Cédric Gobilliard: Providing ‘Shelter’ From Ordinary Design Hotels

If you were an avid traveler 15 or 20 years ago, you may remember walking into the lobby of certain hotels and finding yourself in a universe of cool. The surroundings were typically minimalist or Mid-Century inspired with striking pops of color with ambient music, futuristic cocktails, and global food menus. Like everything else, the world has changed in 2023, and if you walk into a Mama Shelter hotel, that universe of cool setting will be eclectic and warm, with food, music, and décor curated specifically to create the feel of being in a worldly person’s private living space.

While Cédric Gobilliard, COO of Mama Shelter, thinks of Paris as his home, he has made himself at home professionally in the hospitality industry. Rather than using his skills to put travelers into the rooms of quality hotels with good restaurants, he has committed himself to building entertainment into travel and insists his goal is to tell “strong stories in which joy, happiness, family, festivity, and generosity” within the context of a hotel stay.

Gobilliard earned his BBA and Master’s degrees in International Management from the École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) in the mid-1990s, intending to build a career in the pharmaceutical industry. However, his course was rerouted when he was hired in 1996 as the marketing manager at Disneyland Paris. He then moved on to Club Med in 1999, serving as the company’s Marketing and Sales Manager for Europe and Africa. From there, he served as Club Med’s CEO of North America for a decade and Senior Vice President of the “Lifestyle” division at Accor from 2017 to 2021, of which Mama Shelter would subsequently become part in October 2021.

With the full support of Serge Trigano and his family, Mama Shelter’s founders, Gobilliard helped the hotel group shift from an entrepreneurship model to “intrapreneurship” model before taking the creative lead for Mama Shelter’s properties. In creating a “lifestyle” hotel experience designed to transcend trends, he works closely with interior designer Benjamin el Doghaïli to create modern but approachable spaces that simultaneously capture a Mama Shelter location’s sense of place while reflecting the hotel group’s family-owned origins.

We caught up with Gobilliard at the start of the 2023 holiday season, ramping up for two new properties in 2024 and planning more properties debuting in 2025. His enthusiasm for the current and new properties is as vibrant as the décor in the lobbies and restaurants of the Mama Shelter properties up and running.

Millennium: What were some of the formative events in your life that informed your choice to work in hospitality, focused on resorts and hotels?

Cédric Gobilliard: During my time at EuroDisney, I discovered that it was possible to create a full atmosphere around something crazy like a cartoon mouse. I was very impressed by the expertise of the American people 25 years ago in creating a feeling within that travel experience that was not fake and not wholly based on marketing. It was all about authenticity and people wanting that authenticity when they came for a very special experience in Disney. Taking work at Disney was a major shift in my life, as in my role I wanted to welcome people to make them feel something special at EuroDisney based on human relationships, unique activities, and their dreams in travel. I then applied those lessons to my work at Club Med.

M: What were some of the changes you have observed in what luxury travelers are looking for when picking a destination?

CG: In the past, travelers would have at least a week or more for vacation, whether they were traveling to a specific destination or several around the globe. Today, there’s a big change in how long travelers stay at a hotel. Even if they can work remotely, they don’t stay too long…sometimes staying two days in one place, three somewhere else, and so on. Also, what we see among American travelers and Europe is that there are more people taking long weekends and working remotely during their stay. We used to have a very low occupancy during Sunday night, but today Sunday is becoming one of the biggest days of occupancy in terms of occupancy because the guest can work remotely.

MM: What are some of the most valuable business and marketing lessons you’ve learned working in various countries and territories?

CG: I’m totally against marketing, and for me, that means being against building something I don’t believe in…something that is fake or that guests would see as more marketing than an authentic experience true to the city they are visiting.

MM: What was the most important lesson you picked up from the Triganos family in the years before you were handed the responsibility of shaping the Mama Shelter experience beyond the physical hotels?

CG: The values Serge Triganos and his sons hold dear are an integral part of the brand, and when hiring management and staff for each hotel, they created a community that shares the same values. This community, in turn, extends to the guests. On the facade of each Mama Shelter property, there will be a symbolic white flag. While a white flag typically symbolizes someone losing a battle, it is also a color that represents equality, inclusion, and diversity. Our white flag is a welcome sign that invites people from all walks of life to seek shelter with Mama.

MM: “Lifestyle” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in hospitality. How would you define “lifestyle” in a way that makes the term more meaningful?

CG: In the past ten years, I have found “lifestyle” is synonymous with authenticity as it relates to a given city and the way residents live their lives there. When you travel to New York, you want to see New Yorkers. When you come to Paris, you want to see how Parisians live. It is a new way of traveling where people are invested in having a local experience rather than a fantasy version of a given place. This means travelers do not want to stay in a basic or standardized hotel that could exist anywhere in the world, from Tokyo to Los Angeles. Authenticity is a key element of what makes Mama Shelter hotels a success, as this is a big part of why people local to one of our cities come to the restaurants and bars.

