Garth Simmons is the Chief Executive Officer – Southeast Asia, Japan & South Korea for Accor. He began his full-time hospitality career in 1988 with the Rydges Hotels & Resorts in Australia before becoming a hotel General Manager in 1998. Garth joined Accor in 2007 in various strategic positions within Australia, first as Regional General Manager for Accor’s Victoria, Tasmania and Adelaide hotels, before expanding his portfolio to New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory properties. In addition to his responsibilities for Accor, he also managed Qantas’ First Class Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne Airports.
In 2012, Garth took on the role of Senior Vice President for Accor New Zealand, Fiji, French Polynesia and Japan, and became an active contributor to the New Zealand tourism sector. He sat on the board of the New Zealand Tourism Industry Association (TIA) and was involved with validating the Tourism New Zealand 2025 framework. Ultimately, he was instrumental in building Accor’s position as New Zealand’s largest operator.
Garth moved to Indonesia in 2015 as Chief Operating Officer of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore at a time of a tremendous growth pipeline. During his tenure, he reinforced Accor’s leadership position as the largest operator in both Indonesia and Singapore. In his most recent role as COO, which he assumed in 2019, Garth was responsible for over 200 hotels and 16 brands across 6 countries in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and South Asia.
In a career spanning more than three decades, built on driving performance and forging strong relationships with owners and key tourism partners, Garth has led the group’s New Zealand unit on a business transformation to achieve record growth in direct web revenue, strong increases in both network development and hotel performance.
He is a strong advocate of giving back to the local community, volunteering and lending his voice to fundraising through Accor Race to Survive Fiji for Cure Kids in 2014, continuing on the work started in 2006. Thanks to the amazing spirit and fundraising efforts of Accor teams across Asia Pacific, Cure Kids now provide medical equipment for The Children’s Ward, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Lautoka Hospital as well as the Nadi Children’s Ward at Maternity Ward.
He is also a tireless champion for “A Trust For A Child Foundation”, the CSR programme initiated by Accor in Indonesia, which combines environmental protection and poverty alleviation through education, healthcare, nutrition and reforestation. He helped fulfil the group’s commitments and dreams of bringing a brighter future to underprivileged children in Indonesia and building a sustainable environment in Bedugul Bali with the successful opening of a second education centre in 2016.
Despite his work commitments, Garth found time and energy to galvanize efforts for ‘Achieving The Dream’ (ATD) initiative, a CSR programme that supports emerging Indonesian athletes on their sports career ambition, by facilitating opportunities in professional training and coaching, higher education scholarships and mentoring. Conceptualized as part of our commitment to give back to the local community with Yayasan Peduli Tunas Bangsa, the ATD programme, in partnership with Sportama, ensures young local talents are nurtured and groomed to become future world-class sports champions.
Garth joined the Group’s Executive Committee in October 2020 as CEO of South East Asia. His current remit covers 12 countries including Maldives, Japan and South Korea and close to 380 hotels.
2020 and 2021 were challenging years for the hospitality industry. In your opinion, how will travel trends change in 2022?
There is an increased focus on new and authentic experiences, which is why over 370 Accor hotels and resorts across Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea are looking to put disruptive concepts in place around local discovery, wellness, and dining experiences, in order to meet the travellers’ new needs. Apart from flexible pricing options and trusted health and safety protocols, some of the interesting trends we foresee include the element of authenticity which is essential to travellers today, seeking more meaningful experiences and keen to rediscover the richness of local cultures. For example, Sofitel Singapore City Centre has launched the local-themed Discover Tanjong Pagar – Cultural Getaway staycation package, where guests can enjoy fascinating artworks by talented local artists during the walking trail around the vibrant neighbourhood, locally inspired welcome drink and exclusive merchandise made by local artists. The emotional factors are now driving trends in leisure hospitality such as experiential travel, local F&B experiences and lifestyle hotels.
