“Protecting the environment is undoubtedly the most pressing challenge facing tourism”
We had the pleasure of talking to Mondial Tourisme‘s Sales Director Selatt Erdogan, a veteran of the French travel scene, about the company’s business model, its production and distribution practices and how it is adapting to changes in the industry, among other subjects.
To begin with, tell us a little bit about yourself. What inspired you to go into the travel industry and how did you wind up at Mondial Tourisme?
The travel sector always fired my imagination. From a very young age, I dreamt of getting away rather than ending up stuck in an office. At one point I was interested in diplomacy, in no small part because of the amount of travelling involved in that profession, but after doing an internship at a tour operator, I ended up going into the travel sector.
Once you get a taste of the tourism industry, it’s very hard to tear yourself away. I did try to switch to something else early on in my career, largely because I was earning a very low salary, but I soon came back to my first love. We sell dreams to our customers and I’ve never found anything comparable in other sectors.
As a result, I’ve spent almost my entire career in tourism, mostly with Marmara. After 20 years there, the group merged with TUI and I joined Mondial Tourisme, a former subsidiary of Marmara that initially specialised in air charter. This air transport know-how, which is fundamental given how costly it can be for TOs, remains well intact, but an influx of new blood has helped the company grow. Indeed, we’re now a 35-strong team.
What are the pillars of Mondial Tourisme’s business model and how do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?
We are specialists rather than generalists in the sense that we offer a limited number of destinations. The two main markets that we specialise in are Tunisia and Turkey. After that come Egypt and Rhodes – the latter has potential for development but is also rife with difficulty because of what a coveted destination the island is. Tunisia is our bestseller in France.
Responsiveness is another of our calling cards as a company. We operate on a human scale and our decision-making process is very fast, which appeals hugely to our clients and distributors.
Lastly, another of our hallmarks is our willingness to take risks, which underpins a significant portion of our production. We charter planes on a very regular basis, taking on financial commitments in the process, and we also apply this policy to our ground services. Our Mondi Clubs, seven Francophone holiday clubs launched two years ago, are a notable example of this.
Do you make year-round reservations for these Mondi Clubs?
The Mondi Clubs give us an exclusive edge in the French market. They are a brand, but they also guarantee a certain level of service for customers.
In practical terms, we take on year-round commitments with our partner hotels, which give us access to very competitive rates. For the most part, we don’t book out entire hotels. To give one example, we offer the 5-star Club Yali resort in the Izmir region under the brand Mondi Club Yali 5* in the French market.
Our distributors have instant access to our stock via the Orchestra or SpeedMedia platforms or the professional space on our platform. We’re completely satisfied with this model and the results have outstripped our expectations, especially in Tunisia. Furthermore, we also negotiate and undertake similar commitments with hotels not involved in the Mondi Club programme in order to ensure we have rooms available for the peak season.
What are your main distribution channels?
We make use of every possible distribution channel, but we primarily focus on professional networks. Indeed, although we’re not listed by TourCom and Selectour, these two networks’ member agencies are authorised to open accounts with us on an individual basis and they are doing so every single day.
On this note, it’s worth mentioning that we unsuccessfully apply for membership of these two powerful networks every year. The obstacle appears to be internal politics and business strategy, as they seemingly already have other partners for Tunisia.
Yet our competitors quickly run out of stock and we would be able to fulfil these member agencies’ demands. Some 373,000 people travelled with us across all destinations in 2017, but almost 300,000 of these were flight-only bookings. Being listed by these networks would enable us to convert many of these flight-only bookings into packages in collaboration with our partners, thereby increasing our turnover, as well as to take on more commitments and risk.
Moreover, there are hardly any other options for Turkey, and over 400 Selectour-listed agencies and 270 TourCom-listed agencies have opened client accounts with us. Therefore, I feel that the heads of these networks are making a strategic mistake by blocking our applications and ought to reconsider our case so that we can work together seamlessly.
We visited your website in preparation for this interview. Is it an important channel for you?
Not at all. Our growth strategy doesn’t hinge on direct sales, which explains why you’ll rarely see Mondial Tourisme mentioned in the mainstream press.
Having said that, our platform is available for use by any and all travellers who don’t want to go to or through an agency, enabling them to make B2C bookings. We don’t ignore this side of the business; it’s just not our priority.
Fixed stays seem to be your primary accommodation product. What other markets have you branched out into?
The starting point for the changes we’ve made was a realisation that concerns us, although it is not a hard-and-fast rule: French people are going on fewer and fewer tours. We’re seeing much more demand for stays in a single place, complete with ‘radial’ (out-and-back) day trips – excursions that don’t require changing hotel every night.
This trend is widespread across all age groups for trips to Tunisia and Turkey. As a result, we’ve opted to scrap tours, but at the same time, we’ve launched a number of coastal cruises, especially along Turkey’s Aegean Coast. We’re using schooners with six to eight fantastically appointed double cabins for the purpose, which are priced at around €900 apiece in the high season. Customers who go on these trips alone or as couples often come back and ask to rent the whole boat out with friends for a real luxury experience.
