The bustling city of Bangkok witnessed a momentous event as Mrs. Maud Bailly, the CEO of Sofitel Legend, Sofitel, MGallery, and Emblems, embarked on a special visit to mark the relaunch of Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit. In a candid interview, Mrs. Maud Bailly shared her remarkable journey from the world of finance to her current leadership role in the luxury hospitality industry. Joined by Mr. Oliver Schnatz, the General Manager of Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, they shed light on the state of Sofitel and MGallery brands, their development ambitions in the region, and the brand vision of luxury hospitality in the 21st century.
A Journey of Transformation
Mrs. Maud Bailly’s journey to her current role as CEO of several prestigious hospitality brands is a testament to the power of serendipity and seizing opportunities. With a background in literature and finance, she initially worked as a civil servant in various roles, including serving at the IMF and the World Bank. However, it was her stint as a station manager in Paris, overseeing a bustling station with a staff of 800 serving hundreds of thousands of people daily, that provided her with invaluable hospitality management experience.
Reflecting on her experience, Mrs. Bailly stated, “Life often comes down to meeting the right people at the right moment, which the Greeks call ‘Kairos.’ It so happened that I met Sebastien Bazin, the CEO and chairman of Accor. Due to my experience in digital IT and managing sales, he offered me the position of Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at Accor.”
After several years as CDO, she expressed her desire to return to a more operational role and was granted the responsibility of overseeing Southern Europe responsible for 1900 hotels across seven countries. Her tenure in Europe lasted for two years before she was appointed as the CEO overseeing the four brands – Sofitel, Sofitel Legend, MGallery, and Emblems.
The Vision for Sofitel
As Sofitel approaches its 60th anniversary, Mrs. Bailly outlined the brand’s vision for the future, emphasising four key pillars:
French DNA: Sofitel takes pride in its French heritage, embodying a commitment to quality and sophistication. This includes a love for good food, fine wine, wellness, comfortable mattresses, art, design, and an appreciation of the finer aspects of life.
Cultural Link: The Sofitel logo, featuring two shapes embracing each other, symbolises the brand’s commitment to bridging French culture with local cultures. Sofitel hotels strive to embody the essence of both French and local culture, creating a unique and enriching experience for guests.
Cousu main Culture: Sofitel emphasises a “cousu main” culture, translating to “tailor-made.” This culture is rooted in the idea that luxury is not just about opulent surroundings but is primarily an attitude and level of service. Sofitel aims to offer a seamless, personalised journey for each guest, anticipating their preferences and providing tailored experiences.
Sustainability: Sofitel recognises the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and is committed to leading the way in sustainable hospitality. Initiatives include reducing plastic usage, addressing food waste, eco-certifying all hotels, promoting diversity, striving for carbon neutrality, and various other sustainability efforts.
As Sofitel approaches its 60th anniversary, it aims to reinforce its identity as a brand that combines French elegance, cultural richness, personalised service, and a strong commitment to sustainability. These pillars define Sofitel’s unique position in the luxury hospitality industry and guide its vision for the future.
Sofitel and MGallery in the Region
In response to a question about the state of Sofitel and MGallery brands in the region, Mrs. Bailly revealed that they currently have a total of 240 hotels in the world, with approximately half being Sofitel and the other half MGallery. The pipeline for both brands is dynamic, with plans to open 40 new MGallery hotels within the next two years. Sofitel’s pipeline, especially in Asia, is very dynamic.
Sofitel caters to a wide range of guest expectations, including larger hotels with French flair, catering to MICE events, leisure travellers, and business clients. MGallery, on the other hand, offers a more intimate and exclusive experience, with boutique hotels typically not exceeding 150 rooms. Both brands are experiencing significant growth and expansion in the Asia region, with many owners approaching them for collaboration.
Mrs. Bailly emphasised the importance of finding the right partners, saying, “Finding the right partners is crucial for us because we are committed to delivering a high-quality experience. Currently, we have several exciting projects in the pipeline, particularly in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.”
Quality and Quantity in Development Ambitions
When asked about their development ambitions in the region, Mrs. Bailly highlighted their focus on a combination of quality and quantity. As the overseer of all the brands globally, she emphasised the rigorous review process each new development project undergoes to ensure it meets their brand standards.
“Our goal is to reach a minimum of 300 hotels across all our brands globally within the next two years,” she shared. “The pipeline for both Sofitel and MGallery is growing again in Asia after the challenges posed by COVID-19. We have seen significant interest from owners in both brands, Sofitel and MGallery. However, I cannot provide specific numbers because the quality of each project is paramount. We may choose to reject a project if it doesn’t align with our brand and mission.”
