Travel has been a part of Cyril’s life from the time he was born. His mother was a flight attendant, and Cyril thinks that he probably took his “first flight on a baby chair.” After the sidelining of his plans to become a professional tennis player, Cyril went on the more conventional academic route and had goals to work to earn money to travel. Fast forward to years later, the current President for Travel Partners of Expedia Group is firmly planted within the ecosystem of an industry he had loved since he was a child.
In this episode:
Staying cool and calm in the face of current challenges affecting the travel industry“The hardest thing was to do the right things for our customers and our partners in a time when everybody was going crazy, with all (the) cancellations and restrictions, etc. And as an OTA, we were kind of in the middle. So remaining cool and calm, and trying to see through the clouds, what would be the impact of the decisions we took, was a challenge. So, done as best as I could, considering the unknown territory, I would say [laughs]…But one thing is that I've reflected on over the years is in our industry, I say never make enemies, so never go too far in what you can say or do in a way that would cut bridges forever. Because when we look at travel, it's an incredibly large industry on the outside, but it feels incredibly small and connected on the inside. So I try to stay cool and calm on the outside with everybody I meet in the industry.”
Decision to stop“It was around 16. I was good, I was actually playing with some people who made it very, very high in the ATP rankings, (they went) to the final of Wimbledon, etc. But they were much better than me. You can feel where you reach your peak and they are just starting, and this is where I was [laughs], I was at my peak and they were just getting started. Then the gap was much bigger after that.”
Lessons learnt“With a sport like tennis, there's no excuse. If you don't have the discipline you don't perform, (don’t) train and make sacrifices etc. you don't perform, and when you lose it's all on you. So you can't find excuses. I think it's a good way to look at yourself in the mirror and reflecting on what you did right and wrong, which is then helpful in life. You can’t put the fault on your teammates or somebody else in a company that hasn't done what they had to do. I think it trains you to have an objective look at yourself and self-awareness.”
With all the hours you have flown, do you still feel that flying is magical?“I do. I have to say I find it more magical when you go overwater, when you cross an ocean and you change continent, I find that quite magical than (being) on the short fights. Short flights are a little less magical. I guess when you leave Singapore, it’s very often you’re over the water…and has a special place in my heart, for the (Boeing) 747 which I know you too.”
Democratisation of air travel with the Boeing 747“I was a little touch when BA announced that they were retiring them, just because it democratised travel. It's a plane that opened the world to the middle class. So I think it actually had a huge impact not only on travel, but on the world. For me, it's always been a particular plane that I really liked. I had incredible moments in this plane, and I'll share one with you which, for me will also remain like the engine on fire. One of those days, I was going from Paris to LA and I was waiting in line at the counter, as I said, not knowing if I was going to get my ticket. At thay time, for the staff, they had a process which put the highest priority people in line first in Economy, so they filled the empty seats in Economy. Then as you as you went down the priority list, they were filling Business Class and then they were filling First Class. Since I was a son of a flight attendant, I was super low in the priority list. So I was always at the very bottom of the list. On that flight, I got upgraded to First Class, and I was paying $10. So it was really, really cheap [laughs] and the First Class ticket was, I don't know how much, but it was incredibly expensive. (In flights like these) you always got on late, the last one on the flight where everybody was already seated with their champagne waiting. I got to my seat, which was 1A in a 747. So (I was) getting in the seat, I'm sitting down, and there's a boarding pass of the passenger next to me that was just between the two seats. I looked at it and it said Frank Sinatra [laughs].”
Trade-offs between the positive and negative impact of the travel industry“I think the world is made of trade-offs and compromises. There's no black and white and the way I look at it is yes, travel is creating some pollution, like a tonne of other industries. But when you compare that to the wealth it creates; the employment opportunities for local communities around the world, to power the lodging business, the activities business, it's only travel that can employ that many people in that many places. There's no other industry that has a footprint as diversified as travel, literally. You can have a hotel anywhere, and that can employ 50 people locally, anywhere. That is only provided by travel. For that to exist, you need airlines, because if there's no airlines, if there's no flight, if there's no international connection, all these local businesses will die. Then all these jobs will go away and then we have a different problem than pollution. I'm not saying pollution is not an issue, but we've got to think of the impact that a healthy airline ecosystem around the world – the impact that it creates on the lives of millions and millions of people on the ground – just because these metal things are flying. So I think the push towards making airplanes more efficient and reducing the carbon footprint and getting hotels to be more sustainable, and hopefully we can help, like Expedia and others, promoting sustainable actions by hotels and airlines, and allowing them to differentiate in the rankings so that customers who want to play a role can select them. So hopefully, we can help steer the industry towards a lower impact, a lower carbon footprint. But at the same time, we have to understand the positive impact of travel on the world itself. That is pretty unique. So, it's easy to go look at the negative, but it's always a compromise.”