Deep dive with Cédric Gobilliard, COO, Mama Shelter

Mama Shelter Paris East. Image © Accor
Ennismore brand Mama Shelter is aiming to take its quirky lifestyle hotel ethos to 50 global locations over the next few years, so THP News quizzed the COO on how this will be achieved.

Cédric Gobilliard also outlined how the line’s Accor affiliation is helping to boost its expansion from its current 17-strong portfolio.

What does Mama Shelter’s pipeline look like?

Next year, we’ll be launching in Dubai and Nice, and in the following years in Medellin, Zurich, Casablanca, Singapore and downtown LA. We launched our first outpost in Paris on 5 September 2008, and we are delighted that Mama Shelter’s journey to date has seen strong global expansion – and this year we have been celebrating our 15th anniversary.

How did you arrive at the 50 hotel target for the brand?

I believe that with 50 hotels, it is possible to maintain the brand’s identity and community spirit. To get there, it is necessary to implement the right processes and keep an eye on general market trends, anticipating customer expectations while ensuring that our prices remain accessible, considering that 60% of Mama Shelter’s revenue comes from dining.

What regions are you concentrating on for additional hotel projects?

We are interested in these two areas: USA and Africa.

What are your criteria for choosing new Mama Shelter locations?

My role is to ensure steady growth, maintaining the brand’s identity and community spirit. The quality of services and materials may evolve, but the DNA remains unchanged. We even strengthen the lively and joyful ambiance. When I meet with investors, I tell them: ‘In this smooth, standardised world, Mama Shelter wants to work with you because you are authentic, not smooth. Therefore, I propose a management contract with a clear set of guidelines, and I emphasise that our teams take care of everything, from design to dining, from recruitment to customer experiences.’ And we persuade them: proof of this is that more and more medium-sized cities in France approach us to meet their community’s needs and provide quality tourism. The same goes for the United States. Our local signature and local expertise are real and significant assets.

How do Mama Shelter’s development plans compare to other Ennismore brands?

At Ennismore, we’re focused on considered growth for all of our brands. We carefully look at the opportunities available, selecting destinations where it makes sense for the brand and where there is a gap in the market, to ensure we’re bringing something new. Mama Shelter has a very strong network and pipeline of hotels, and we’re excited to explore where in the world it will take us next.

How easy or difficult is it to attract investors to your hotel projects?

To begin with, the founders Serge Trigano and his sons Jérémie and Benjamin were challenged to find the funds to launch their initiative. It took them five years to build the financing and, honestly, many of the bankers and investors that they reached out to did not believe in the project. They had to build a whole new network and find new partners. The project was a risk, but it was supported by all the expertise that was brought to the table: the Triganos, renowned designer Philippe Starck, elite chef Alain Senderens and Guy Savoy, the French Michelin-starred chef that collaborated on the menus for the hotels, the all-star cast paved the road to success.

How has the affiliation with Accor influenced and benefitted Mama Shelter and Ennismore’s development direction?

As part of the joint venture in 2021 between Accor and Ennismore, we are able to leverage Accor’s wealth of experience and knowledge to deliver scale, network growth and distribution. This has supported Mama Shelter’s network growth by being able to tap into new markets quicker and with the support and reputation of Accor as a leader in the industry.

When big groups like Accor acquire small family businesses, they often dilute them. They lose their identity, sometimes even their name. The intelligence and foresight of Accor and its chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin lie in keeping the founders on board, working with them hand in hand. It’s a bold gamble. My goal is to manage while preserving the Trigano imprint. I listen to them. The Trigano family gave me their blessing and passed on their values. We have forged strong, emotional connections. I am here to protect them and continue developing Mama Shelter – and it’s working. We are witnessing the blossoming of a magnificent small entity, thriving like a flower, benefiting from being part of Ennismore, where each leader embodies the brand they manage.

How do you choose suppliers for each hotel project?

80% of the Mama Shelter projects are managed internally by the Mama Design Studio, led by Benjamin El Doghaïli. The rest are allocated to outside designers. A Mama Shelter can take anywhere from nine months to two and a half years to reach completion.

The Mama Design Studio draws the entire Mama Shelter: the interior, the rooms and the common areas. They carry out the work of both an interior architect and interior designer. What cannot be drawn and manufactured is purchased. For instance, chairs are very complex objects that must be put through a number of tests. Because of this time-consuming production process, chairs will be acquired from suppliers.

How do you see the brand developing over the coming years?

All our hotels and new openings are key projects as we strive to grow globally. One key to our success has been to keep growing in cities we love, while keeping our DNA. Mama will continue to expand as long as we continue to be popular, affordable, beautiful and fun.