There is a big focus on wellness. Accor’s well-being programs for transformative guest experiences are aligned with each brand’s identity and guest aspirations. Recently, Raffles Singapore has launched its Journey to Wholeness package, which is a transformative retreat through specially designed wellness activities, nutritious meals and spa treatments.
Sustainability will shape the future of travel. Travellers increasingly choose brands that aim to make the world a better place for people and surrounding communities. Our hotels serve as a second home, evoking feelings of community, comfort, and safety. As such, we believe it is our responsibility to take care of the communities in which we operate. Our hotels are finding new ways to contribute positively to the environment and the local communities. Pullman Luang Prabang involves the team in sustainability initiatives, inspiring them to participate in the seasonal rice cultivation activities. The harvested rice will then be shared with the local community. Rice husks are donated to the Elephant Conservation Camp and Laos Buffalo Dairy, providing local farmers with a steady income. The hotel also organises interactive rice cultivation activities for guests to bring awareness on agriculture, which is one of Laos’ important sectors.
Building the right team is crucial for a property’s success. What are the key skills you look for when hiring new employees?
Hospitality is all about human connection and taking care of others. One of Accor’s key successes relies on our employees delivering the best personalized service and care. The group always recognizes each person’s unique talent and passion they bring to the workplace. This allows our team to build unforgettable and unique experiences with human connections and real emotions. Whatever background or experience, new employees are welcome to bring their unique skills to Accor. We are open to all and value individual talents because they are the greatest strength of the group.
Hospitality is like a team sport. It will make us stronger when we respect and embrace each individual’s strengths and differences, and support each other as one team.
How important is it for a hotel to have a solid gastronomic offering?
In the current context, a hotel needs to be more than just a place to stay. It has become a place where both local residents and travelers can live, work and play from day to night. For hotels, experiential dining can be one of the key business drivers because just serving delicious food is simply no longer enough. Whether it’s locally-inspired, disruptive, or a traditional experience, having appealing and strong dining concepts will be the main differentiator that sets our hotels apart from competitors.
We know that dining experiences connect people, so our hotels and resorts are looking to make food and beverage an experience in itself to deliver memorable moments for diners. Each restaurant and bar is working with leading talents, award-winning chefs, and local producers to create its own distinct taste and individual sense of place and identity. Some of the highlight culinary experiences in our region include Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor’s latest signature restaurant, 1932, which proudly inherits the honour to serve traditional Royal Khmer cuisine; the surprising Floral Cuisine Experience inspired by Thailand’s natural landscape by two-Michelin star Chef Thierry at VIE Hotel Bangkok – MGallery’s Signature Bangkok, to the lively finely-crafted grill restaurant with the views of Marina Bay, SKAI at Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore.
Was a career in hospitality something you always dreamt of? What is your advice to aspiring hoteliers?
I have always worked in the hospitality field. Growing up as a child, I worked through school and while studying in university. Initially, hotels were not particularly on my radar, however I found the restaurant industry more compelling, with its vibrant environment, I enjoyed the energy of working in F&B, where it’s always abuzz and happening. A career in hotels only came after a number of years, and it happened organically after years in the restaurant industry.
Throughout my career, I have always been someone who thrives to do and give the best that I can, which always resulted in new opportunities being presented to me. I always seek to achieve and even overachieve my objectives. I believe this helped in bringing me to where I am today. I guess my advice would be to apply pride and effort in everything you do, always be diligent and willing to go the extra mile, and opportunities will arise. And when they come your way, be prepared to move and take on new things even if you are not 100% prepared. Change can sometimes be hard, but if you let it come to you, opportunities will lead to further opportunities. So just go with your gut feeling and lean into it by learning on the job.
Which cities are your favourites for food?
I have always enjoyed Asian cities such as Bangkok with its eclectic flavours and street food selection. The best thing about travelling anywhere in the world today is the variety of tastes and cuisines which you can find in any cities. But nothing compares to Asia where people work from the heart and display authentic smiles.
What are some of the new measures your team has put into place to deal with the post-COVID-19 situation?