Assessing New Projects
Mrs. Bailly shed light on how they make assessments for new projects. They consider factors such as design standards, the quality of the product, and the materials used. The decision to accept or reject a project is influenced by whether it aligns with the brand’s values and standards. Sometimes, they may suggest another brand within Accor’s portfolio if they believe it’s a better fit for the property.
Mrs. Bailly added, “Accor offers a diverse portfolio of 48 brands, so we have options to advise our owners on the best brand for their specific property.”
Involvement in Investments
Regarding investments, Mrs. Bailly clarified that they are entirely asset-light. However, they work closely with hotel owners and suggest the best brand to maximise the property’s profitability, showcasing their expertise in creating a winning combination.
Luxury Hospitality in the 21st Century
When asked about their brand vision of luxury hospitality in terms of experience and commitment to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), Mrs. Bailly stressed the importance of sustainability. She stated, “In today’s world, luxury hospitality must embrace sustainability, or it will not thrive. Sustainability is not just an option; it’s a necessity.”
Sofitel’s roadmap for sustainability includes initiatives such as eliminating single-use plastic items in hotels, reducing food waste through AI tools, striving for carbon neutrality, promoting diversity within the staff, and eco-certification. They aim to be a hotel brand that truly walks the talk on sustainability.
Wellness is another significant trend they observe, focusing on personalised wellness experiences for their guests. Mrs. Bailly also highlighted the growing demand for larger suites and villas, especially for multi-generational trips.
Mr. Schnatz explained how Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit is increasingly catering to two and three generations of family members travelling together, providing specifically designed family rooms as well as two- and three-bedroom suites.
“In summary, our brand vision for luxury hospitality encompasses sustainability, holistic wellness, multi-generational trips, and personalised experiences,” Mrs. Bailly said. “Luxury is about creating memories and emotions, and we aim to do so while being environmentally responsible and meeting the evolving needs of our guests.”
In-House Food and Beverage Expertise
Mrs. Bailly affirmed that all of their restaurants and spas are created in-house, underlining the importance of having dedicated Food and Beverage and Experience (F&B&E) and Wellness teams. The teams are responsible for designing F&B&E and spa concepts in-house for future openings of Sofitel and MGallery hotels, setting them apart in the competitive landscape.
“Our expertise extends beyond F&B&E to wellness and CSR, which is another strength that attracts owners looking to create sustainable and responsible hospitality experiences,” she added.
The Power of Loyalty
Mrs. Bailly emphasised the crucial role of their loyalty program ALL, especially during the challenging times brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our loyalty program members not only helped us survive during the pandemic, but they also filled our hotels in good times. Loyalty members tend to spend twice as much and visit more frequently than non-members,” she explained.
Mr. Schnatz added, “Approximately one-third of our bookings come through the brand, and the majority of these bookings are from loyal guests who belong to different tiers of the loyalty program. It’s a powerful program for us, and it helps us build a strong and loyal guest base.”
Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit : A Transformation Tale
The conversation shifted to the transformation of Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, where Mr. Schnatz provided insights into the hotel’s journey. The transformation began approximately five years ago and has been executed in multiple phases.
The first phase introduced “Belga”, a rooftop bar and brasserie located on the 32nd floor, which quickly became a beloved destination for its Belgian cuisine, imported Belgian beers, vibes and breathtaking views.
The second phase involved a significant exterior project, including the construction of a bridge connecting the hotel to the BTS station, the MRT, Terminal 21 Shopping Center, and Koreatown. Completed in March 2020, the bridge added convenience for guests, though a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the hotel remained operational throughout the pandemic. When restrictions eased, the hotel embarked on room renovations, with all 345 rooms and suites undergoing updates, which are expected to be fully completed by the end of October. The final phase, focusing on the hotel lobby and the expansion of the popular French café Le Macaron has just been completed in September.
Additionally, the hotel introduced Maison Mizuki, an exciting Japanese whiskey cocktail and sushi bar, showcasing Sofitel’s commitment to offering diverse and unique dining experiences.
Mrs. Maud Bailly concluded the interview by emphasising Sofitel’s role as a bridge between cultures, particularly between France and Thailand. The chandelier in the hotel’s lobby, resembling the “wai” gesture with water pouring over it, symbolises this commitment to respecting local culture while delivering unparalleled luxury.
“The relaunch of Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit is not just a celebration of a transformed hotel but a testament to Sofitel’s enduring commitment to bridging cultures, embracing sustainability, and providing guests with unforgettable experiences in the heart of Bangkok,” she told the assembly of dignitaries and celebrities at the launch party. “As the luxury hospitality industry continues to evolve, Sofitel stands firmly at the forefront, setting new standards for excellence and innovation.”