Likewise, where production is concerned, we favour comprehensive management of air transport and hotel accommodation, even if we don’t always take on all of the available rooms. Further down the road, by around 2020, we’d like to have total vertical integration for certain routes, with full-chartered planes and whole hotels booked out.
Once you have chartered flights and booked parts of hotels, do you set fixed catalogue prices so that agencies know the exact rates for any given product in advance? Or do you price dynamically, adjusting rates depending on the demand from your distributors?
The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Even though our company’s strategy gives precedence to selling packages, for products that we’re very familiar with and have expertise in, we try to implement yield management to gain a competitive advantage.
Obviously, we don’t offer tailor-made, dynamic packages because we have contracts with particular establishments. On the contrary, at Mondial Tourisme, we know that our travellers will be staying at one of the hotels that we’ve contracted. The fact that we’ve got them in our portfolio is a strength and it’s the reason why agencies come to us. Tour operators with a dynamic offering, on the other hand, work with everybody and have no way of telling in advance where their customers are going to end up.
Moreover, there is a tendency to think that dynamic packages are always cheaper than products packaged by tour operators, which isn’t necessarily the case.
You say that comparatively advantageous prices attract customers. However, putting yourself in the consumer’s shoes, if your rates are too low, don’t you think you risk sowing seeds of doubt about the quality of the stays you offer?
If we were talking about a B2C company, this could indeed be an issue. However, we work predominantly with professionals who know us, our production process and how we choose our hotels. We’re experts in the products we sell. On top of that, we organise familiarisation trips with partner agencies to showcase our products to them. Accordingly, professional networks know the places where their clients could land up and are able to provide them with better guidance.
How do you pay your suppliers? Do you use local currencies? Does the currency market affect Mondial Tourisme and if so, how?
For ground services, it varies a great deal.
As for air transport, we had some unpleasant experiences on this front in the past owing to dollar fluctuations and spiking petrol prices. We were obviously affected and we had to pass on the increased costs to travellers.
We now seek to limit our exposure in our charter flight contracts. To this end, we negotiate financial undertakings with a fixed basic rate in euros or dollars.
But aren’t you still exposed to, say, appreciation of the dollar?
After the contract has been signed and we have entered into our commitments, the airlines know what rotations will be necessary and can, therefore, buy the required fuel for our services in advance.
What do you think are the most important technological transformations taking place in the travel industry and in your segment specifically, and how is your organisation tackling them?
In my opinion, our sphere of activity has already undergone a revolution with the advent of the Internet. Customers now have flight comparison tools at their disposal and can easily find a host of information about the destinations that interest them. They can even make bookings at all hours thanks, in particular, to B2C platforms.
Naturally, industry professionals are also reaping the benefits. Nowadays, technology means that a customer can walk into an agency and get an instant response to their questions from an agent thanks to B2B platforms. Online travel agencies have also capitalised through 24/7 sales.
That aside, this revolution has led professionals on a whole to become more aware of new technologies and sensitive to their consequences with regard to communication channels and customer perceptions. These days, customers can rate all aspects of a stay, so we can’t afford to overlook even the slightest detail. All these tools also enable us to gather competitive intelligence.
Lastly, in general (and this is a question we’re asking all of our interviewees), what do you see as the biggest challenge facing tourism today?
Protecting the environment is undoubtedly the most pressing challenge that must be addressed. When I look around me, I see that we’re not conserving the seas, the mountains or nature in general. Our industry must raise clients’ awareness about wastage. To this end, we could introduce common methods that would apply to all tourism players, such as the creation and adoption of labels, or at the very least implement joint action among tour operators in order to get everyone on board.
As for us at Mondial Tourisme specifically, all-inclusive stays also pose a challenge in relation to resource management. We see the same phenomenon over and over: travellers are thoughtless, especially when it comes to water usage and all-you-can-eat buffets. Here, once again, raising awareness is paramount. It’s an important issue and we’ve got to draw travellers’ attention to it via the hotels that we work with.
* * * * * *
About Selatt Erdogan: A highly experienced travel and tour operating professional with an extensive knowledge of the industry’s inner workings, Selatt Erdogan is perfectly equipped to understand and shed light on the changes taking place within the sector in France. He is currently the Sales Director of the Mondial Tourisme group, whom he joined following 20 years at Marmara, where he held various senior positions before the company’s merger with TUI.
About Mondial Tourisme: Mondial Tourisme is one of the leading French tour operators for the Mediterranean area. A specialist in the Tunisian and Turkish markets, the firm enables agencies to arrange every aspect of trips for their clients, from flights to on-site activities and hotel reservations. It also offers a B2C platform – even though direct sales are peripheral to the company’s growth strategy – through which travellers can book stays independently. As well as reinforcing its standing in its long-established destinations and doubling down on its model, Mondial Tourisme is also looking to extend its influence further afield.