Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Trip.com unveils its customer-centric growth strategy

Trip.com is revolutionizing the travel industry with its unique growth approach, prioritizing customer-centricity and localization to stand out in a competitive market. In an exclusive interview with ArabiaTravelNews.com, Schubert Lou, the Chief Operating Officer at Trip.com, one of the world’s largest online travel agencies, share insights into the company’s groundbreaking strategies and technological innovations as well as their plans for the Middle East.

With a focus on enhancing customer experiences, Trip.com is reshaping travel booking platforms by integrating advanced technology and fostering partnerships that cater directly to the diverse needs of global travelers.

Q: What sets Trip.com apart from other travel booking platforms, and how does the company stay ahead of the competition?

Our guiding principle at Trip.com, “Customers first; Partners second; Ourselves third,” isn’t just a saying. We champion customer centricity with an unwavering commitment to localization, crafting services that speak directly to the diverse needs of travelers worldwide.

We pride ourselves on a wide-ranging and all-encompassing array of offerings. From flights to hotels, and trains to tours and activities, everything is integrated into a single, seamless all-in-one platform. With a mobile-first approach, we ensure a comprehensive travel experience that spans the full spectrum of products.

Excellence in customer support is a hallmark of our company, underscored by our 24/7 hotline. We offer an extensive variety of payment methods, extending well beyond the standard credit cards and PayPal, to include WeChat Pay, Alipay, Apple Pay, and various localized options. This seamless user experience is enhanced by localized services and multilingual support, distinguishing us in a crowded market.

Our partners are integral to our progress. We have cultivated a vast network, nurturing partnerships that bring forth unique offerings and new possibilities. As we advance our technology and adapt our market strategies, our partners gain increased visibility and broader market access. In unity, we harness the vibrancy of international travel, creating experiences that transcend borders and cultures.

Another area where Trip.com shines is in the realm of AI technology and innovative solutions like TripGenie. These advancements enhance user experience, offering personalized travel recommendations and smarter, more efficient booking processes. This technological edge, combined with our exceptional customer service, positions us uniquely in the market.

Furthermore, our broad network of strategic partnerships and acquisitions enables efficient service in the global travel market, with a key focus on meeting the needs of Chinese travelers. This strategic advantage gives us a competitive edge.

Q: 2023 saw a lot of investment in technology. What were your key learnings in terms of enhancing travel experience through technology?

One of the key learnings that we had was about technology’s potential as a tool to amplify personalization and efficiency. Through advanced data analytics and AI-powered algorithms, we’ve been able to provide highly customized recommendations and streamline the booking process.

For example, our AI travel assistant TripGenie helps you plan a complete itinerary based on your prompt within minutes, making for effective trip planning.

We also leveraged AI to curate travel lists such as our Trip.Best, Trip.Trend and Trip.Deal, which tailor suggestions more closely to individual preferences, offering a richer, more personalized travel planning experience.

Our foray into augmented and virtual reality, especially with our Trip.Vision app, has opened new doors to experiencing destinations before you even arrive. It’s about bringing the future of travel into the present, offering previews of places in the most immersive ways possible.

Q: How have your new features like TripGenie, Trip.Best fared? Is the hype about generative AI real?

TripGenie and Trip.Best have received positive feedback, with users appreciating the personalized recommendations and curated experiences.

TripGenie has met much success, with doubled order conversion rates, improved user retention rates and almost a million inquiries to date. Trip.Best has seen 1.1 million views since its launch in 2022, offering customers top-ranked travel options. It also offers an enhanced degree of personalization, for example, with highly curated hotel themes such as Instagram-friendly or family-friendly.

Generative AI has indeed lived up to the hype, enabling us to generate dynamic content, optimize search results, and automate repetitive tasks, ultimately enhancing the user experience and increasing efficiency.

Q: What impact do you anticipate AI will have on the role of customer service agents in the future?

AI will augment rather than replace customer service agents, allowing them to focus on more complex inquiries while AI handles routine tasks such as booking confirmations and itinerary adjustments.

For example, through our use of AI chatbots and AI customer solutions, we have achieved self- service resolution rates of 78 percent for airline tickets, and 68 percent for hotels. Our chatbots also possess an impressive semantic recognition accuracy of over 85 percent, demonstrating their ability to provide accurate, prompt and increased support.

With this ability, strategic AI solutions will be able to enhance the overall consumer experience, without detracting from the role of human agents.

Q: What’s next in terms of consumer experience at Trip.com?

We aim to further personalize the user experience through advanced AI and machine learning algorithms. Take TripGenie as an example, beyond the conventional role of generating itineraries, we hope for it to seamlessly integrate with flight or hotel bookings. This means going beyond suggesting travel plans to facilitate in-site business reservations and addressing travel needs from start to end.

