By Brad Foster

Accor Pacific COO Simon McGrath is calling on the Federal Government to extend the JobKeeper payments to keep the majority of his 21,000 staff active and financially supported.

Mr McGrath is also looking forward to the day when business travel and conferences resume but of course can’t predict when that will be.

With 400 hotels under his control in Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia and Fiji, Accor is one of the Asia Pacific’s largest employers and he believes the government recognises that and also understands the importance of the tourism sector.

“For the remainder of this year we’re going to be hitting very conservative [occupancy] numbers,” he said.

“When we went into lockdown we were at seven per cent occupancy. That is now moving to about 30 per cent.”

A portion of that is no doubt due to the fact that Accor, like many other hotel groups, are housing returning international travelers who are required to spend 14 days in quarantine.

What he and the rest of the sector needs is the return of business travel and conferences and events.

“As restrictions unfold we believe we will see a pick up. Right now we have to ensure that safety and our staff continue to be our priority.”

The JobKeeper payments are helping and in some instances, where staff members are really struggling financially, Accor has stepped in to assist.

“We have a very strong service philosophy and our [Accor] leaders have been outstanding in keeping people connected. We have enacted a grants program for some employees who have been struggling. Our culture is strong and remains strong.”

Mr McGrath admits the COVID-19 period has been tough but says the sector will bounce back quickly.

“I wouldn’t say that we’ve been working harder during this time – we always work hard. We’ve been working differently. We understand the level of responsibility we have to our employees, and I would say that we’ve also had the time to recognise the value of our industry and our partners in it.

“For the moment it’s about being safe and careful and looking after our staff and partners. We acknowledge that many PCOs and conference organisers are doing it tough. We’re staying engaged with them, and are being flexible with them, and discussing what we can do together coming out of this.”

He said that may include undertaking some joint marketing initiatives and developing new products that consumers want in the future.

He said the New Zealand sector was doing well, no doubt due to the tough lockdowns the government imposed early and the assistance it has provided to hospitality employers and employees.

Of the Australian government, Mr McGrath said he believed they now more than ever recognise the value and importance of the industry.

“It has never been more obvious than now what a major employer the tourism and hospitality sector is. I don’t think people will take its importance for granted again.”