TourMaG.com – What have been the priorities for Amex GBT in the past three months?
Julien Kauffmann: During the past three months, we haven’t really stopped working. We have carried out numerous interventions, in particular to repatriate travelers, around 35,000 worldwide, including several hundred in France.
We had to manage more than 100,000 reimbursements at the same time, and the management of vouchers in France in particular, which required a lot of resources.
Finally, we managed, and this is somewhat unique for Amex GBT, the movements of a few customers who continued to travel, including during confinement, in different sectors: public with APHP, logistics, or the oil sector for which we organized rotations for the personnel on the platforms or on distant sites.
I wanted to take advantage of this forum to thank the teams who worked a lot during this period to answer customers’ questions and support them.
TourMaG.com – Have the teams worked 100% over the past three months?
Julien Kauffmann: We put the teams part time. On teleworking, we were already ready, since 50% of our teams already work at home.
We had the equipment, the software, the processes for working from home, and we made the decision even before the confinement to close the offices.
For the entire Group and in France, we had defined three priorities: first, the safety of our employees, that’s why I made the decision to close the offices very early, then the continuity of services and finally the protection of our activity.
“We will discuss the possibility of expanding telework”
TourMaG.com – Are the teams still part-time?
Julien Kauffmann: Since the end of confinement and since the resumption of travel authorizations, we have seen a real revival of activity. We decided to gradually reduce part-time work and bring the teams back.
The recovery in activity is at very different rates depending on the sector, for some the recovery has been very rapid and for others, it is much slower.
The sectors which have restarted faster are sectors which have operational needs with very decentralized organizations: factories established in Europe and in France which have a need to travel, public services, some large industrialists with multiple establishments in France.
Conversely, the start is slower for large American or international groups because the decision-making centers are still in the United States or in England, countries where they are concretely in lockdown, or sectors such as aviation or tourism which have been more affected by the crisis.
TourMaG.com – Could this telework experience be extended? PSA has announced its desire to switch 40,000 people to telework, including 18,000 in France …
Julien Kauffmann: We will discuss the possibility of expanding telework, the subject is on the table. At the same time since the return of the activity, we find again the importance of having meetings, to meet.
We will never be 100% teleworked. But we will probably increase its share.
“The recovery is more or less rapid depending on the sector”
TourMaG.com – What is the impact of the crisis for Amex GBT?
Julien Kauffmann: It is too early to assess the impact, because we are still in the recovery phase. We adapt in real time.
As I have just mentioned, recovery is more or less rapid depending on the sector, but also depending on the modes of transport. We are facing an asynchronous and hybrid recovery.
Rail has restarted faster than air, the domestic market faster than international. Today, 77% of our sales are made from domestic sales whereas historically, over a full year, we are 66%.
Rail is also at higher levels: this mode of transport concerns 60% of our transactions against 50% usually.
This situation makes projections difficult.
“The era of travel policy that we define once and for all is over”
TourMaG.com – According to projections, the pre-Covid-19 levels in air transport will not be found before 2022. Will this also be the case for business travel?
Julien Kauffmann: I don’t have a crystal ball. We rely on reports from IATA, the World Bank …
Indeed, we do not expect a return to 2019 levels before 2021, or 2022. But these are forecasts with high uncertainties.
It would be illusory to think that we will have a return to the previous situation. The last three months are likely to cause profound behavioral changes.
We remain convinced that the desire, the need to travel, to see people face to face to conclude deals, to brainstorm … will always be present, including for business travel.
This sector has always rebounded after a number of events: the attacks, the 2008-2009 crisis … Each time, we saw a rebound and at higher levels.
The role of TMC is to support businesses, first of all by reassuring. On this point, we are working with the airlines and IATA to send the message that health conditions are met today for travel.
And then we have to support and help companies to manage uncertainty: we imagine that in the coming months, there will be countries that will open, others will close, conditions will change …
The business travel agency has a huge role to play in managing this uncertainty: having customer teams very present, giving information in real time or even helping and advising companies on their travel policy.
The era of travel policy defined once and for all is over. We will have to be able to adapt it continuously.
Finally, the ecological imperative is more present than ever. Here we believe that we have a real role to play in supporting businesses. Our Neo tool will integrate a new feature that will filter trips based on the carbon footprint.
“This crisis has strengthened the role of TMC”
TourMaG.com – The big TMCs have been heckled for a few years by the entry of new players. Will the crisis accelerate the turbulence?
Julien Kauffmann: This crisis has strengthened the role of TMC. Companies have realized that a TMC is able to support them both online and offline, with consulting dimensions and relationships with suppliers. This is an aspect not only important today, but also essential.
The question: “Will we still need a TMC?” no longer arises. The companies we have supported throughout this crisis do not at all question the role of TMC, on the contrary.
More than ever, they have become aware of the high added value of TMC on the “duty of care“.
Furthermore, I hope that the market will evolve towards less than “commoditization”, that is to say where the price is the only important factor.
There are other values added to the TMC: support capacity, financial solidity …
Reorganization: “we have work in progress”
TourMaG.com – The crisis is causing some companies to restructure. Could Amex GBT also initiate a reorganization?
Julien Kauffmann: It is absolutely imperative to adapt to the changed environment. The environment will necessarily be more uncertain, so you have to be more agile, faster.
We have work in progress, no decision has been made today on France. This work should be completed by the end of the year.
TourMaG.com – Hasn’t the transaction-based business model become obsolete with the crisis?
Julien Kauffmann: We indeed want to review this model based solely on the transaction.
In a world where the volume of the transaction is going to be very uncertain, this is clearly not a perennial model. We have an obligation to reinvent ourselves on this model.
We are thinking about subscription models, in Saas mode or with a fixed part, but which would make it possible to provide a quality of service to our customers even when we have a very strong variation in the number of transactions.
It is a reflection that is engaged and that we share with our customers. We are currently meeting with them to discuss these different avenues.
A restart in the Meetings & Events activity
TourMaG.com – What about MICE activity at Amex GBT?
Julien Kauffmann: In our Meetings & Events activity, we are also seeing a restart: either confirmations or new requests for the second half.
On the other hand, the nature of the events has changed, we no longer have large events with several hundred or thousands of people.
We have set up hybrid events, both virtual and physical, and we are seeing real demand for this type of product.
Small internal events with the emergence of Zoom or others are likely to decrease. However, we see a recovery on small external events, and a slower recovery on large events.
TourMaG.com – A final question concerning the private channel agreements which expire on June 30, 2020 with Air France and Amadeus. Have you found common ground for not paying the GDS surcharge?
Julien Kauffmann: Discussions are ongoing. Factually today, we do not have the overload and our will is to maintain this status.
As a large TMC, we believe that it is essential to work hand in hand with major travel partners in France. This is what we have done in recent months to organize the fastest possible recovery.
Posted by Céline Eymery
Editor in Chief – TourMaG.com
View all articles by Céline Eymery