We are also looking at expanding our offerings to include unique and off-the-beaten-path experiences, as well as prioritizing sustainability by promoting eco-friendly travel options.

Q: Can you elaborate on the company’s approach to sustainable travel and how it aligns with environmentally-aware travelers?

Trip.com Group is committed to promoting sustainable travel by offering eco-friendly accommodations, supporting carbon offset programs, and promoting responsible tourism practices.

For instance, the company’s 2023 initiative, the low-carbon hotel standard, collaborates with hotel partners to enhance accommodation sustainability, with over 1,500 partners recognized as low- carbon hotels. In the flight arena, the company’s collaboration with CHOOOSE enables travelers to offset CO2 emissions for flights, allowing them to contribute 4 percent of their original airfare for emissions offsetting.

These initiatives underscore Trip.com Group’s commitment to fostering eco-friendly travel practices, and to reflect the growing environmental consciousness among travelers, especially the younger generation.

Q: Can sustainability and profitability coexist in the industry?

Absolutely. Sustainable practices not only appeal to environmentally-conscious travelers but also contribute to cost savings and long-term profitability. For example, the number of low-carbon hotel bookings has increased year-on-year by 166 percent compared with the end of 2022, suggesting an increased appetite for eco-friendly options among customers.

By adopting sustainable initiatives, travel companies can reduce operating expenses, attract a broader customer base, and enhance brand reputation.

Q: What progress regarding NDC has the company made in 2023 and what lies ahead?

In 2023, Trip.com has reinforced its position as a pioneer in New Distribution Capabilities (NDC), drawing on more than ten years of expertise to deliver advanced, technology-led solutions to our global customer base and airline partners. We’ve achieved significant milestones in integrating NDC into our distribution network, boosting efficiency and enhancing our ability to offer personalized services to customers, while also optimizing revenue for our airline partners.

As we move forward, our commitment to innovation and leadership in the industry remains unwavering. We are focused on expanding our partnerships with Global Distribution Systems (GDS), technology aggregators, and airlines, with a special emphasis on collaborations with Middle Eastern carriers. We aim to create scalable and efficient solutions that not only encourage wider adoption of NDC across the globe but also deliver unparalleled value to our customers and partners.

Our strategy is unequivocal: we aim to maintain our leadership in the integration of NDC, delivering tailored, impactful solutions that meet the evolving needs of the travel industry. This steadfast approach ensures our continued delivery of exceptional service and value, reinforcing our position as pioneers and leaders in travel technology.

Q: How does Trip.com Group contribute to the wider Asian economy, and what potential growth opportunities does the company foresee in the region?

Trip.com Group plays a key role in driving economic growth across Asia through its facilitation of travel, job creation, and support for local businesses.

The company is committed to assisting governments in bolstering the tourism industry’s overall development. This holds immense potential for economic expansion and job creation as the sector is predicted by the World Travel & Tourism Council to reach a value of USD 15.5 trillion by 2033 and involve a global workforce of approximately 430 million people by the same year.

The popularity of Asian destinations, including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, underscores the region’s attractiveness for travelers.

With the burgeoning middle class and rising demand for travel experiences, we anticipate significant growth opportunities in the Asian market. Notably, there’s a discernible trend towards premium travel experiences, with consumers increasingly valuing high-quality services and immersive tourism offerings, leading to a 16 percent increase in travel spending post-Covid relative to 2019.

Furthermore, the rise of wellness tourism presents a noteworthy avenue for expansion, with destinations like Singapore positioning themselves as urban wellness havens over the next five to ten years.

Q: The company has also spoken about expanding into the Middle East. What can we expect to see and when?

Trip.com is actively exploring opportunities to expand into the Middle East, leveraging our expertise in technology and partnerships to deliver a holistic travel booking platform tailored to the needs of Middle Eastern travelers. We aim to provide global reach as well as localized services, catering to language preferences and product offerings within the region.

Furthermore, the Middle East is gaining interest among international travelers, with searches and bookings surging on our platforms in recent months. For instance, key markets such as the EU and APAC regions have shown strong interest, with a 376 percent and 464 percent year-on-year increase in bookings for flights, hotels and attractions in Saudi Arabia.

We have previously signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Qatar Tourism to promote Qatar across the globe as an ideal choice for family-friendly tourism. Recently, at ITB Berlin, we signed a global agreement with the Saudi Tourism Authority, intending to bring over 350,000 additional tourists to the country from markets such as China, India and 20 European countries.

We are also thrilled to announce the next chapter of our Group’s story. Plans are in motion to establish and launch our regional office shortly, to introduce Trip.com to the region this year. Additionally, we look forward to strengthening our dynamic partnerships and offerings in the Middle East. While specific timelines may vary, we hope to further establish a strong presence in the region soon.

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