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The new executive brings her expertise in the hotel real estate industry to bear on an ambitious strategy for the Accor group's brands, and in particular for developing the Orient Express brand.


The new executive brings her expertise in the hotel real estate industry to bear on an ambitious strategy for the Accor group's brands, and in particular for developing the Orient Express brand.

Category: Worldwide - Industry economy - Careers - Appointments Hotel projects - Interviews
Interview made by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2024-05-03

Gilda Alavarado-Perez, Accor Chief Strategy Officer and CEO of Orient Express

Gilda Alavarado-Perez, Accor Chief Strategy Officer and CEO of Orient Express
Photo credit © Accor

Although Gilda Perez-Alvarado is now at the helm of one of the Accor group's most promising brands, this seasoned professional has spent most of her career in hospitality real estate.

Gilda began her career in the hotel industry with an assignment in Hospitality Advisory Services at Ernst & Young in 2001, after which, in 2002, from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration with a Bachelor of Science degree. She then spent two years with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hospitality and Leisure, before joining the JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group in New York for 19 years. At this leading hospitality real estate group, she provided strategic and financial advice to the industry's largest owners and investors.

In addition to her responsibilities at JLL, she continued her training in competitive strategy, leadership and sustainable development. She also sat on the boards of several major organizations, including WX New York Women Executives in Real Estate, the World Travel & Tourism Council, IREFAC, Cornell University and Blackstone.

Finally, Gilda Perez-Alvarado is the recipient of the Jack A. Shaffer Financial Advisor of the year at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit, as well as the Castell Award, which honours women leaders in the field of hospitality investment. The high point of her career at JLL came in 2023, when she received the JLL Champion of Excellence Award and the Arne Sorensen Leadership Award from IREFAC.

In 2023, she also took up a position of responsibility within the Accor group, in direct line with Sébastien Bazin. Firstly, to take overall responsibility for the group's strategy, and then, in parallel with this mission, to take charge of the Orient Express luxury brand in January 2024.

Gilda Alvarado-Perez spoke to Journal des Palaces about her transition to the hotel business, her new responsibilities, her vision of excellence and her ambitions for Orient Express.

Journal des Palaces: You spent 19 years with JLL Hotels & Hospitality. How will you use your extensive real estate and investment expertise to support the Accor Group's development strategy?

Gilda Alvarado-Perez: My transition to Accor felt natural as I dealt with the same cadre of global investors and developed an 'owner's mentality'. I’m bringing a deep recognition and understanding of owners’ priorities, meaning that we - more than ever - can quickly and effectively respond to their evolving needs.

My aim is to leverage my expertise to propel Accor forward in this dynamic landscape, capitalizing on emerging trends and driving sustainable growth.

You remain a member or director of several institutions. Could you talk about these missions and the reasons why you are continuing these activities?

My expertise in global real estate and hospitality has led me to serve on several boards and memberships. For instance, at Blackstone Mortgage Trust Inc., I contribute insights into real estate financing. On the Cornell University Board of Trustees, I bring a private sector perspective that can help shape how students are prepared and also advise on where best to focus on research, development, and innovation.

Additionally, as a member of other industry organizations, I stay abreast of global trends, share insights and focus on major trends. These roles allow me to drive meaningful change and contribute to the growth of these vital sectors. These roles are also incredibly rewarding as I get to learn from my peers.

You are both Group Chief Strategy Officer of the Accor Group and CEO of Orient Express. How do these two roles fit into your day-to-day life?

As Group Chief Strategy Officer and CEO of Orient Express, my day-to-day life is a dynamic blend of strategic vision and hands-on operational involvement. These dual roles provide me with a rich experience and 360-degree perspective.

As Chief Strategy Officer, my primary focus is on driving the overarching strategic direction of the Group. I am tasked with identifying growth opportunities, forging strategic partnerships, and ensuring that Accor remains at the forefront of innovation in the hospitality sector. This role requires a highly strategic mindset, constantly analysing market trends, and anticipating future challenges and opportunities. Orient Express is one of our most strategic investments to date a Group. We are focused on ultra-luxury travel covering hotels, trains, yachts and experiences, and have a competitive advantage being a French company.

