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Trocotel : how solving customer dissatisfaction leads to new business

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The Trocotel website is an interactive platform created by Etienne Merlo and Jérôme Rouvront, both former employees of the Accor group. We went to interview Etienne Merlo to better understand the motivating factors behind the creation of this website.

The idea of Trocotel comes from first-hand experience.

These two employees were confronted each day with the dissatisfaction of many customers who had booked at an Accor hotel, but who, because of an unforeseeable event, could not take advantage of their reservation. The General Terms and Conditions (GTC) did not allow them to obtain a refund or compensation, thus causing dissatisfaction and frustration, pouring onto the social networks. The image of the group was suffering. Trocotel’s idea, therefore, came from the need to find a solution to this problem.

How was customer dissatisfaction handled before Trocotel?

Etienne and Jérôme tried to find an alternative solution to this problem, that would allow the clients not to lose everything, and that would not undermine the reputation of the group. One of their solutions was to ask the customer to keep his reservation but to reschedule it, possibly at an extra cost, or, to ask a friend or a relative to use the reservation by changing the name on the reservation. This concept could never be discussed with the Accor group, who remained adamant with applying their GTC. It must also be noted, that many of the customers do not read the contracts before signing them, and thus, find themselves confronted with these difficulties.

The success rate of these two strategies was still limited, because finding a friend or relative likely to replace you at short notice is somewhat tricky. To reschedule the reservation was more efficient but with the constraints of the hotels’ occupancy and prices which would significantly increase, did not necessarily satisfy the customer either.

Giving or selling your reservation to a friend: the idea of the website was born.

How to move from a field observation ( customer dissatisfaction) to a practical solution: market study or not?

Our two co-founders had already run a business in print-advertising that they sold to move onto a web concept.

The initial idea was a blog, on which members could indicate that a reservation had become unusable and thus offer it to others in search of a hotel reservation. This solution, therefore, had to go through a website-based platform, allowing people to move from blogs in which they could put classified ads to a real interactive website.

A very lightweight version of this website was used to test the product’s reception and ability to interest and be developed. We can, therefore, consider that it was this test phase that served as a market research assessment for France, at a reasonably low cost but nonetheless making it possible to have a reasonable estimate of user requirements and interest in this new concept.

Keep in mind

Testing a prototype in real conditions is also a way to do market research

However, changing the site required essential data, such as the amount of non-refundable bookings lost each year by customers. INSEE statistics and those provided by professional hotel groups showed that this represented about 1.8 million overnight stays per year. Knowing that in 2014 only one other site offered to resell its reservation to another member of the community, the quantity seemed sufficient for a lucrative business to be set up.

A court case with Accor and some tough moments to go through.

The Accor group, faced with a problem to which they had never been able to find a solution, first decided to modify its General Terms and Conditions to exclude reservations coming from Trocotel, they then filed a lawsuit with the Trade Court.

The procedure was short, and the Accor group was defeated by Trocotel’s arguments. This set a precedent. Etienne Merlo keeps a favourable view of this case as it demonstrated that the Trocotel concept was of interest to the larger hotel groups, thus validating the business model.

The Accor group (which did not ask for a re-trial) met with Trocotel management after the hearing to study avenues of collaboration, and in particular to deal with Airbnb.

The following stages in Trocotel’s development. The competitive risk.

We asked Etienne Merlo about the risk of this concept being integrated by major booking platforms such as Booking.com.

Etienne considers that these platforms cannot legally afford this kind of proposal, because the status of a publisher and that of a host are not necessarily compatible from a legal point of view.  (Leboncoin ( a French website that publishes classified Ads for private individuals and businesses) has had bitter experience of this, earning themselves a conviction), their business model is based on significant commissions received from affiliated hotels. A start-up wanting to engage in this sector could present a potential risk.

Having been in existence for 4 years makes Etienne confident about Trocotel’s growth. However, he believes that competition would be beneficial, reflecting the market interest in this new mode of transaction.

The next stages of Trocotel’s development.

Now that the concept is known to French hoteliers, Etienne Merlo is considering the possibility of testing the platform abroad, particularly in Europe, where the idea is not well developed. Competition from the United States exists but is not necessarily aimed at the European market.

Thanks to the media, there has been extensive publicity around Trocotel. The documentary television programme, Capital on M6 (French television), has generated a significant increase in new subscriptions. Some websites such as LeBoncoin are now interested in a partnership with Trocotel, which shows that some web players, already firmly established, recognise the importance of the market and plan to offer this solution on their website. Trocotel is, therefore, moving towards partnerships with companies such as this.

Etienne Merlo’s ambition is to obtain 15 to 20% of the volume of non-refundable bookings per year in France.

Key numbers.

Trocotel made a turnover of 5.5 M€ in 2017 by transforming 50 to 55% of the reservations that were resold on the platform. The medium-term objective is to double or triple this figure to reach 2 to 2.5 million users within 3 years, growth supported by the improvement of the of the user interface.

Photo credits: courtesy Trocotel

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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