Saskia Gentil: "We'll always need to be very close to the customer"

5 min reading time

Published on 27/11/23 - Updated on 27/11/23

Saskia Gentil, Accor

A few weeks ago, the Accor group shared its "Business of Travel 2023" report under the theme: "Business is back, purpose is key". Saskia Gentil, Senior Vice President Sales - Europe and North Africa, Accor, takes a look back at the highlights of this work.

How did this study come about?

The "Master of Travel" is a study that we carried out following an Advisory Board meeting. We were in Belgium in the spring. Many of our customers and partners were there. It was a very productive working session. They had high expectations of travel trends in the medium and long term. The aim of this study was to decipher the expectations of corporate travellers. This seemed totally legitimate to us after the crisis.

This study enabled us to confirm elements that we had observed at the end of Covid-19 in the business travel sector, in particular changes in behaviour. We also asked ourselves whether these changes were likely to last.

There is also the question of the structuring of distribution methods. Distribution is moving faster and faster, with a growing number of players. Using TMCs adapted for corporate customers is also a question of security in relation to OTAs. Dedicated tools enable travellers to be tracked effectively around the world, which is no mean feat in the current geopolitical context. The safety and security of travellers is becoming a key expectation.

Using dedicated tools also means being able to collect data to analyse spending profiles and make savings.

What are the most striking elements?

The first key trend is 'bleisure'. More and more customers are extending a business trip with a weekend break. The SBT (self booking tool) allows customers to book at corporate rates, but if they want to book for leisure, they will have to plan for this as well. This has a real impact on the tools.

However, what really stands out are the expectations around ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance). It's omnipresent in our customers' calls for tender. The RFPs include criteria around labelling and the actions implemented. Travel agencies are now offering trips with a sustainable development theme. So it's interesting for us as a supplier to be able to take part in these trips. In addition to our zero-plastic initiatives and the Green Key labels, we are setting up in-house tools to measure the impact of our establishments. This enables us to make the actions we take tangible and, above all, to measure them. Travel policies have become much tougher on the subject. Some customers are totally prepared to pay more for their room as long as there are actions in favour of sustainable development in the establishment.

We have a number of initiatives in place, particularly on waste reduction. We also encourage customers to participate in this effort, which is reflected in the All (Accor Live Limitless) loyalty programme.

How do you attract and retain corporate customers?

To retain our customers, including corporate customers, we offer experiences through this loyalty programme. Particularly if you bear in mind that our cardholders are on average 26 years old. So they are not just focused on the hotel room, but also on culinary, musical or sporting experiences.

Our establishments also lend themselves to 'bleisure' thanks to a wide range of spa and fitness facilities.

How do you see corporate travel in 5 years' time?

t's hard to see that far ahead. Intermediaries currently take up a lot of space. We will certainly be moving towards a simplification of distribution. Digital tools will also play a bigger role. However, I think we'll still need to have very close contact with the customer. I don't believe in digital technology completely replacing the human touch. At Accor, we always say that you have to approach technology from the heart. At the end of the day, we're in the hotel business, and the hotel business is all about contact.

Corporate will evolve, meetings and events will evolve, but customers will always come to our hotels. The way it is distributed, the way it is sold, will certainly be different. But the experience will always be an experience. Our figures are very good, we're almost back to 2019 levels, but with real traction on prices.

With home office on the rise, people need to see each other, need to connect. A lot of people are saying that there will be more meetings, smaller meetings, than there used to be.

Are there any changes in preferred destinations?

Concerns about sustainable development mean that there is a desire to limit air travel in favour of rail. There is also a strong tendency to seek a reconnection with nature.

We are seeing the emergence of Eastern European destinations, with a leisure offer developing in parallel. So-called secondary towns are also becoming increasingly attractive.

However, the major tourist and business travel destinations remain very attractive: Paris, Rome, Madrid...

In the run-up to the 2024 Olympic Games, how is pick-up?

We've been very active on this issue. I myself have been heavily involved in the committees and work carried out in Paris, in particular with the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau and Atout France. I'm expecting the first half of 2024 to be similar to the first half of previous years, albeit with some traffic problems in Paris due to the works. We see that bookings are buoyant, although several trade fairs have been postponed to make way for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

2024 will be a very busy year. These events will be a unique and highly rewarding experience for our teams. Faced with the challenges and questions, we are all working together to make the Paris 2024 Olympic Games a superb success. I think the numbers will be there.



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