You are present at the EDV congress as a partner. Nevertheless, with the travel agencies, the negotiation is tight concerning the commissions…
Olivier Pinna: Every three years a convention is held which determines the commissions paid to travel agencies on the sale of train tickets. A few months ago, we reopened these negotiations, which end at the end of 2022. Currently, this commission is 3%. We made a proposal. It is less but I consider this drop almost symbolic. We take into account the difficult period experienced by the agencies but we are forced to note that the SNCF has also been very impacted by the health crisis. So from there, we try to have a balanced discussion. I would add that the negotiations also relate to easier access, for agencies, to the TGV OUIGO offer.
[Plus tard dans le congrès, Jean-Pierre Mas, président des EDV, abordera ce sujet. En substance, il a déclaré que les dossiers “commissions” et “OUIGO” devaient être scindés. Que le résultat des négociations sur l’un ne devait pas impacter celles de l’autre : “On n’est pas au souk de Marrakech”, a-t-il ajouté. Puis, sur un mode plus conciliant, il exprima son optimisme sur la conclusion d’un accord acceptable pour les deux parties avant la fin de l’année. Mais que le temps pressait.]
CSR is at the heart of business concerns and rail prides itself on being sustainable. Is business travel by train “trendy”?
First, sustainable mobility is indeed in our DNA: for the same journey, we emit 80 times less than by plane, and 50 times less than by private car. Regarding the appetite of companies for CSR, before the crisis, we were more in the display. Since then, we have seen that real choices are made in the PVE: for some large organizations, the thresholds have been raised for a plane / train changeover to 3 or 4 hours of travel with sometimes penalties in the event of non-compliance. But beyond the hardening PVE, the aerial tropism, very old in some companies, for statutory, historical reasons, or more simply habits, is fraying. The crisis has also played a key role here: the scarcity of flights has forced changes in behavior after which the rate of adoption of the train is very high. Because travelers have been able to experience, in addition to a better CSR performance, comfort, useful time, service in the city center… This shift phenomenon is widespread enough for us to see it clearly in our figures.
Let’s talk numbers, precisely. Where are we with business travel (BT) at SNCF?
Before the crisis, BT at SNCF represented around 20% of passengers and 30% of revenues. Today, these figures are lower because BT has picked up less than leisure or affinity: around 15% of the volume, but it’s going up – in April 2022 we are at 75% of the figures for 2019. However, I think that some companies will never travel again as before because new habits have been adopted. But part of this new normal will be offset for us by this seesaw trend I just talked about. We hope to return to 2019 levels by 2024.
In this context, SMEs return more quickly than large groups because the resumption of travel is more imperative for them in terms of business and because the PVE are less restrictive. Ihere are 15 points of difference between the return of SMEs and SMIs and large groups, but, overall, everyone is coming back: the PVEs of large groups have eased the pressure since October, a trend certainly mitigated by the 5th wave behind us today .
But this new post-Covid deal also offers new opportunities. I am thinking in particular of this long-distance daily life that requires teleworking 2 or 3 hours from the company’s headquarters.
Considering this new situation, what adaptations have you made in your “business” commercial policy?
Since last December, our traditional Pro contracts (for SMEs-SMIs, editor’s note) and Large Accounts have been enriched with new advantages: facial discounts on the Second – which was not the case before – to respond to a trend towards a certain “downgrading” of the business traveler, greater discounts on certain routes, a discount system linked to CO2 emission reduction targets, etc.
In addition, we have created an intermediate contract, the Premium, for large SMEs that travel frequently and can claim more benefits than a basic pro contract.
There is no threshold for the Pro contract which directly gives 5% discount on the First and on two preferential routes in Second, as well as other advantages such as the issuance of a dedicated report.
In all cases, the tickets are full flex and at a fixed price. All these advantages can be combined in a very structured way with rates negotiated with the TMC used by the company. Since December more than 40,000 companies have joined.
The “Farandou” commercial policy is that all users subscribe. In addition to these corporate contracts, what do you offer the business traveler individually?
