Time to shine

Trip.com Group turns 25 this year, and is one of the world’s leading online travel agencies with more than 45,100 employees and 400 million members. Jane Sun, CEO, shares how the company pulled through the pandemic and how the forward-looking company is forging ahead with AI

Can you bring us back to how the company overcame the pandemic business disruption to emerge stronger?
It was the unwavering team spirit demonstrated by all my colleagues during the darkest days of the pandemic. Despite many challenges, our team stood together, working tirelessly to navigate the crisis.

Our history is testament to our resilience – from overcoming SARS (the Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003) to weathering the Global Financial Crisis (2007 to 2008) and Covid-19, where each challenge has only made us stronger. Our cohesive spirit allowed us to unite when it truly mattered, and together, we steered the company through its toughest times without hesitation.

What steps did Trip.com Group take to save the business?
Effective leadership is paramount during crises. The company took immediate action at the onset of the pandemic through various initiatives, including providing our customers with full refunds without knowing if our partners would pay us back, as well as substantial financial support for our partners, demonstrating our guiding principle of Customers first, Partners second, Trip.com Group third.

We launched campaigns such as our BOSS Live series of livestream sessions and the Travel On initiative to provide vital support to partners, and rolled out a series of tailored travel products and services to enable and inspire travel. Through these efforts and our collaboration with partners from around the world, the global travel industry gradually recovered.

Today, travel has resumed, travellers are venturing out and exploring the world again, and Trip.com Group is stronger and better positioned to capitalise on the recovery of the global tourism industry.

As the WTTC recently noted, the global travel and tourism sector is on track to exceed 2019 levels this year. Tourist-friendly measures such as the implementation of visa-free travel, which has been increasingly common especially with Asian countries, will speed up the recovery of international travel.

China, for example, has removed visa restrictions for visitors from more than 10 countries since June 2023 alone, and there have also been visa exemptions announced for Chinese travellers by countries including Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. There is certainly lots of room for growth, especially for China-inbound travel, and we are working with many partners on various initiatives – including the Nihao! China campaign – to bring more tourists to China.

What is the role of technology in your company’s innovation and future-proofing?
Throughout the pandemic, we continued investing in areas that would help us in the longer term, such as in technology. We have already seen the fruits of this investment, with the integration of technology such as AI in some of our workflows, including customer service, to increase efficiency. AI freed up our customer service colleagues to focus on more complex requests, reinforcing our commitment to customer satisfaction.

We also introduced an AI travel assistant, TripGenie, last year, which has helped many of our customers plan itineraries and recommend bookings for their trips. TripGenie has produced remarkable results since its introduction, enhancing user engagement and overall service effectiveness.

We capitalised on AI to introduce our curated AI-enabled lists that address users’ diverse needs and preferences, providing real-time updates on travel trends, prices, and top-ranked hotels, flights, and attractions.

More recently, we launched our Trip.Vision app, designed to leverage the advanced capabilities of Apple’s latest mixed-reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro. Inspired by the idea of providing unique travel experiences even before the first suitcase is packed, Trip.Vision invites users to virtually explore renowned destinations such as Mount Everest, Guilin, the Maldives, Antarctica, and the Sahara Desert through high-quality and realistic panoramas.

As a forward-looking organisation – we believe that vision runs throughout the entire company, we are always looking ahead to see what’s next and to prepare for whatever the future holds.

How has the Chinese traveller changed in the last four years and how do destinations and suppliers have to adapt to meet these changes?
Domestic tourism has been given a big boost, exceeding 2019 levels by some 60 per cent. Mainland China is a massive place, and exploring their own backyard has helped Chinese travellers realise that there are indeed many wonderful sights and experiences they can enjoy without needing to travel outside the country.

There is an industry-wide trend of smaller groups travelling together – it is the same for Chinese travellers, with smaller group tours now being favoured as people prefer to travel with friends or family rather than a huge busload of strangers like before.

We have observed that younger travellers – those born in the 1980s and the 1990s – are increasingly looking to travel for high-quality wellness experiences and event tourism, particularly for concerts and music festivals.

Sustainable tourism is another shift that is picking up steam, with environmental awareness motivating more than 16 million of our customers to choose low-carbon travel options, such as hotels that adhere to sustainable standards.

The group has also prioritised options such as the rental of electronic vehicles and offering flights with lower carbon emissions.

Destinations and suppliers therefore need to look at how they can satisfy these evolving demands. Can I effectively offer different products to different segments? Or do I focus on a specific niche and make a concerted play for tourists in that segment? If I wish to attract a specific type of traveller, am I equipped to do so, and if not, how quickly can I make the necessary changes? These are some important questions that need to be considered.

What is your vision for the company as it turns 25-years-old this year and into the future?
For our anniversary this year, we wish to celebrate the progress we have made in our globalisation drive – we have strengthened our position in Asia, and are still growing internationally beyond Asia as well.

As has been the case for the past 25 years, we remain committed to enhancing customer experience and unlocking value for our partners, and we will continue to strive towards becoming a top travel services provider in the world.

To do this, we aim to strengthen our existing collaborations with our global partners. We are also looking to establish new relationships with partners from around the world whom we have not worked with yet as we grow and deepen our global footprint.

Aside from such partnerships, I also see Trip.com Group continuing to strengthen its reputation as not just a travel company, but also a technology company.

We have been quick to remain at the forefront of new and emerging technologies, as evidenced by our quick adoption of AI last year with TripGenie and our AI-driven initiatives.

We are constantly on the lookout for new ways to harness the power of technology, to keep innovating, stay ahead of the curve and break new ground in our pursuit of the perfect trip for a better world.

We believe tourism can make a big difference to the world – not just by contributing to the global economy and GDP, but also through enhancing mutual understanding, so we will keep doing more to facilitate people-to-people and cultural exchanges through travel.

Our team is committed to a simple mission: while we are sending people further away, we are bringing the world closer.

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