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With “innovationism” as its new philosophy, Trip.com Group comes roaring back


Trip.com
Group is back, and if you ever had any doubts about its resurgence and
ambitions, well, those were swept away by the mighty and impressive show of
force it put on for its Envision 2024 Global Partner Conference in Shanghai last
week for more than 1,600 partners across 50 countries and regions.

Chairman
James Liang coined a new world – “innovationism” – to describe the “new
philosophy of travel” in the age of artificial intelligence. “The meaning of life is to pursue
innovation and heritage for the long-term prosperity of humanity,” he said,
adding that travel has even more meaning now because it, like innovation, “is
the highest form of human nature and satisfaction.”

Saying that
“innovation cannot be done by machines but by humans – individuals, governments
and corporate,” he noted that the internet and AI were fertile grounds for
innovation in customer service and marketing.

And he
singled out Trip Genie, the group’s AI personalized itinerary planner which,
since its introduction last July, has handled more than a million queries,
doubled conversion rates, seen 40% additional time spent by users and 90%
increase in orders.

The meaning
of business to Trip.com Group is quite clear: to build a global online travel
agency that is dominant across all verticals – flights, accommodation, trains,
vacation packages, attractions and cars, corporate travel and B2B – underpinned
by a superior tech stack, built by an army of 10,000 engineers in product and
tech (almost a third of the group’s total head count), unparalleled customer
service and a unique marketing machinery that includes a live-streaming
platform that has been used by more than 1,000 suppliers, held 15,000 live
streams and generated RMB700 million-plus in gross merchandise value (GMV) in a
year.

CEO Jane
Sun, nursing a wounded ankle from a ski accident, went on stage to declare that
“being here will make me heal better,” and who wouldn’t feel better with such
glowing results to report for 2023 – GMV of $160 billion, 100% growth in
international and 300% growth in outbound hotel and flight bookings and
revenues. In Q1 2024, it saw robust growth – more than 100% increase in
international hotel and air bookings, 80% growth in APAC and 900% growth in
Europe.

One message
came across loud and clear – the group is back on its global expansion path,
which was temporarily halted by the pandemic. It recently launched in the
Middle East and is looking to South America.

“We are
expanding internationally. We want to bring travelers from Asia and China to
the rest of the world, and travelers from around the world to Asia and China,”
Sun said. “We want to bring the world closer together.”

Higher-tier
members and younger generation driving robust, diversified growth

Boon Sian
Chai, managing director and vice president of international markets, said the
robust and diversified growth – 20% growth year over year domestic, 100% growth
year over year outbound and 80% growth year over year international – was being
driven by a double boost engine, the return of Chinese outbound and the
expansion of Trip’s point of sales globally.

It is also
being driven by its higher-tier members and a younger generation, with those
born in the 1990s and 2000s growing considerably from 2023 to 2024.

“This
younger generation needs a new approach,” he said, and the group will use tech
to build a travel ecosystem around AI and user generated content, will make it
effortless to ensure an experience that is seamless and carefree, and will
focus on sustainability.

The group is
developing solutions for every stage of their journey. For inspiration –
TripGenie, Trip Moments, Livestream and KOL; search – Trip.Best, Trip.Trends,
Trip.Deals; booking – modification, notification, loyalty program, customer service;
and experience – customer service, Sustainability and My Trips.

He said My
Trips, a feature now available on Ctrip which “tells me where I’ve been and
where I can go,” will be available on Trip.com shortly.

Overall,
hotel bookings have seen significant growth with over 8,000 hotels offering
Hotel+X products. Its Preferred Partner Program attracted 2,000+ partners,
while Trip.Best expanded to over 20,000 hotels, with new themes such as
“boutique homestays” and “newly opened hotels.”

Another
trend it is seeing in hotel bookings is longer average lead time of 22 days and
on sustainability, 2,600 hotels have been designated low carbon hotels.

Goal to be
No 1 Flight OTA in the world in 5 years

Yudong Tan,
CEO of air ticketing, declared his goal is to build the number one flight OTA
in the world in five years, and he articulated four steps to achieve this lofty
goal: build a solid supply chain, provide high quality products and services,
stay tech driven and grow direct customer base.

Its
priorities are direct partnerships, low cost flight content, long-haul flights,
which means working on virtual interlining, premium cabin offerings and new
markets such as Middle East and South America.

Its direct
sales are powered by its inhouse shopping engine that handles 900 million
queries a day delivering 50% of bookings, 50% of which came from virtual
interlining.

Low-cost
flights have come to dominate the air space in Asia Pacific and Europe, he
said, accounting for 56% and 52% of total air market respectively. It has
direct collaboration with AirAsia and Vietjet and is working on a project with
Navitaire to reach winning deals for four sides – customers, airlines, Trip and
Navitaire.

NDC bookings
are taking off – from 2% to 3.5% – with challenges such as look-to-book ratio
and dynamic pricing to be addressed. It has built an inhouse NDC shopping
engine with aggregators such as Travelfusion and NDC-X and in collaboration
with airlines.

Following
Tan’s speech, Sam Abdou, Amadeus’ executive vice president of global OTA,
distribution and IT sales, came on stage to talk about how it was working with
Trip across the entire traveler journey, including the FUN (Flight Update
Notification) solution it developed with Trip that channels instant disruption
information from roughly one million flights as well as the first OTA online
check-in service on Thai International flights within Asia.

Rail expansion across
Europe, Vacation’s chief promises to “innovate and disrupt”

Meanwhile, the group’s international train business has expanded
operations in Europe, starting in the United Kingdom, and now covering the
Netherlands, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Italy, among some of its
key markets.

Florence Pasquier, chief commercial officer of Rail Europe, which began
its partnership with Ctrip in 2011, said it has sold 110 million Euros worth of
tickets through the group and was seeing trends of smaller groups of Chinese travelers
as well as new demand for more dispersed destinations. It is working on a
Bernese Oberland pass, for example, “due to demand for nature experiences,” she
said.

Meanwhile, CEO Ray Chen of its Vacation business, who started as a
software engineer working on hotel search at Ctrip, promised to “innovate and
disrupt” this highly fragmented and broad sector that covers package tours,
private car tours, attractions and tours, airport transfers, custom trips, visa
services and car rental.

The group saw record sales in vacation packages, and will expand
ticketing services globally in the year ahead with 16 new sites and eight new
service languages. There are plans to expand car rental services to Thailand,
Japan and other markets.

Chen said it has one of the most powerful engines for flash sales,
citing the example of when the Korean singer songwriter IU’s concert was held
in Hong Kong in May, it sold 10,000 tickets in nine seconds “and I think we can
do it faster.”

In other areas, Sun said Trip.Biz was already the largest corporate
travel agency in China by far and was showing three-digit growth, with
significant increases in hotel and flight bookings. There are plans for
expansion in Greater China, North Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East and site
deployment in Europe, North America and Oceania.

Said Sun, “The travel industry is a vital driver of global GDP and job
creation, and at Trip.com Group, we are proud to be at the forefront,
using travel as a bridge for peace and prosperity. With the support of our
partners, we are ready to turn the page to the next chapter of our journey and
embrace fresh opportunities together.”

*This article originally appeared in WebinTravel.



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