mentioned above. For example, Mexico has topped the list as a favored destination for luxury travelers for 2016 and France continues to rank high as a preferred global vacation spot as well. The appeal here is that travelers can find the perfect combination of hotel brands that present the luxury experience they crave while still enjoying bespoke and experiential activities in both these destinations.

IHIF: What was your biggest lesson learned from 2015?

Last year really brought to the forefront the effects of living in a globalized world and the consequences this has on any business, particularly when you are running a global hospitality company. A change in economies on one side of the world can literally cause a ripple effect across the globe. The other side of this story is that consumers today are more connected than ever before. Think about the fact that just last year, there were reportedly over 2 billion smartphone subscriptions worldwide, meaning that for many, information is just a swipe and a Google search away. Additionally, with social media and the growth of platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, people are constantly privy to other people’s experiences and opinions. For our hotel brands—Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel—this means that a guest from New York City can actually see and hear the experiences of a guest staying with us in China in real time.

IHIF: What are FRHI's global goals for brand development in 2016, particularly since the announced merger with AccorHotels? What does the merger allow for FRHI that it may not have had before?
Fox: Our vision remains unchanged and our brands continue to focus on providing each and every guest with a unique and meaningful travel experience.  The announced merger with Accor, which is expected to close in June 2016, will generate the scale needed to drive the next phase of growth for our luxury brands.

IHIF: You are part of a panel at IHIF on the changing face of luxury. Has luxury travel and the idea of the luxury hotel changed and, if so, how? How do FRHI's brands fit into that?

The definition of luxury has certainly changed and is no longer directly connected to just material goods or brands, but has expanded to include the overall experience. As a global hospitality company, our brands cater to the needs of our guests. We define the luxury consumer as being driven by meaningful experiences and having quality in life—good health, quality time with family, traveling for self-enlightenment, seeing and understanding more of the world and, in general, experiencing the very best that life has to offer. Our approach to luxury and memorable service is informed by our research and insights team, alongside the one-on-one experiences our colleagues have with guests. This insight allows us to understand and cater to a wide demographic of guests from all over the world.

IHIF: What do you look to get out of attending investment conferences, such as IHIF?

I look at the type of an event as both a learning and networking experience. It is a time to meet other leaders in the business world, gain valuable knowledge and learn about new or emerging trends that we may be able to tap into for our business. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on best practices and learn from others in the business. Plus, as we continue to look at opportunities to grow our brands, we appreciate the chance to showcase our attractive assets and global portfolio.