The Liberté card was launched in May 2019. It is aimed at frequent business travelers. The reduction levels are 45% in Première and 60% in Second compared to the Business Première reference rate. Tickets purchased with the Liberté card are 100% flexible and in first class, the bearer benefits from the services of Business 1time.
It can be used at weekends, and cardholders can even pass them on to their children at weekends (up to 11 years old, they pay 50% of the price of the ticket paid by the cardholder). It costs €399, or €379 under corporate contracts. New features on the Liberty map will be announced in June.
The SNCF is a relevant observatory of the phenomenon of long-distance telework. What can you say?
For the moment, the phenomenon does not justify turning everything upside down, but it is an emerging reality without a doubt, and important enough for us to see it in our figures: if we obviously keep our traffic peaks on Friday evening, Sunday evening and Monday morning, we also observe, on the roads more or less 2 hours from the largest cities, peaks on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings. We are analyzing this very closely because it potentially impacts our production, the setting up of our services. Note that these new teleworkers also justify the improvements made to the Intercités service that we too often forget.
Reality important enough for us to adapt our offer as well. We have created the Forfait Max Actif, valid from Monday or Thursday. It is an annual subscription including 250 trips (the equivalent of 2 to 3 teleworking days per week). All TGV INOUI and Intercités destinations in France are eligible, but not the TER. Its price varies depending on the chosen route, but we can say that it is on average around 300 €. And, of course, it offers greater discounts than Special Benefits cards. There are already between 6000 and 7000 subscriptions.
The recent SNCF news is of course the opening of rail to competition. How do you live it?
She’s there, that’s a fact. Trenitalia offers 5 return Paris-Lyon daily, we 22. We take note of this with serenity: we are improving our service (additional catering services on the Paris-Lyon, for example) or we restructure when necessary, as in the case of the next merger Thalys-Eurostar.
But competition also means opportunities for SNCF in other European countries. We have been taking advantage of this since May 2021 with the opening of the TGV line between Barcelona and Madrid, with occupancy rates of 90% or more. We have other European projects, not advanced enough to be made public. Finally, the competition stimulates the market and also stimulates us.
Many distribution players would like to sell tickets connecting all points in Europe. Will it be possible one day?
That this will exists is a very good thing, but we also come up against operational realities: not everything is interoperable, but things are moving forward. Thanks to Eurostar-Thalys, you can go from London to Germany, for example. There are reflections on interoperable standards at the distribution level but, for the moment, the agreements are only bilateral.
Like the Midnight Train project, many small players are emerging. What do you think of their offer?
Yes, there is indeed Midnight Train (high standard cabins linking major European cities at night, expected for 2024, ndr ) which is a kind of “Orient Express” revival, but also the revival of night trains by the SNCF, in France and in Europe (Paris-Vienna). But still Raillcoop who wants to relaunch, in cooperative organization, Lyon-Bordeaux. Or finally Le Train, to operate routes along the Atlantic coast. All these initiatives put the train forward, are complementary to our offer, or else in competition, and, in this case, it is up to us to rise to the occasion. Either way, it’s good for the planet.
Air France representatives are present at this EDV congress. When you meet them, do you kiss each other?
Statements by Jean-Pierre Farandou (CEO of the SNCF, ndr) may have clashed with the directors of Air France. But he has since clarified his point. When he said that the plane was not expensive enough with regard to its environmental cost, he was above all targeting low-cost companies. Therefore, these airlines constitute a form of unfair competition and have a negative impact in ecological terms. With Air France, we “repaired”, especially since we work together on the subject of intermodality.
[Après cet entretien, Christophe Pouille, présent lui aussi au congrès des EDV et en charge du dossier “Train+Air” à la SNCF, a déclaré que ce type d’intermodalité était mis en place avec 12 compagnies aériennes (dont AF), au départ de 18 gares françaises. Un avantage : une seule résa, un seul billet. Une garantie : une place sur le vol suivant en cas de retard du train. Une nouveauté : à partir de juin, une offre digitale simplifiée.]