After a prosperous 2023, the group puts its success down to its heavy investing into technology
Big Interview: Tech is at the heart of everything for Trip.com
Pandemic or no pandemic, Trip.com Group has been very vocal throughout about how much its heavily investing in technology as a priority.
Boon Sian Chai, head of international business, of the group puts this down to the fact that it still operates and thinks like a start-up, despite the fact that it’s been listed on NASDAQ since 1999.
The pandemic - despite China being one of the most severely affected countries and Trip.com being a Chinese-owned company – didn’t slow the business down.
“We continue to look, to innovate, and invest in products and technology so that we can have the best products for our customers,” said Chai.
“If you look at the pandemic, because of restrictions, we were looking at new products and new technology that can allow people to travel within mainland China where possible.”
The innovative creation of live streaming stood the company well throughout this period but was actually born out of the idea of helping the industry to recover.
James Liang, founder and chairman of Trip.com Group, would do a live stream for one hour every Wednesday at 8pm to help bring people to domestic destinations.
Liang and the team worked with tourism boards, destinations, airlines and hotel partners to build interest with travellers.
It worked so well that it has amassed over 1 billion views on the channel since it started and even after the pandemic the stream continues every week.
Innovating through a pandemic when the industry was at a standstill may seem like a tough nut to crack but another opportunity was to be had.
Trip.com worked with Hong Kong hotels during the mandatory-quarantine phase of travel to develop a platform for booking quarantine hotels to ease the experience for travellers needing quarantine accommodation.
This innovation in turn helped the brand grow its customer base as well as its awareness in the market.
Working with hotels to provide a platform meant that hoteliers finally had a resolution to sell their products to customers.
A trend it is seeing gain momentum, which in turn caused its team to develop a new product in response, is sustainability.
Trip.com’s Hot Choose programme allows travellers to pay for carbon emission free products.
“I’m very happy to share that over 50% of Europeans actually pay for carbon emission free products.
“It’s the highest across the world. Europeans are higher than Asians and other people.
“In general, when people book flights, they pay about 4% more for carbon emission products.
“We’re very happy about this because people are really now thinking about environment and sustainability.”
But that’s not where it ends. The firm acquired Skyscanner in 2016 and has taken a leaf out of its metaphorical book when it comes to inspiration and content.
“We learned a lot from the Skyscanner approach, which is why we bundle flight and hotels,” said Chai.
The technology is designed to help people when making a decision on travel so they can see deals for within their budget and where they can go for the money they have.
“This helps the booking path or the inspiration path. If you look at other platforms, they are very focused on the transactional part, which is people making the decision to come to this destination.
“But what we want to do is to actually do the technology part before the actual transaction so that people can think and can be inspired and have stimulation and other contents to help them decide where want to buy and what products they use.”
“A trend we’re seeing over the last few years is the advancement and adoption of user generated content.
“At Trip.com Group what we are doing is we are actually moving from what we call a transactional platform to a transaction plus content generation platform.”
The app allows users to share their own photos, recommendations and itineraries and earn Trip Coins which equals cash off a purchase.
Other offerings developed to help give users what they want include Trip.Best and TripGenie.
Trip.Best is a curated list of recommendations of the best hotel products, restaurants and activities.
It uses AI to find the best rated products but then all are run past market and account managers in case they have local tips as well as they know their market best.
Whereas TripGenie is Trip.com’s popular AI assistant to help you plan your trip.
Going forward into 2024, the firm says its motto will always be customer first, as well as technology, and will continue to invest in customer service.
This excites Chai the most. He said: “It may be boring to you but I’m most excited by our customer first principle. If you don’t put your customer first, you can sell whatever you have but your customers may not have good experiences, or your customers may not come back.”
Again, technology is at the heart of operations. 75% of its customer requests are addressed using APIs and 97% are answered using automated customer service responses.
Add its customer-centric approach to its global expansion, its next market is within easy reach.
Though it is investing in Europe now, the plan is to take it to the next phase after this, which is the Middle East.
Its next technological roll out will be Arabian language apps so that it can target GCC countries, which it hopes will be early this year.