M&A REVIEW EUROPE: Why did you decide to create this SPAC?
Amir Nahai: AAC is the continuation of Accor’s “Augmented Hospitality” programme, which was set up by Sébastien Bazin and which consists of following the customer’s journey, offering them more services and enriching their experience. This involves acquisitions, particularly in the digital sector, with companies such as Verychic, Gekko or John Paul. We have also created a number of partnerships to enhance our loyalty programme.
However, Accor’s investors prefer the group to focus on its core business. This SPAC allows Accor to continue to move forward in “Augmented Hospitality” on a large scale. Accor can bring its expertise in sourcing targets and helping them grow. From the target’s point of view, this vehicle is also very attractive because this transaction would allow it to have a privileged relationship with Accor and thus to amplify its growth, while keeping its independence and the possibility of pursuing its strategy. The SPAC allows this balance.
The objective of this SPAC is to identify and acquire a target worth between EUR 1bn and 2bn. Although Accor has the cash to make this type of acquisition, the group’s investors would not approve such an investment in a non-core business. They want the group to use this cash for its core business, hospitality.
Pierre Boisselier: Today, the market wants pure players. The SPAC structure allows for a precise delimitation of the two equity stories – that of the SPAC and that of Accor – while allowing for the expected “co-creation of value”. Moreover, it is not Accor’s balance sheet that is being put to work but specific resources raised through the creation of the SPAC. This allows us to continue this initiative, which we believe to be extremely important from an sector and strategic point of view, without putting pressure on Accor’s balance sheet. Finally, this vehicle allows us to consider and target non-core acquisitions for a substantial amount.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: In the press release, you mention several possible sectors for investment, including food & beverage, flex office, wellness, entertainment and events, and travel technology. Have you already established a list of targets?
Amir Nahai: We have potential targets in each of these verticals. Accor brings to AAC its in-depth knowledge of these targets. One of the differences between corporate SPACs and other types of SPACs is how well we know the targets. In many cases, we have already worked with these companies. We know the management teams, we know the products as customers, which should allow us to make a good deal quickly.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: Could you detail the advantages that a corporate SPAC offers to its target?
Amir Nahai: The targets are reassured by the presence of Accor as a buyer. They will be able to have a privileged relationship with the group and its portfolio. Accor brings to these targets the ability to grow. This is the most important point. In recent years, Accor has proven its ability to increase the growth of the companies it acquires. However, it is important to clarify that Accor and the SPAC will not seek to create a captive relationship. The target will remain free to work with other partners, even if they are competitors of Accor.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: Was the notion of “promote” important for Accor when creating this SPAC?
Amir Nahai: Accor is launching this SPAC for the sake of the “promote”, as many individuals who create SPACs do, who only see the SPAC as an opportunity for financial gain. At the group level, the “promote” offered by the operation is minor. Accor is doing this operation to enrich its hotel offer in order to become more attractive to its clients and partners.
The SPAC will invest in a target to improve the customer experience, which will serve to build customer loyalty.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: As the head of this SPAC, what is your vision of the markets targeted on AAFC?
Amir Nahai: All the targets we have in our list have been very impacted by Covid but have very favourable long-term trends. Today, we can have attractive valuations. Growth should come back naturally after Covid. The special relationship with Accor should enable the target to amplify this growth.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: Does the creation of this SPAC allow you to anticipate the recovery?
Amir Nahai: The creation of AAC is a long-term bet. It is part of the Accor group’s strategy.
It’s a three-dimensional bet. First, Accor can source a good target. Secondly, the group is capable of amplifying the growth of this target post-acquisition. And thirdly, the post-Covid timing may present some good opportunities. We think that in this context, a number of the players we are targeting will probably be more open to discussions. But the idea is not to look for reduced valuations.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: Why are investors attracted to this type of SPAC?
Pierre Boisselier: When the sponsor is an sector player in the sector, it is a guarantee of sector understanding.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: When did you start working on target research?
Amir Nahai: Our relationships with most of the targets are long-standing. We know their performance in the market. The work on finding targets is the very first stage of the SPAC. For Accor, this work started in January, at the same time as the reflection on the creation of the SPAC.
Pierre Boisselier: We then defined a hunting ground without entering into discussions. The very nature of the listed company would have obliged us to limit these exchanges in any case, unless we made them public at the time of the IPO.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: Is the 24-month deadline for completing an acquisition restrictive?
Pierre Boisselier: Investors need a reasonable time horizon, which is why a large number of SPACs has such a deadline.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: What was the AMF’s attitude to this issue?
Pierre Boisselier: We had absolutely perfect support from the market. We received support from the AMF, Euronext, etc., and from all the other players involved in the project. There was a desire to make this a sort of European market initiative.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: Can SPACs become a recurrent instrument for Accor?
Pierre Boisselier: Today, the important thing is to go through with this first initiative, to complete the SPAC until it is combined with the identified target. Other initiatives could be launched, but not before the IBC.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: What do you see as the main difficulty in achieving the IBC?
Amir Nahai: We already know the targets. Our goal is to convince to convince them to change from being a private entity to a listed entity. This part of the discussion may take some time.
Pierre Boisselier: We have to defuse the target’s concerns on this subject. I think that we have the capacity to convince and accompany the founders of potential targets in the process of thinking about listing because Accor is a sector player, itself listed, which gives it credibility.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: The image of SPACs is deteriorating in the US. How do you deal with this situation?
Amir Nahai: What is happening in the US is affecting the European markets. Investors are becoming more cautious. We have seen this. The fact that we are a corporate SPAC sponsored by Accor, has enabled us to avoid a certain number of questions which are real and which will persist in the market.
We are delighted to have achieved this in a complicated market. Now the work begins.
M&A REVIEW EUROPE: This year, the number of SPACs in the US is exploding. Are we going to see some kind of craze in Europe?
Pierre Boisselier: I don’t think that Europe will experience it to the same extent. We have a much more restrictive regulatory system, which is far more beneficial to the investor in terms of informed and relevant information. In France, the documentation is extremely precise and must meet well-defined criteria. Some vehicles that rely more on the reputation of the sponsor than on the investment thesis will probably find it more difficult to be created in France or in Europe. However, I think the number of European SPACs will continue to grow.