Our guests are keen to get back to travel and we are ready to welcome them in a safe environment. Accor has established some of the most stringent cleaning standards and operational procedures to ensure guests’ peace of mind when they stay at our hotels with the creation of the ALLSAFE label, developed with the support of Bureau Veritas, a world leader in hygiene and cleanliness inspection. ALLSAFE is a certified label that represents Accor’s commitment relating to cleanliness and prevention protocols we have in place across all Accor hotels.
Accor is also accelerating the use of digital technologies that can limit physical contact during the guest journey, with the newly launched Accor Key, a digital room key solution that can reassure and protect our guests and employees, and also contribute to a more seamless and convenient travel experience.
What would you do if you weren’t a hotelier?
Even before being a hotelier, I perceive myself more of a business man, so if I were to do something other than what I’m doing today, it would have to be something related to managing a business.
When are you happiest? At work, which is your most challenging activity and why?
What truly brings me happiness in my day-to-day is the ability to be around interesting and like-minded people, probably because I am a family guy at heart. Over the last ten years, I have been very fortunate to be in a position where I am able to influence the environment I work in.
I am energized by people, so anything that requires to be solo is harder for me. Hence I’ve found the perfect industry to be part of, an industry where we are constantly connected to people each day, whether it’s our Heartists®, our partners or our guests.
What makes Accor stand out from other brands you’ve worked with?
From a business perspective, the diversity of our brands and services portfolio across every segment is what makes Accor unique and so interesting, living up to its augmented hospitality motto. From luxury brands such as Raffles and Fairmont, to premium, mid-scale and economy, there is something for every preference. Accor’s fully integrated hospitality ecosystem is supported by our award-winning loyalty programme ALL – Accor Live Limitless, which connects with our clients beyond travel, and well into their daily lives & lifestyles, delivering a wide variety of rewards, services, unique partnerships, and elevated experiences.
As for Accor as a company to work for, what makes it stand out from other organisations is the excellent support network we benefit from within the group, with leaders who care about your future, and focus on performance. I’ve seen countless occasions where colleagues have done right by its people, partners and the communities. One great example is the ALL Heartist Fund, a 70m euro fund put aside to support employees facing serious financial difficulties as a result of suspended operations or reduced hours during the pandemic, which really demonstrates the company’s moral values.
You’ve had such a successful career – what would you say has been your career highlight?
I’m always looking ahead so my career highlight would have to be whatever I’m doing at the time.
When do you foresee a complete recovery of the hospitality industry business?
A brighter future for the hospitality industry is yet to come. We believe that the desire to see the world will always remain. In our Southeast Asia region, we can now see stronger occupancy across markets with ease of entry such as Singapore, the Maldives, Thailand, and Cambodia. These countries are generating much more confidence amongst both long-haul and short-haul markets. Thanks to borders re-opening, countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, and South Korea are regaining momentum and are expecting a strong recovery.
Accor will still continue to maintain a much greater focus on domestic travellers. However, as restrictions continue to be eased, travellers around the world are eager to discover new experiences. One of our key priorities this year is to capture the rebound of international travel through inspiring campaigns and engaging benefits through Accor’s loyalty program, ALL – Accor Live Limitless. Since the beginning of 2022, we have launched a wide range of campaigns to encourage travellers to visit Southeast Asia, such as Exclusive New Member Rates, For the Love of Asia, and For the Love of Breathtaking Vietnam.
We remain on track to expand our network in the region and to open over 90 new hotels in the next three years. Due to the shifts in travellers’ expectations, lifestyle is becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of the global hospitality industry. Lifestyle hotels curate an elevated guest experience through singular atmospheres and product distinction, with a large Food & Beverage focus. We are looking forward to introducing lifestyle hotel brands in our region in the upcoming years.
As the largest international hotel operator in Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea, we are proud to play a part in driving the future of the region’s tourism and hospitality industry.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Upon embarking on my very first General Manager role, my manager told me then: “Don’t be afraid to say things from your heart, to be yourself, and to do the right thing.” Since then, I’ve always done things my way.