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Accor Pacific’s Sarah Derry on the glass ceiling and suburban hotels

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Accor Pacific’s Sarah Derry on the glass ceiling and suburban hotels
“Many times I’m the lone female in the boardroom,” says Accor Pacific’s CEO, Sarah Derry.

She may have smashed through the glass ceiling, but the industry still has a long way to go, says Derry, who took the top job for the major hotel operator 16 months ago.

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview, micenet asked Derry how she found working at the top of a majority female-staffed industry still dominated by men in the most senior roles.

“I’ve got the best job in the world…I absolutely genuinely believe that,” she said.

“What’s it like as a leader and obviously a female leader? There is still a lot of work to be done – that’s the reality.”

She explained that in her business the employee base was 55 per cent women, “and unfortunately as we rise through the ranks – supervisors, executives – it drops dramatically, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure we have the right representation of woman across our own business.

“Many times I am the lone female in the boardroom or in a meeting and, look, I feel I get very generous support, but there’s no doubt there are times when there are challenges. I wish I could tell you, with two teenage daughters, that it is all going to be great for them in five, ten years’ time [but] it is going to take a lot longer,” she said.

From the CBD to the suburbs

Asked about recent moves by Accor to establish substantial hotels in suburban locations, such as a just-announced 132-room Novotel in Melbourne’s Box Hill, she said it was not a matter of running out of land in capital cities.

“Our guests want choice and what they are looking for is consistency of quality as well – really good amenities. Part of what we do offer is a consistency, the loyalty benefits and obviously the great service,” she said of the move into suburban and regional areas. 

Speaking from Cairns, she said the group was looking at opportunities within the wider Cairns area and in Townsville “where populations are growing and they’re fantastic tourism destinations”.

Staying in Queensland she said the company was already considering its response to the opportunity provided by the Olympic Games in 2032.

“The reality is that it is not that far away. It takes time to develop hotels, to convert hotels,” she said, adding that sporting groups would be arriving well before the Olympics. Accor could be talking to developers five to six years before a hotel would open, “but from deciding on a brand and commencement of construction, it would typically be two to three years, and direct involvement of the hotel from a management perspective would be anything from six months to a year out”.

“We are really excited about Brisbane in particular; the market’s gone from strength to strength. We’ve seen a shift in the last few months – really the last year and a quarter – incredibly strong leisure and we’re starting to see the corporates return for MICE…and [other] meetings and events are coming back as well.

Accor Pacific has 19 of the group’s 42 brands in market, most recently adding Wonil Hotel Perth as part of its new Handwritten Collection, soon to be joined by the four-star Hotel Morris in Sydney’s CBD. Other brands such as Hyde are coming to New Zealand.

“Also very exciting under our Ennismore partnership, our lifestyle brand, we’ve got the Mondrian on the Gold Coast under construction now – really the lifestyle brands are making a big impact in this part of the world right now.

“What’s exciting about what Ennismore is doing, and other brands coming into the market, is that they are very much about the social spaces – so the lobbies are really exciting places to be: there’s also a bar, there’s coffee, there’s a library area; you can sit and work in those spaces. Then there’s a great rooftop bar, a great restaurant, so the locals are coming as well as the people who stay in the hotel.

“One of the reasons lifestyle is so popular at the moment is that they do such a great job in the overall experience and I still believe people want experiences after the last few years,” said Derry.

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