Ctrip’s CEO on competing globally through a comprehensive tech suite

This is the latest in a series of articles spun out of tnoozLIVE@ITB, recorded live over three days at ITB Berlin this March. More clips and interviews to come here, as well as on our YouTube channel.

For the first time in its history, Ctrip is going global. Despite being NASDAQ-listed, the Chinese travel giant has traditionally kept its focus on its domestic market.

Amid a growing globalization push among Chinese conglomerates — see Baidu’s splashy event at CES this year — Chinese travel brand Ctrip made an appearance at ITB Berlin, its first foreign show.

Ctrip CEO Jane Jie Sun sat with us during tnoozLIVE@ITB to discuss how the company approaches its business in a shifting global environment.

As part of her keynote on stage, Sun reflected on the three-pronged strategy propelling the company forward: a buzzword stew of artificial intelligence, Big Data, and the cloud. The company ties these threads together as the fabric for its growth outside of China, where it hopes to use its dominance to capture a greater share of Chinese traveler spending. As well as potentially serving non-Chinese customers with its technologies.

Artificial Intelligence is an area of particular note for Ctrip. The company uses its growing knowledge in this space to intelligently route calls through to its call center reps. This reduces the time it takes to connect a user with a solution while also freeing up its call center staff to help with the most complex queries.

Big Data was a key part of Jane’s keynote. She demonstrated a new product called VTM that gives real-time data visualization for traveler searches across destinations in China. This information drives understanding of where and how to make infrastructure investments, as well as allowing travel operators a new view into the live demand curve for their products and destinations. Armed with this information, these travel brands can adjust price and availability to reflect what’s happening on Ctrip.

Cloud computing, just as it does for businesses all over, allows Ctrip to ramp up its efforts quickly while also facilitating data capture and faster processing for the real-time insights that the company promises to its key travel stakeholders.

For more, watch the tnoozLIVE@ITB video below, followed by the transcript and Jane’s full keynote.

Transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Nick: I would like to hear from you about the ABCs. Tell me about the ABCs and the investment strategies that you have.

Jane: We strongly believe that technology is the pillar for our business. So, we heavily invested in ABC. A stands for Artificial Intelligence. B stands for Big Data. C stands for Cloud Computing.

And together you are doing some pretty interesting products that you showed at the keynote today. Was that VTM? Was that the product you are showing?


What made through VTM and the data that you guys are using?

We have three hundred million registered users, one hundred million active users. So, every day we look at 50TB data and customize the product to base on their consumer behaviour.

We also send this forecast to our business partners in the hotels, in the airlines, in the local attraction tickets office. So, they can anticipate and view that the infrastructure to better serve our customers.

And where does price play into that? Do you also make recommendations for pricing?

We do, we do. So for example, during the Chinese New Year when we see searches…that region will have the shortage of the hotels. So, we will give the intelligence to the hotel partners so they can adjust the price accordingly.

So you basically take the data and help people price accordingly?

Right. And also, when we see certain consumers they have certain spending limitation.

We will give them the intelligence to say, “Okay, we know you are interested in staying at an Island hotel. This Island is very expensive during this season but within your spending power we recommend the other hotel which is also satisfying to your needs”. So, both consumers and hotel partners appreciate the usage of this data.

And you make maybe bundle of packages too? Does it make easy to create a whole experience for the traveler?

Yes! Yes we do. So for example, when a customer flying from Beijing to Berlin. If he or she is using a first class or business class tickets, then we recommend a 5-star hotel for them.

Once they decide, “Oh I will stay in the Waldorf Hotel in Berlin”, then we calculate the distance between the airport to the hotel and we will send a limousine service to them. And when they settle in at the hotel, we can give them a nice shopping package. And when they decide to try some local food, we also have our recommended restaurant list for our customers.

So it’s true, data-driven personalization.

Very much so.

Let’s talk about the Chinese traveler. An 18% increase in urban travel per the World Travel Monitor. But you have said recently that you also want to increase your share of domestic travel. Obviously, Chinese people are also exploring their own country. So, how do you see or how are you targeting the Chinese traveller as they evolve? How are you targeting these travellers in different ways?

As we can see, the per-capita income for China is increasing significantly. Secondly, the visa restrictions for Chinese travellers are being lifted. Thirdly, there are lots of direct flights from China to the rest of the world. All these factors place in favour of outbound travel.

We try very hard to listen to our customers and listen to their pain-points and make sure we present them with a comprehensive product offering. Because of the language issue, when Ctrip pre-screens certain products for them, the customer’s users experience is good.

So, if I am a hotel and I want more Chinese travellers, how do I go about getting verified through Ctrip. Tell me what I should do.

The hotels, we have very good experience during the Chinese New Year. One of the hotels worked very hard with our team. So, they are prepared with red envelopes for Chinese customers. They upgrade our customers whenever there is a room available and also they offer Chinese food for breakfast.

All these combine together, make it very attractive for Chinese travelers. We very much like to work with the hotel partners, airlines, local attractions, in this market and give them the data we have seen. The pain-points our customers have experienced. They will stand-out as the most welcomed resources for Chinese travelers.

And then, they get more travellers right? They get more inbound Chinese.

Exactly. Yeah.

Ctrip in two years, where do you want to take the company? Where do you see yourself going with it?

The GTP growth rate for China is about 6 to 7% and travel industry doubles that at about 10%. And our growth rate normally can double, triple that number in the long run.

So, our team is very dedicated to making sure we offer the best product, the best service, the best technology to our customers.

The focus for our team has always been on three items. The first one is the technology. We hire a lot of people from the Silicon Valley and from the best universities in China.

The second thing is the product. We have baby-tiger program continuously innovate new products to bring into our product offering.

The third one is the service. We offer 24/7 non-stop SOS program. So, whether you have a tsunami in Japan, earthquake in Nepal or you have a shooting in Las Vegas, our system will be able to identify where our customers are within seconds. Within minutes, our team will be able to talk to the customer that’s in the region. Within one day, we can rescue the customers back to China.

So, these are kind of the services that give peace in mind when customers at travel with us. So, in the next two years, I think this has still our focus. Always focus out the customers, always focus on what they need where their pain-points are and improve upon it.

One actual final question. Your focus expands to other travellers outside of China, and serving travellers from the west who want to go to China.  Is that a focus or are you staying primarily with the Chinese traveller?

When your product is very good, some of the customers, even if they do not speak Chinese, they will appeal to your product.

For example, the air ticket’s business is growing very well. We offer the best price, best service. So, although we haven’t expanded too much for the air ticket business a lot of people already write very good review notes for our product. So our belief is, if the product is strong enough, naturally people from China, and outside China, they will all tend to use your products.

To learn more about how to bring tnoozLIVE@ to your event, please email Ella Sopp.

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick helps brands blog better at Ghost Works, a boutique blog management service. Nick was previously the Director of Content for tnooz, where he oversaw the editorial and commercial content as well as producing/hosting tnoozLIVE.



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