As the CEO of Orient Express, my responsibilities extend beyond strategy to include significant operational leadership. I am deeply involved in the relaunch of the iconic brand that is Orient Express, shaping its new modern identity, developing its offerings, and ensuring seamless day-to-day operations. This role demands a hands-on approach, working closely with my team, owners, and partners to deliver exceptional experiences.

I am also delighted to work alongside Sébastien Bazin. Under his tenure, Accor has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial mindset cultivated within Accor aligns perfectly with my approach to business, fostering a culture of creativity, agility, and continuous improvement. The company is very agile and nimble. Just look at what we accomplished last year, which was a record year for Accor, and how strong we have started this year!

What strategic direction would you like to give the Accor group?

Accor is one of the most exciting companies in hospitality right now with its deeply ingrained forward-thinking and entrepreneurial mindset. The strategic direction I envision for the Group involves capitalizing on the evolving landscape of the global travel industry.

Expanding beyond traditional hotel offerings, I am focused on disciplined portfolio management, delivering on our brand promises, and innovating in response to changing guest demands.

What are your ambitions for the Orient Express brand? What hotel projects are you currently working on? Which destinations would you like to invest in?

My ambitions for the Orient Express brand are rooted in the pursuit of luxury, craftsmanship, the art of hospitality and unforgettable experiences. The forthcoming projects under the Orient Express umbrella, including the revival of the iconic train and the launch of the Orient Express Silenseas sailing yachts, present unparalleled opportunities to redefine luxury travel.

At present, I'm actively involved in overseeing the launch of La Dolce Vita Orient Express in Italy and the restoration of the Orient Express train in France, ensuring that every detail reflects the brand's timeless elegance and heritage. Simultaneously, I'm spearheading efforts to launch the Orient Express Silenseas, the largest cruise sailing ship ever built, setting new standards in luxury cruising. We’re also expecting to open our first three hotels in the next 18 months. I have a wonderful team of partners and experts, including our incredible Artistic Director Maxime d’Angeac, without whom this project would not be possible.

In 2023, you were honoured with a Champion of Excellence Award. How do you define excellence, and how do you achieve it?

Excellence, to me, is the synergy of passion, trust, and teamwork towards a shared vision. Trust is fundamental; without it, teamwork falters. Passion drives dedication, infusing tasks with enthusiasm. I advocate for a team-of-teams structure, assembling experts who share a common work ethic and commitment to excellence. The irony and beauty of focusing on excellence is that you never fully achieve it, but you do keep on getting better and better.

How did mentoring relationship come about and have you had mentors since the start of your career?

I have had a large number of mentors and sources of inspiration since before I started my career. The path has not been easy, there have always been obstacles along the way, and I am very proud of what I have accomplished.

I have crafted my path, set up my own rules when I have had to, and have never given up. Many times, I have been underestimated and told no, but I see these instances as sources of fuel that feed my determination to succeed and grow. I am happy when I am challenged. It is in my blood.

What advice would you give to a young person wanting to make a career in the luxury hotel industry?

To embark on a successful career in the luxury hotel industry, I would advise aspiring individuals to prioritize three key elements: passion, teamwork, and excellence.

Passion is indispensable. It's crucial to pursue what truly ignites your enthusiasm and dedication. When you're passionate about your work, it transcends mere job responsibilities; it becomes a driving force that fuels your commitment to excellence. Find your niche within the industry that aligns with your passions, whether it's guest experience, culinary arts, or sustainable practices. This authenticity will show through in your work and contribute to your personal and professional fulfilment.

Secondly, success in the hospitality industry hinges on effective teamwork. Establishing trust and collaboration among colleagues is paramount. Foster an environment where trust is nurtured, ideas are shared, and everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute.

Lastly, excellence does not know shortcuts. You have to put in the time and dedication.

La Dolce Vita Orient Express

The Dolce Vita Orient Express, one of the brand's luxury trains that travels around Italy
Photo credit © Patrick Locqueneux / Orient Express

Orient Express Silenseas
Photo credit © Maxime d’Angeac / Orient Express

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About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.

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