SNCF concerned about business travel weakness

It is a contrasting assessment given by Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, during an exchange with the press. The start of the year is thus divided between the return to normal for holidaymakers and a collapsing professional segment.

That is good news for the SNCF: with 5 million tickets sold for the spring break, the reservation level is back to pre-crisis levels. This trend is also illustrated during the summer holidays, where booking rates are equal to 2019, albeit only a few percent. This dynamic is in line with the dynamic we already saw in the 1st quarter with a number of holidaymakers that was almost the same as three years ago, at the same time.

Christophe Fanichet also highlights the success of the Avantage card, which has sold 3 million copies since its launch last July. According to the manager, its use affects a quarter of the journeys made and makes it possible to generate additional journeys for the holders.

New travel habits and the impact of Covid-19: SNCF looking for stability

The pros not at the level

What worries Christophe Fanichet, on the other hand, is the traffic for professional travelers. At the start of the year, it has halved from its pre-Covid-19 pandemic level. If the manager had been warning for several months that this segment would not return to its previous level in the coming years, with a possible structural decline, he would not have expected such a decline. Business traffic recovered slowly in 2021 but remained 30% lower than in 2019. For 2022, SNCF Voyageurs wanted to improve this performance. After fifteen minutes, the rail carrier is still far from paying attention.

Christophe Fanichet is currently highlighting the impact of the Omicron variant – which has greatly restored remote practices – and therefore sees a temporary movement. He says he is concerned, but not concerned. But if it were to continue, this -50% drop in business traffic would be detrimental to SNCF Voyageurs’ financial trajectory. Especially because a professional traveler generates more income than a leisure traveler. When not providing details about his subsidiary, Christophe Fanichet recalled that the target for the group was a return to free cash flow equilibrium at the end of the year.

Getlink (Eurotunnel) ready to release the checkbook to aid the arrival of a competitor against Eurostar

Eurostar and Thalys are doing better

Paradoxically, this decline in business traffic is in line with an upturn in activity on Eurostar and Thalys. Christophe Fanichet thus indicates a better return than expected from professional travelers on these lines, even if they are not “as much as he would like”.

At the bottom of the abyss a few weeks ago, with fewer than 500 travelers a day, Eurostar is significantly restarting with the lowering of health restrictions. Traffic in March was about 80% of pre-crisis levels. And since the beginning of April, the transport plan has returned to two-thirds of the nominal with an average occupancy rate of 65% on weekdays. While only two to three trains per day ran between Paris and London in January, Eurostar will return to a near-normal offer in mid-May with 15 return flights between the two capitals, seven return flights to Brussels and three to Amsterdam.