Asia will become a leading player in the next two to three years. We’re planning to expand our Trip.com brand, which has been doing very well, and focus on building it up online in markets like Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and other international markets.
Scale has been the bread and butter of online travel agencies. Even as the global economic and political outlook turns gloomy, Chinese technology company Ctrip is capitalising on tough times to gain market share and customers.
In the last five years, it has acquired US-based Trip.com and Tours4Fun, and expanded in markets like India through MakeMyTrip and the UK through SkyScanner. According to the company’s financial report from the first quarter of 2019, its share of international business currently accounts for 35% of its RMB8.2 billion (US$1.2 billion) total revenue.
In an interview with Travel Weekly Asia, Ctrip’s CEO Jane Sun outlined the company’s plans to aggressively expand its international business, which currently accounts for nearly half of its more than 300 million customers across its online and offline platforms.
Ctrip is continuing its stellar 2018 performance across its China, UK and global businesses into 2019. What lessons have you drawn from that?
Ctrip has grown from a Chinese company and positioned ourselves as a globalised company. In terms of organic growth, we are very strong in bringing customers on board and making good strategic investments.
In terms of technology advancements, we moved from a pure offline company to an online company, and now to a 80-90% mobile company. Moving forward, artificial intelligence and big data will play an enormous role for that.
It’s very important for us to have all the products that consumers like to have in one place. If you look at our app, it covers more than 60 products, from hotels, air tickets, high-speed railway, rental cars, chauffeur service, skiing, diving, wedding photography and cooking classes and meditation.
An example of how our services drive customer satisfaction is during the summer travel season in China, when flights are often delayed. So we push high-speed railway tickets to travellers instead. We tell the hotel that the customer will be late by two hours, and to keep their room. We tell their driver to change the pickup location. I think customers are highly satisfied with our “one-stop-shop” platform.
We also train our employees to be very customer-centric, and because the consumer’s time is very precious. When a customer service representative is answering a question, if he or she can use 10 words to finish a sentence, we will not let them use 15.
How are you thinking of expansion in Asia Pacific, and what opportunities are you seeing?
Asia will become a leading player in the next two to three years. We’re planning to expand our Trip.com brand, which has been doing very well, and focus on building it up online in markets like Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and other international markets. The network was originally meant for the Chinese market, and gradually we realised that lots of people in Singapore, for example, were using it. So we started adding more language capabilities to the platform. We currently have 19 languages.
Currently, the functionality of the platform for markets like Singapore is maybe only 20% of the main app, so this is our focus going forward. In Korea, for example, you don’t see a giant technology company dominating the market. There’s a great opportunity in terms of servicing Korean travellers who go abroad. Within just one year and 18 months, we’ve captured more than 10% of the market share of flights from Korea.
You’ve identified the mid-to high-end travellers as a priority sector this year. What opportunities are you seeing?
Ctrip always starts from the high-end segment and works downward. We feel the most efficient way to get consumers is when their consumption power (GDP per capita) reaches a certain level.
In terms of entry-level domestic travel, we’re looking at a GDP per capita of RMB60,000 (US$10,000) per person. Below that, you have to subsidise it. And even the customers you get are not real customers because once you stop loss-making, they will go away.
For example, the most expensive tour we’ve sold costs about US$200,000 per person for an 80-day trip around the world. Originally, I’d told our team that we’re just doing some marketing. If people have the money, they don’t have 80 days to travel around the world. Students have 80 days, but they don’t have the money. Where do you find this cross between the two? Guess how long it took us to sell these packages? 17 seconds. (laughs) And we sold 22 of such packages. So that tells you that out of 1.4 billion people, China is a very unique market.
What are some of the experiences you hope to curate for this market?
For high-end tours, a lot of people are driven by themes such as history and culture. So we started offering packages to destinations like Xi’An, Egypt, Italy and Greece. We’re also looking at expeditions. I think there is a new generation of young people who like adventure and people who like to see the Northern Lights and Antarctica.