The hotel industry brand bonanza continues.

This time, it continues into a newer subset of hospitality known for properties that don’t necessarily fit the mold of a “normal” hotel brand.

Accor launched the Handwritten Collection on Thursday, the latest in the Paris-based hotel giant’s collectible brand segment. Accor already has the luxury Emblems collection and the premium luxury MGallery collection. The handwritten collection will be located in the mid-scale segment of the market.

There are already 12 confirmed deals for the Handwritten Collection hotels, with the first seven scheduled to open in the coming months across Europe, Asia and Australia. There are approximately 100 potential bids for future hotels, including in the US, and Accor aims to have 250 Handwritten Collection hotels by 2030.

“From a guest perspective, there was actually an unmet need, so we decided, ‘Let’s get into that space and secure Handwritten as a mid-scale collection,'” Alexander Schellenberger, Accor’s director of marketing for premium brands, said of medium scale and budget, in an interview with TPG before the release of the handwritten collection. “We haven’t even announced it, and we already have 12 hotels. I’m not going to put more pressure on the development team, but I think they are good.

The launch of the handwritten collection is part of Accor’s broader push to attract independent hotel owners to join its network. The idea behind each of these brands is to target travelers who crave more of a unique experience with a hotel stay as opposed to the more standardized product found in traditional hotel brands.

This notion has taken off in recent years as the growth of leisure travel, as well as combined leisure and business travel, has fueled interest in independent and lifestyle hotels. Accor is a particular leader in this space: it has spun off several of its brands, such as Delano and SO/, into a partnership of lifestyle hotels under the Ennismore umbrella with brands including The Hoxton and Gleneagles.

While there will be new-build hotels branded under the new Accor collection, 80% of the current growth trajectory of the Handwritten Collection comes from existing hotels affiliated with the new Accor brand.

“We want to make it as simple as possible for independent hotels to sign up without having to invest heavily in products,” Schellenberger said.

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Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa. ACCOR

What is a collectible brand?

A collection brand, or what the hotel industry generally calls a soft brand, is affiliated with a hotel parent company and its loyalty and reservations network. Yet it retains the custom design, food, and experiential offerings of a boutique or independent hotel. These are unlike the hard-line brands like Accor, Fairmont, or Sofitel, which come with strict standards when it comes to room layouts and bathroom amenities.

Accor still plans various standards around the quality of each Handwritten Collection hotel, and each property will be more intimate with a typical size of between 50 and 100 rooms. Still, the guiding principle for this collection is to offer a “lovely, more authentic feel,” Schellenberger said.

A hotel that fits this mold would be a smaller property in a local neighborhood with staff who can point guests to off-the-beaten path restaurants and activities. Another hotel might offer fresh baked treats at check-in.

“We try to keep it as flexible as possible, but there are certain standards when it comes to quality that need to be met,” he added. “We want to at least create some sort of consistency around quality for guests to experience, but otherwise it’s a bland brand.”

Prices will depend on the hotel and destination, but the typical rate for a Handwritten Collection hotel will fall somewhere between a Novotel and a Mercure, Schellenberger said. For context, rooms at a Novotel in the Les Halles neighborhood of Paris at the end of February start at $359 a night for Accor Live Limitless members ($378 for non-members); rates at a nearby Mercure start at $152 for ALL members ($160 for non-members).

