Lancer Insurance
Monday, June 24, 2024

For all of the frustrations and anxiety that COVID caused luxury transportation companies around the world (including staff and vehicle shortages), there are as many inspiring stories of triumph and ingenuity. Operators used the pandemic to their advantage to check items off their to-do lists or dial in on efficiencies and procedures.

Paris-based Chabé decided to do all of the above by opening a brand-new London office as well as launching their dream project, building an international network (which is based in the UK office). More than a year and half into the endeavor, the Chabé Group is reaping the rewards of its investment. We spoke with Chabé CEO Guillaume Connan, who oversees the entire Chabé Group from its Paris headquarters, and Director of International Operations Nivin Salem, who is leading the development and expansion of their network on the ground in London.

Q&A Chabe Chabé’s Guillaume Connan and Nivin Salem Chabé also commemorated its centennial year in 2021, a huge anniversary for the family-run company. Although COVID derailed efforts to celebrate with its partners and clients, Connan reports that an event to mark the occasion is currently being planned for May 2022.

Chauffeur Driven: When we talked last summer, you were going through a regrouping period, because COVID was waning and business was ramping up again. What’s been happening since then?
Guillaume Connan: It was a bit slow at the end of last year, but what we’re seeing now is very intense. February was always the quietest month for us, but bookings have really picked up, so unless we see a new serious variant, we’re going to have a very busy year starting in March.

Nivin Salem: We’ve been busy prepping, which is so important because you have to be a bit ahead of the game to handle that kind of surge and demand. We saw this same trend last summer, especially in London, where we had many events. Now we’re all hands on deck.

CD: It’s been an eventful two years for Chabé with the launch of the London office, the hub of your new international affiliate network. Where do things stand?
GC: We know that many in the industry have suffered, so we try to be sensitive to what others are going through. The reality is, I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished with London. We were bold enough to say, let’s do this, let’s expand into London during the worst crisis you can imagine, and fortunately, it was a success that has transformed the company.

NS: Of course, the whole situation with COVID was gloomy, but it did create some opportunities for us, especially in London. With the shift in markets, whole companies have disappeared or changed the way they do business or what services they offer. We are the newcomer in London as part of the Chabé Group, and we’ve really been able to demonstrate the service we can deliver. We’ve been successful in client acquisition, and we’re very proud of how we’ve been able to build our network in a short period of time—about a year and a half. Our name is becoming known there now, and we’re getting recommendations from clients.

GC: The London company was founded in May 2020 and our first employee joined in September 2020. Basically, this office created 30 jobs in the middle of the pandemic and we have been growing fast since then. We’ve invested significantly to expand in London and we were fortunate enough to have a strong balance sheet to do this.

CD: Now that the London office is nearly breaking even, what does your affiliate network look like?
NS: We now deliver service in 100 countries, and over the last year, we’ve had work in about 40 countries. Initially, it was very Europe-centric, but then we saw the US grow quite a bit, followed by the Middle East, Africa, Asia, New Zealand, and Australia. It’s obviously nice to have a network ready, but what you actually want is to be able to send reservations. Our partners are also happy to receive work from us, and vice versa.

GC: We had a small window of validation from October in the UK to the beginning of December, about six weeks, where restrictions were really lifted prior to the fear from Omicron. Through that period, it validated to US operators that we are a hub where they can send their bookings for all European markets and they know they will get the highest quality supply, service monitoring, and accurate invoicing.

NS: We have 24/7 support, which is important to US operators. Our team really understands the US market and its different requirements. It helps to build real confidence with our clients.

CD: What has that process been like getting all your technology up to speed?
NS: We’ve covered a lot of ground. There’s always a tech roadmap; you’re never done and there’s always more to do. We adopted a new group booking system and it’s now been implemented across the Group so we’re all on the same system. I think we’ve landed on great tech that helps us work efficiently across the globe.

GC: We reached almost all our technology milestones, mostly in the second half of 2021. We had many people to train as we have close to 400 employees in the Chabé Group. Now it’s all about adding new functionalities and integrating it through various web services, increasing efficiency, and lowering the cost of production. We want this to be a real human service because customers and partners want a person to answer the phone when they have an issue.

CD: What is it like in the UK office now that COVID restrictions are winding down?
NS: It’s a strange world. The number of infections were high in the UK in December, and the government did a lot to make sure that everyone got boosters. With the numbers way down, things are more relaxed so we have in-person meetings with clients, can work from the office again, and pubs and restaurants are all open. That’s having an effect on clients traveling not only domestically, but also internationally. It’s a good start to the year and a trend that will hopefully continue.

CD: What about inflation and rising prices? Are you impacted at all by the issues that are happening in Russia and Ukraine?
GC: Commodity and labor costs are definitely an issue right now affecting the industry in all countries. We have all seen the fleet cost rise in addition, which is function of supply/demand with new car availability a real issue with regards to holdups in production. Fuel costs are rising daily due the issues in Russia and Ukraine. Clearly, we are all facing cost push inflation, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

CD: What are your big goals for 2022?
GC: First, we are hoping to have higher revenues and profits than we did in 2019, which was a record year for us. It will be helped by London, obviously, because it’s an addition to the Group, but also all the things we did during the pandemic. Secondly, we have big ambitions in terms of corporate and social responsibility, including the fact that more than half of our fleet will be electric/low-carbon by the end of the year. That’s a big investment. And finally, we’d like to promote our international service to all our customers increasing their international travel. We work in 15 different industry verticals across the Group; if we can serve them all across 100 countries—that is really our goal.

NS: We share best practices. Paris is a strong market for hotels, and we’ve been learning how we can apply that to the London market. It’s all about sharing that experience and know-how, and then adapting it to the market.

GC: We try to share that know-how and best practices with our partners as well because I think there is a real interest in presenting those ideas on an international basis. I’m very happy to teach and learn from our partners wherever they are, because the stronger they are, the stronger we are.    [CD0322]