Ziad Minkara, directeur général de CDS Groupe. Ziad Minkara, Managing Director of CDS Group.

Through your booking channels, do you observe a recovery in business travel?

Ziad Minkara – Yes, absolutely, at least on a national level. This upturn was already noticeable from June and has become real and concrete since September, with train travel to destinations where the round trip in the day is complicated, thus requiring additional accommodation. In addition, we are also seeing the length of stay increase to allow for more activities to be organised on site. In the past, a reservation was for two nights on average, today it is more like 2.5 or even 3 nights. Finally, another observation: it is the budget hotel chains that are benefiting most from this recovery rather than the international chains, which are more dependent on international business travel and trade shows and conventions that have not yet fully recovered their dynamism. The recovery is therefore national and provincial, whereas we used to have a global and international recovery, driven by Paris and the large upmarket chains.

Do you agree with this state of affairs?

Z. M. – As the basic positioning of CDS is to be a player well established locally, we are taking full advantage of this. Especially as the markets reopen, the return of international travellers is also being felt. For example, we are starting to see bookings on the American market. However, the pandemic has changed habits. From global client accounts, where companies managed their travel policy globally, we have moved to multinational accounts, with each country managing the crisis with its own travel rules. These major accounts need agile operators such as ourselves, capable of doing “customised” work on a country-by-country basis, with a specific tool for each entity. I believe that we are going to move from a travel policy to a travel process, with processes defined not in their entirety, but for each individual traveller. What has developed with this crisis is really the flexibility that allows companies and their employees to adapt their way of travelling.

Hence, from your side too, an adaptation to this new situation.

Z. M. – In addition to our purchasing and travel management contacts, we are now working with risk management, which has become a major issue for companies, with this problem rising to the level of the comex. The idea today is to allow fewer bookings outside the channels approved by the company. Everything must be traced and integrated into tools with information that goes back to operators specialised in security such as SSF, International SOS and others. For us, this is a positive development, because the decline in bookings has been a major factor in our success.

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ons – the leakage, as they say – now passes through our pipes. As a result, given the capture of these flows that we were missing, we are recording an increase in the volume of bookings on our customer portfolios. This partly offsets the expected decline in the number of business trips, with several studies showing that 25% to 30% of them will disappear.

Companies have realised that a Hotel Booking Tool is necessary, just like their tariff negotiations with airlines, railways or hotel groups.

What other ways do you see of mitigating the expected decline in business travel?

Z. M. – For example, the complementary flows that we are developing through the distribution networks of travel agencies. And with the upturn in activity, they are recording quite impressive growth rates for hotel reservations. It is also compensated by the fact that major accounts are increasingly equipping themselves with independent hotel reservation tools from the large American travel agencies. Companies have realised that a Hotel Booking Tool is necessary, just like their rate negotiations with airlines, railways or hotel groups. That it was necessary to have a partner capable of assisting them with issues of hygiene, hotel openings and closures, and real-time information. All of this has value and our business is strengthened by it. During this period of crisis, we even tripled our client portfolio. We had never experienced such growth before.

So your positioning as a pure player in hotel reservations has been legitimized?

Z. M. – Our role has been strengthened by this crisis, since TMCs need technology to evolve. The new entrants, such as Travel Perk or Trip Actions, are arriving with their fully integrated technologies. And the so-called “traditional” agencies need technology, additional revenue, support and services. So, either they turn to the GDSs, or they will take the technologies that are available on the market. The exit from the crisis is positive for an HBT provider like CDS, as we have adoption rates of our online booking tools above 90% on our customer portfolios. We are at a breaking point in companies such as travel agencies on digitalization.

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Does this open up new growth opportunities for you?

Z. M. – Before the crisis, we had already changed our strategy. From a desire to be the leader in France, we have moved on to become a major player on a European level. We are present in 18 countries with important markets in which we are making progress, i.e. Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Belgium as well, even if this market is still very much affected by the international situation and will recover less quickly. We’re talking about the headquarters of companies in all these countries, but obviously we support our clients all over the world. We adapt client by client, country by country, depending on the SBT used, the workflow We can have this agility, which is increasingly requested by all of our clients, in terms of validation, travel rules and payment methods. We can have this agility, which is increasingly requested by all our clients.

Before the crisis, we had already changed our strategy. From a desire to be the leader in France, we have moved on to becoming a major player at the European level.

Another major trend in the future development of business travel is without question CSR. How do you approach this subject?

Z. M. – We already had two important aspects in our reservation tools, with the labelling of hotels such as the green key or green globe and also their commitments to people with reduced mobility. The crisis has added another notion, that of sanitary measures, hence the setting up of a covid index. Today, we are going further with the sheets drawn up by Afnor covering a hundred or so questions. Historically, we were on the declarative side, but now we are moving to the controlled side. Of course, we cannot control the 17,000 hotels that we offer for reservation in France, nor the one million establishments worldwide. This truly comprehensive CSR reading grid, ranging from energy to social integration, including short circuits and the products used, will only be applied to the hotel programme of major accounts, i.e. 300 to 500 hotels that will be certified by Afnor, a partner chosen for its neutral approach. A pooling of these certifications is expected in the future, as it would be foolish to certify the same hotel used by several clients several times. These are developments that will come in time.

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What other projects do you have for the months and years to come?

Z. M. – First of all, clearly, we want to stay in our position as a pure B2B hotel player and not move into leisure or other businesses. Especially as Booking.com for Business has withdrawn from this distribution sector and is leaving a place in the market. Another objective is to continue to digitalise our tools, to use them on the move and to interface with all SBTs and risk management players. We are also in the process of working with all the payment players, particularly those newcomers to the market such as Mooncard and Jenji, to provide solutions linked to these new payment methods and management tools. Finally, we will continue to develop on the European market which, despite the crisis, remains substantial. 25 billion before the pandemic. 25 billion before the pandemic, so even if we subtract the expected 25% drop in business travel, it still represents 20 billion. This is nothing to sneeze at.