Hotel Morris. ACCOR

The first Handwritten Collection hotels

Accor highlighted several properties that will drive growth for the Handwritten Collection over the coming year:

  • Shanghai Sheshan Oriental Hotel, handwritten collection in Shanghai. The Manuscript Collection’s debut property is now open. This former Sofitel near Sheshan National Park features a spacious garden and an outdoor pool on the beach. There is a team dedicated to organizing activities such as tea breaks and curated dining experiences for guests.
  • Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa, handwritten collection in Saint Gervais, France. Initially built as an art-focused vacation home, Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa (now open) offers an enhanced guest experience beyond art with offerings like a library corner, Turkish coffee, and herbal tea infusions in the hotel spa.
Le Saint Gervais Hotel & Spa. ACCOR
  • Wonil Hotel Perth, handwritten collection in Perth, Australia. Opening next month on the banks of the Swan River, close to Kings Park and minutes from Perth’s CBD, the Wonil Hotel features modern designs and plenty of outdoor spaces for socializing.
  • Morris Hotel, Handwritten Collection in Sydney, Australia. Opening next month in an Italian Renaissance-style building, this 82-room hotel is all about embracing history in elegant surroundings that straddle European and Australian styles.
  • Le Splendid Hotel Lac d’Annecy, Manuscript Collection in Annecy, France. Slated to open in April, the Splendid Hotel features art deco flourishes with decor by designer Thierry D’Istria that wraps a mix of antique pieces, sculptures and artwork at this property near Lake Annecy in France.
Hotel Le Splendid. ACCOR
  • Hotel Les Capitouls Toulouse Centre, Manuscript Collection in Toulouse, France. Opened in May, this hotel in the historic city center of Toulouse was originally built as a private mansion. The Hotel Les Capitouls Toulouse Center presents a combination of classic design (including the use of the building’s brick vaults) and modern hospitality.
  • Oru Hub Hotel, handwritten collection in Tallinn, Estonia. Set to open in May after an extensive two-year renovation, Oru Hub Hotel is located in Tallinn’s Old Town, just a short drive from the Estonian coast. The hotel has yoga facilities and a tea room, as well as a new guest experience program that combines play, work and food.
Hotel Oru Hub. ACCOR
  • Paris Montmartre Sacré Coeur, Manuscript Collection in Paris. Slated to open in spring 2024 (and potentially under a different name, Accor noted), Paris Montmartre Sacré Coeur is a short walk from the Sacré-Coeur Basilica and features cozy rooms with original designs.

Additional hotels planned for the Handwritten Collection include the Square Lodge Hotel La Roche-sur-Yon in La Roche-sur-Yon, France, and the Sunrise Premium Resort in Hoi An, Vietnam. Properties yet to be named are also planned for Bucharest, Romania and Madrid.

Paris Montmartre Sacré Coeur. ACCOR

Increased competition

As Accor expands its portfolio of soft brands, its competitors are making similar moves. IHG added the Vignette Collection in 2021 to bring more independent luxury and lifestyle hotels to its ecosystem.

Marriott’s extensive network of soft brands includes the Luxury Collection, as well as the Autograph Collection, Design Hotels and Tribute Portfolio. Hilton’s soft brands include the luxurious LXR Hotels & Resorts, as well as the Curio and Tapestry collections.

Hyatt continues to fuel the growth of its independent-minded collection brands – Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Destination by Hyatt and JdV by Hyatt – through various initiatives, including the recently announced partnership with German hotel company Lindner Hotels AG. That deal will bring 30 hotels to the Hyatt-brand portfolio, largely under the JdV umbrella, and give World of Hyatt clients more choice across Europe, where Accor has the largest hotel presence of any major conglomerate. .

With all the competition, including Hyatt’s foray into Accor’s backyard, is anyone at Accor company headquarters in Paris losing any sleep? Not quite.

In fact, they see a lot of room to make inroads by attracting more customers; the various collectible brands nicely complement the company’s 40+ brands, targeting customers of all price levels.

“We’re able right now to match something for everyone’s budget, from an Ibis Budget or a Greet to ultra-luxury like Orient Express and Raffles,” Schellenberger said.

But if the bland brand’s orbit is now expanding beyond luxury and luxury hotels to more affordable properties in the mid-range segment, does that mean a collection of budget hotels is also in the works?

“I would probably never say no, but right now, we don’t necessarily see that,” Schellenberger said. “But I can see why soft brands are so incredibly successful because they allow people to maintain their identity.”