If you want to understand the nature of Ctrip’s global ambitions and strategy, just let the CEO take you on a guided tour of China’s largest online travel agency, and the globe’s second largest by market cap, as she scrolls through screens on her phone.
Jane Jie Sun, who got promoted from Ctrip co-president to CEO in November, sits in a conference room on a late Tuesday afternoon a couple of weeks ago in a heavily Chinese section of Flushing, Queens in New York City.
Sun, currently the only female CEO of a publicly traded online travel agency, landed in New York from China only a couple of hours earlier but she’s eager to talk to Skift about where Ctrip is headed. (Gillian Tans is CEO of Booking.com, the biggest piece of the Priceline Group.)
Asked to discuss Ctrip’s business model and seemingly all-encompassing array of products, including everything from flights and hotels to luggage, translation and extraction services, Sun takes out her mobile device and points to what seems like pages of multi-colored “cards” depicting the hierarchy of the company’s multifaceted products and operations.
“If you look at the pink section, that’s accommodation-related. You have overseas hotel, Groupon, Airbnb, HomeAway,” Sun says, meaning flash sales, short-term rentals, and vacation homes. “The blue section is transportation. We start with air tickets, high-speed railway, bus, ferry, chauffer, taxi, special tickets. So this is transportation. Then this is leisure travel. You have packaged tour. This is TripAdvisor [meaning user reviews], when you make a reservation, and then cruise. You have tailored cruise.”
Given this wide-ranging assortment of services and as well as investments in tour operators, China Eastern Airlines, India’s MakeMyTrip, and a joint venture with Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ctrip seems more like a TUI Group or Thomas Cook than a Priceline Group or Expedia. Ctrip also acquired Universal Vision and two other tour operators servicing Chinese clients in the U.S. last year.
The Focus Clearly Is On Chinese Travelers
It’s a distinction with purpose.
While Priceline and Expedia want to be as global as they can be, servicing Brazilians, Dutch, Spaniards, Nigerians, Egyptians, Chinese, Americans, and Canadians, Ctrip’s vision primarily is to accommodate and support Chinese travelers, whether it is for a domestic hotel stay, which is a particular priority at the moment, or wherever else they wander internationally.
“Lots of countries have lifted their visa restrictions on Chinese customers so that’s why it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to explore the opportunity along with our customer,” Sun says. “Our goal is wherever our customer goes, we will be able to help them by supplying them with the best inventory, the best price, best services. When our customers started to visit Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, we invested in a Hong Kong company and a company in Taiwan to help them get the best product and service.”
It isn’t a small demographic Ctrip is chasing.