There’s a new Online Travel Agent (OTA) in town with the official launch of Trip.com Australia on Wednesday, 10 April at an event for travel and tourism partners in Sydney.
Trip.com is a division of China’s Ctrip Group, the world’s largest OTA by Total Transaction Value, which is also the powerhouse behind brands including Skyscanner and Tours4fun.
The Shanghai-based travel technology company has been in the market for eight months locally, and offers flights, hotels, trains, car hire, airport transfers, tours and attraction tickets via the Trip.com mobile app, or desktop website.
With a 20 year history behind it, Ctrip launched into markets outside of China five years ago, including Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. The strategy wasn’t the runaway success the company was hoping, and in 2017 Ctrip acquired US travel research website Trip.com and used that brand in the four international markets for greater traction.
“The product was right but the brand didn’t fit,” Head of Marketing – Australia, Joanne Heggie, explained to LATTE. “Once we rebranded it was the catalyst to launch into other new markets, and that’s when we expanded to Australia.”
Since late 2017 Trip.com has been researching and learning about Australian travellers’ buying behaviour and testing the market.
Heggie admits the OTA market in Australia is saturated “to a certain extent” but is confident that there is “still room for us to move”.
“We’ve had some new marketing partners come onboard – Hong Kong Tourism Board and Macao Government Tourist Office – and the results that we’ve projected totally exceeded expectations,” she said.
Trip.com is working towards being a one-stop-shop for travel, Heggie said.
“Flights, hotels are our bread and butter. But if you want to book a train in China, a car in Iceland, an airport transfer in Beijing, you can do all those things on Trip.com.”
Cruising is the only core travel component that isn’t offered on the site, and it isn’t a priority to add.
“Cruising is a very competitive space in Australia and I’m not confident that Australians are willing to book that product online currently, so I think it’s something we could look at, but it’s not something we are currently working on.”
She said Trip.com’s point of difference from its OTA competitors includes total transparency with no booking fees, extremely prompt customer service (90% of calls are picked up within 20 seconds), and competitive pricing.
“The technology we have behind our pricing and how we configure it is really trying to deliver the best for the customer. In terms of flight pricing, even being in market a short time, we’ve really gotten a strong hold on bookings. We are trying to ensure we are keeping the customer happy because we are an OTA. We need to be competitive on pricing at the end of the day.”
Trip.com will also introduce package pricing in the near future, offering bundled flight and hotel stays: a move that will see even better value on combined elements.
The former Flight Centre executive also told LATTE that Trip.com was travel agent friendly and that the trade would be a focus in the next year. There are three solutions currently available, including a trade portal, an API feed and a link which a client can book through that provides agents with a “kick back” on transactions made.
Heggie said Trip.com is open to working with travel agency networks here.
So far, there have been 150,000 downloads of the Trip.com app in Australia, with about 40% of bookings being made on the App/mobile as opposed to 60% via a desktop. “There is an appetite and we are definitely ahead of the curve compared to our competitors in terms of that mobile booking,” Heggie added.
The company plans to expand across the Tasman to New Zealand in the future.
Lead image: Trip.com’s Lynn Qu, Vice President Product & Marketing; Ooi Chee Teng (CT), Senior Director, International flight business and Joanne Heggie, Head of Marketing.