May 2019, London
Europe's biggest event for commercial and digital travel execs
Ctrip on mission to go global with ground transportation
EyeforTravel talks to Amy Wei who is heading up Ctrip’s foray into train travel starting in the UK
When Amy Wei, GM of International Train Ticketing at Ctrip, tries to book rail travel in the UK, she is confused. “There are over 20 rail companies in the UK and the system is quite complicated. It can also be quite costly,” she says.
This is the problem that Trainpal, a new ticketing app from Ctrip which launched in September, is looking to solve, and already it is promising to save an average of 37% on UK rail ticket fares. “Since our soft launch in March the number of registered users has skyrocketed,” says Wei, who will be speaking next year at EyeforTravel’s The Travel CX and Acquisition Summit (May 21-22).
We are really serious in this industry and we are trying to see what we can do in the global space
Amy Wei, GM International Train Ticketing, Ctrip
However, Ctrip, which already distributes millions of train tickets in China, is not simply interested in disrupting the UK’s privatised rail market, though Wei sees this as a good place to start. “We are really serious in this industry and we are looking to see what we can do in the global space,” Wei says. In fact, the group has already signed deals with Germany’s Deutsche Bahn as well as the national rail firms of Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
Ctrip’s move to build its global train supply network is part of its drive to become a one-stop-shop. So, just as you can find flights across all Booking Holdings sites – from Booking.com to Agoda, Kayak or Momondo – so it is that customers from different markets and segments will be able to find rail tickets on Ctrip, Trip.com, its international arm, Skyscanner and so on.
Product innovation, value for money
One of the ways Trainpal is looking to attract customers is through product innovation; the goal being to delivering more value for money, while also tackling current barriers to payment. “It’s all about helping people to travel more easily,” says Wei, who argues that travel isn’t just about flight search. Sometimes people just want to get to a small city without an airport.
To address some of the rail distribution challenges the in the UK, Ctrip contracted with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), an industry membership body that brings together passenger and freight rail companies, with the aim of unifying integration across all Ctrip brands. As Wei explains: “The overall system is designed to minimise interaction between train carriers and Ctrip. Through the right partnerships, direct API connections and integrations, customers will be able to book rail seamlessly wherever they want to.”
Another central objective is to put the customer first, a strategy stated publicly earlier in the year by James Liang, co-founder and chairman of Ctrip, who laid out four company principles - transparency, choice, uniformity, fairness. In addition, the company believes that seven company standards, including reliability, accuracy and convenience, will ensure that the C in Ctrip, continues to stand for the customer.
Wei says that unlike UK-based Trainline, Trainpal will not charge a booking fee. “TrainPal is looking to devote itself to innovative solutions so that customers can discover cheaper ways to travel by train. Our unique split ticket algorithm is a good example,” says Wei.
Other issues that Ctrip will be looking to tackle are the current barriers to booking ground transportation like language and payment.
Tapping the homefront
While Wei is clear that Trainpal’s aim is to serve all people wishing to travel by train, it’s own fast growing and increasingly independent Chinese outbound travel market is not being ignored.
According to the 2017 China Outbound Tourism report, jointly released by the China Tourism Academy and Ctrip, Chinese citizens made over 130 million outbound trips last year and splashed $115bn in the process. More recent data released by Ctrip find that people under the age of 29 are the fastest growing group, accounting for nearly 50% of outbound travellers.
People under the age of 29 are the fastest growing group, accounting for nearly 50% of outbound travellers
Other key findings are that Chinese tourists are looking for more diversified experience. The number of bookings for overseas entertainment products rose by 110% year-on-year; think music concerts in Manchester that could be reached by train!
Parent-child travel is becoming increasingly popular too. And when Chinese parents bring their school-leaving children on an expedition to visit university cities like Oxford or Cambridge, Newcastle and Exeter, they most likely will want to travel by train.
Join us at the EyeforTravel The Travel CX and Acquisition Summit (May 21-22) to hear more about Ctrip’s foray into international rail