MM: What makes Mama Shelter Hotel different from other properties aimed at the same traveler demographics?

CG: We have a clear signature in terms of our aesthetic and amenities, but we also approach each hotel with a very local touch to make sure the guest knows they are having a Mama Shelter experience. This is why every Mama Shelter will look and feel different—authentic to the place where it operates—and is not dependent on marketing an image. This is why every Mama Shelter looks different, and the restaurants are expressions of that region or city’s cooking. We want to hire the best chefs who know how to translate the area’s lifestyle into a variety of dishes rather than do another French or Italian place…unless, of course, we are in France or Italy. The menus in the restaurants of London, Paris, Budapest, and Los Angeles are all going to be different even if there are some items specific to Mama Shelter (“coquillettes jambon,” “hachis parmentier,” pizzas, and so on) available worldwide. A creative mix is what will also bring in local people, and allow visitors and residents to mix.

MM: What is involved in hiring management and staff in terms of the vetting process and creating the most welcoming environment possible for guests?

CG: The way we hire people and manage employees is key. When we recruit, we look for people whose profiles reflect their values and work ethic in sync with our values and goals. To see who fits, we ask candidates to tell them a story about what travel and guest service mean to them. No matter what skills and talents a candidate brings to the interview, in the hotel itself, those we hire need the resources to find the right thing to say to guests, keep them calm, and make them feel good about having chosen Mama Shelter as their hotel of choice. I just want to make sure that this person I am considering hiring is able to create a bond or link with a guest or staff member in a difficult situation.

Everybody we hire represents the brand. The managers are my disciples and are responsible for communicating and reinforcing the brand’s values to the staff and guests. This dynamic is like a family rather than a classic business relationship. To ensure this community is cohesive and supportive, we train employees at a dedicated brand academy to ensure everything is carried out.

The rooftop at Mama Shelter La Defense Paris

MM: What are some of your favorite travel destinations?

CG: Paris because I am a proud Parisian, and the city of Paris has reinvented itself over the past decade in terms of hotel concepts, and catering. and guest experience. I also love Miami, where I used to live, because of its blend of South and North American Latin culture, which I find fantastic. I also have a special place in my heart for Buenos Aires because my grandmother is Argentinian.

MM: In addition to Mama Shelter, tell us about some of the other hotel concepts you and your team oversee.

CG: While Mama Shelter offers a localized, distinctive experience for every type of traveler, we also oversee Jo&Joe, a youth hostel for young people interested in learning about the world. In addition to offering younger guests pure leisure, each location has a theme that puts them in touch with the local culture and lifestyle of a given place. The 25hours hotels, meanwhile, are made-to-measure to ensure each one has a soul inspired by its location. Each location–Berlin, Paris, Zurich, Vienna, Florence, and Copenhagen–is shaped by that city’s art, culture, gastronomy, and stories of its surroundings and caters to a similar clientele to Mama Shelter. For these hotels, we have set up F&B partnerships, such as with the NENI restaurant at 25hours Gare du Nord.

Looking down into Mama Shelter Marseille.

The Mama Shelter hotel group s growing slowly, but steadily with locations in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Prague, Belgrade, Toulouse, Lille, London, Paris West, Luxembourg, Rome, and Lisbon, often in up-and-coming neighborhoods where travelers can effortlessly connect with local culture and lifestyle.

Mama Shelter London’s Restaurant

The next locations set to open in 2024 are Mama Shelter Dubai and Mama Shelter Nice. Mama Shelter Dubai will encompass 197 rooms and 204 apartments, multiple dining options, a terrace with 4 pools, and an outdoor CinéMama, among other amenities. Mama Shelter Nic, scheduled for a June 2024 opening, will be located in the central Riquier neighborhood, just 600 meters away from the legendary Old Port of the city. This vibrant hotel will offer 102 colorful rooms, a restaurant, and a rooftop with a pool.

Mama Shelter properties on the docket for 2025-26 include Mama Shelter Medellin (Colombia), located in the El Poblado district; Mama Shelter Zurich, in the city’s Oerlikon shopping area;

Mama Shelter Casablanca, which promises to be a pioneering lifestyle hotel in Africa with two restaurants, including one on the rooftop, 120 m2 of meeting space, and a large 47m pool; Mama Shelter Singapore, located along the fashionable Killiney Road, and Mama Shelter Downtown LA, which will complement its successful Hollywood location.

Mama Shelter Luxembourg Lobby