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China’s No.1 online tourism agency, Ctrip wants to become a one-stop shop providing services ranging from hotel reservation, transportation ticketing, package tours to corporate travel management. A process of globalization started in 2011 and is set to continue. Kevin Guo, General Manager, Strategic Cooperation & Marketing Innovation at Ctrip, decodes the company’s innovations in marketing.
Leaders League. Since 2013, you have advocated transforming Ctrip from an OTA (Online Travel Agency) to a MTA (Mobile Travel Agency). What do you think of the future of mobile marketing?
Kevin Guo. The use of mobile phones has surpassed PC/tablets and is now the core of e-commerce, and the entire user’s behavior is around mobile phones, at least in China. Over 70% of Ctrip bookings are done by mobile. Convenience is what consumers are always pursuing. Mobile phones are so convenient and we don't see another piece of equipment replacing them in the near future.
Ctrip started with PC-based products, and when mobile was becoming more important, we built all our product, business and sales strategies around mobile. Nowadays we first develop a product for mobile then transfer it to the PC if needed. I believe PCs are in decline and will be replaced in the long term.
Should brands choose between developing applications and a mobile website?
When a brand has a dominant market position and consumers see it as a necessity, which is the case of Ctrip, it is important to develop one’s own application. On the other hand, in a highly competitive market where consumers don’t necessarily need to use the product on a regular basis, mobile websites with a HTML5 page structure are important as leads principally come from search engines.
What do you think of WeChat Mini Programs, or sub-applications, within the WeChat ecosystem?
It’s a very useful tool and we’re also developing some products around this channel. However, it’s not in our hands and is controlled by Tencent, so we would like to first observe and wait for this tool to reach a larger audience. If the whole mini program market gets bigger, we’ll for sure follow the trend closely and invest to develop more adapted products.
How did you come up with the successful slogan “Travel anywhere anytime with Ctrip?”
When we realized the importance of mobile and its potential to become the core of Ctrip’s future development, we started to think over the various consumption situations where the use of mobile phones is the most suited, like booking at the airport, searching for information, driving, walking, etc. In such cases mobile phones are the most convenient, so we want to carve this convenience and accessibility in the mind of consumers. Plus the free life attitude incorporated in the sentence “travel anywhere anytime,” this created great success and left strong impression on consumers.
Our foremost priority is internationalization
What do you think of the recent trend that offline channels seem to find their previous glory and become popular again?
Offline channels have always been there, it’s just that the growth pace of online channels is so fast that the online flow capacity is now near saturation, so companies have to integrate their online and offline channels.
For example, in 2016 Ctrip acquired the offline tourism chain Traveling Bestone in China and have developed more tourism agencies ever since to reach new consumers, especially in second or third tier cities, where people prefer face-to-face communication on first contact.
This said, I still believe the future belongs to online channels, because they are more efficient and convenient for consumers, and it also help the efficient operation of companies.
How does Ctrip analyze different consumer profiles that adapt the most to a certain channel?
We have a dedicated team to analyze the data of consumers from different age groups, geographies, etc. to better understand a set of things such as their search and consumption habits, channels of information collection, preferences of product booking and use. User data is key to all internet companies, and we collect the data mostly internally, since we have 300 million clients, we have a big enough database.
What are the priorities of Ctrip for 2018?
Our foremost priority is internationalization. We aim to achieve this objective via different approaches: acquiring local brands, like Skyscanner in Europe and MakeMyTrip in India that we acquired in 2016, and we are studying some mature tourism companies as targets in Australia and the US; as well as building our own brand trip.com. In November 2017, in an important step in our globalization strategy, we acquired the US travel research website Trip.com and rebranded it as our global brand website. Today if you open any of our overseas websites, you’ll be redirected to this website.
In terms of geographical zones, we’re already quite well established in the Asia Pacific region, but we wish to extend our reach beyond to the US and Europe and to further explore the high consumption markets in tourism.
How do you use content marketing?
Content marketing is very important and there are two ways of doing it. The first is to cooperate with popular TV programs, TV series or movies and insert our advertisement, using their popularity to reach out to public, and this is a better way than pure advertisement. The second way is to create original content by our own to bring in public, which is also the part I’m currently in charge, we invest in TV series, videos, films, etc. so as to combine the brand content we want to express with the content of the works. We are still at the beginning to test this model. In 2016 we invested in the first cruise TV series in China, Chinese Love Boat, and shot the forty episodes using our own cruise.
Jeanne Yizhen Yin
This interview was conducted during the China Connect event in Paris on 7-8 March, 2018.