Poignant testimonies from tourism professionals on the 2 years of crisis
Tourism was for two years the ugly duckling of the French and global economy. At a standstill, blacklisted by employees, then forced by health measures, the sector experienced an almost eternal crisis. To come back to this historical period, four women spoke at the congress of Travel Companies. They delivered inspiring testimonies in the form of an outlet, far from the usual male discourse without emotion and turning to figures. A look back at a moving sequence, of bosses like no other at the Travel Business Congress in Punta Cana.
Poignant testimonies from tourism professionals on the 2 years of crisis at the EDV congress in Punta Cana – Photo credit: CE
There are dates that no one ever forgets.
Like the victory of the 1998 World Cup, September 11, everyone remembers March 16, 2020, the date on which Emmanuel Macron announced the first confinement in history.
The country was going to war against covid, tourism for its survival.
For professionals in the sector, not only did the President of the Republic draw the curtain on their businesses, but it causes a real economic and financial tsunami.
“Suddenly everything stopped, while March is usually a big month for us. We had 2,000 passengers at destination, whom we had to repatriate almost individually, case by case,“recalls Olivia Calvin, Commercial Director of Climats du Monde.
An operation complicated by an atrophied air offer and whose prices have skyrocketed, as the flights were removed. In all, the bill came to nearly 300,000 euros for Climats du Monde.
The figure is significant, but less than the hours of sleep lost and heartburn, faced with the radical decisions that had to be made.
“I felt like I was tearing the pages of my children…” emotional coward Michelle Kunegel
“This is quite simply the period of my life during which I worked the most.
We have set up video meetings, so that the group does not lose ground,]i” recalls Valérie Sausset, general manager of BCD Travel.
In all, only 5 employees worked full time during the first days of the crisis.
Less worried than her colleagues in leisure distribution, the boss of the business travel specialist is taking the bull by the horns.
“The main challenge was to structure the daily life and work of a group made up of 230 employees. We have strengthened the sales teams, to make up for the lasting decline in the level of activity by winning over new customers“.
At the same time, further east, the covid has left lasting traces within LK Tours.
Michelle Kunegel, general manager of the network, took over the family business alongside her brother (who takes care of the transport branch, editor’s note) with the desire to develop it. A successful task since the teams have been multiplied by 3 to reach more than 700 employees, in just a few years.
“I didn’t want to be the last link in a chain… This box I have it in the guts.
When you take over a family business you take over a family history book. Our parents wrote their pages, when my brother and month were writing ours,” metaphor Michelle Kunegel.
Then covid arrived, undermining decades of work and generating a book burning. The future has become blurred or even imperceptible.
Suddenly, the blank pages of the next generation disappeared.
“Beyond closing the book, I felt like I was tearing up the blank pages, because potentially the company wouldn’t survive this chapter. The pressure was enormous, probably too much, so as not to be the weak link,“testifies the president of LK Tours.
Of the 65 employees before the covid, the tourism branch will lose around twenty profiles, to enable the company to face its new challenges.
“Talking about this is therapy for me” according to Michelle Kunegel
On the Marseille side, at Climats du Monde, once the urgency of repatriation had passed, the concern of a lasting crisis quickly made itself felt.
“We had to take difficult measures to sustain the business. Payroll has fallen by 60%. We chased costs by cutting everything we could do,“testifies Olivia Calvin.
The aid has certainly been massive, it has not always been well thought out. The teams lost more money by working certainly at 30%, than by being completely unemployed.
For BCD Travel, the crisis has not been experienced in the same way.
“We kept everyone, thanks to the partial activity. We have not drawn up a restructuring plan, on the other hand, employees have left gradually.”
In all, 10% of the workforce left the company.
A bad memory that seems distant, while the agency specializing in business travel has not only found all of its staff, but is in the recruitment phase.
One reason for this, BCD Travel grabbed market share during the pandemic.
But beyond the figures Michelle Kunegel wanted to come back to the emotions of this period.
“To make decisions against nature (to lay off, editor’s note), it is therapy for me to be able to talk about it. I lived in the depths of myself, this decision to have to lay off,” expresses not without emotion the general manager of LK Tours.
The manager then starts looking for a job, to move the travel agents into the transport section of the group, by identifying vacant jobs.
Once this operation was completed, we had to face the facts, to survive, it was necessary to reduce the sails by carrying out economic layoffs and closing branches..
Dismissal: “I did this with my guts, my way of being”
To do this and to be in tune with herself, the president of LK Tours drops her rigid business manager costume.
“I did this with my guts, my way of being. We made 5 visios with each time about fifteen collaborators. For each of the visios, there were tears. I cried a lot.”
A rare message for a leader of such a large group, accompanied by tremolos in the voice. But if it were to be done again, the Alsatian would not change anything.
“I was in tune with myself, I explained what I had to do, but with emotion and my sensitivity as a business leader and a woman. All these decisions were very painful, but I did it as I thought I had to, by not losing myself.”
And it is in tears that the boss puts the microphone on the table. An unprecedented and unfeigned sensitivity that brings the human in a sector, where figures are too often the markers of conferences and exchanges.
In Marseille, the young leader also experienced a certain loneliness.
“When the captain is bad, it’s not good for the teams. I took an executive management coach in the covid phase. It allowed me to have an outlet, someone with whom I could discharge my anxieties,after-the-fact analysis Olivia Calvin.
The latter does not hesitate to compare this support with that of a psychoanalyst. A refreshing speech of truth from leaders, in a world made up of bosses who only rarely give themselves up.
For the boss of BCD Travel, the discourse is more Cartesian.
“We had incompressible costs. So we suspended all our customers’ contracts and I went to see the biggest ones, to explain the situation to them and convince them to cover our costs. incompressible.”
Valérie Sasset won her case.
“The difficulty is now: motivating the teams is very difficult”
Now that the sector is looking with appetite towards the future, it has come the time to gargle with the little joys of everyday life.
“I am still in contact with these people who left and I’m super proud to say that I picked up 3. It’s a small victory. Today we celebrate all the small victories,” coward more appeased Michelle Kunegel.
For Climats du monde, a tour operator specializing in Asia, the recovery has been slower to emerge. The junction with the return of lovers of Asian culture was made by diversifying the destinations.
“We have trained our teams so that they all continue to work. Everyone immersed themselves body and soul in this rise in skills and this production which now covers Africa, Latin America and still Asia.”
For BDC Travel, on the other hand, now is the time to remobilize the teams. After two years of a pandemic with multiple twists and turns, the staff is tired, even exhausted.
“The difficulty is now, they are angry with us because of the permanent yoyo and having been taken for numbers. We find it difficult to bring them back into everyday life.
The motivation of the teams is very difficult to obtain,” analyzes Valérie Sasset.
Despite everything, hopes are not zero in tourism. The average shopping basket is on the rise, the desire to travel is very real and even new customers, disappointed with the internet, are coming through the doors of the agencies.
For these three women, these two years have been rich in lessons. Their companies have bent, without breaking, employees and their structures have become more agile.
The links have become closer with the staff still in place.
And this picture wouldn’t be complete without THE tourism woman who pierced the screen to the point of catching the eye of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign teams.
“I have a feeling of pride vis-à-vis the work accomplished during these two years, but also of not having lost any members. We’re lucky to be here in Punta Cana and still standing here “concludes with emotion Valérie Boned, the general secretary of Travel Companies.