SINGAPORE, Oct. 27, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — This year, Trip.com is celebrating its 5th anniversary, and what a five years it has been! From expanding to cover 39 countries and 24 languages, to navigating Covid and creating an app that ranks among the top 10 for OTAs globally, Trip.com has achieved so much in such a short space of time.
In a continuation of the Hi Five World! Campaign celebrating the brand’s 5th birthday, this interview with Trip.com COO Schubert Lou sheds light on the brand’s stellar past and bright days ahead.
The Trip.com Mission
Prior to joining Trip.com, Lou spent 20 years developing his career in the eCommerce industry. When asked what tempted him to join Trip.com, he directed us to the back of his t-shirt, which said, ‘Travel is my full-time job.’
‘I’m a passionate traveller. It’s something that I love and that my family enjoys, so that’s the main reason, from a personal perspective.’ In addition to his love of travel, Lou was also drawn to Trip.com’s ‘global vision’.
‘It’s about creating an excellent user experience that is still not fully realised in the current OTA world. We are uniquely positioned to bridge that gap and provide a service that’s truly desired by the users,’ Lou explains. ‘On top of that, the pace of development here is very fast. It’s almost like working for a startup in a protected environment. Having Trip.com Group support in terms of resources, information and infrastructure, we can continue to innovate without disruption.’
What Sets Trip.com Apart from the Crowd?
In a highly competitive industry, Trip.com has worked incredibly hard to develop its USPs and differentiate itself from other brands in the marketplace. Lou describes the three things that are unique to Trip.com. ‘Number one is what we call mobile-first. We are truly committed to the mobile experience, that’s something that we want to be known for and that we continue to invest a lot of our energy on.’
‘On top of that is what we call our all-in-one platform. Right now, Trip.com only has about 30-40% of the services that we have on our sibling platform, Ctrip, but we can envision all that coming over and then it will truly be an all-in-one travel platform in one app. Mobile combined with all-in-one is really, truly unique.’
Additional to that is our customer-centric approach. Many companies are trying to scale down or even outsource customer service. We’re going the other way and investing more resources and constantly improving our customer service. These three things combined are what makes Trip.com’s offering truly unique and standout from the crowd.’
Five Years of Achievements
A company anniversary is always a great time to reflect on past successes and as Lou joined the company around five years ago, he’s in an ideal position to recount the most positive developments of the last five years.
In addition to Trip.com’s rapid global expansion, there has also been incredible growth. Lou continues, ‘Before the pandemic, we were able to get 13 consecutive periods of triple digit growth for international flight ticketing, all the way up to the disruption from Covid. That tremendous momentum will continue after we’ve recovered from Covid completely.’
With many industries and businesses still feeling the effects of the pandemic, Trip.com has weathered the storm in a spectacular fashion, but there are still some key markets that need to lift travel restrictions in order for true recovery to take place.;
‘Many countries have already reopened but within Asia there’s still a few more to open up. We are hoping the rebound will be faster than anticipated, then we can really get to full recovery in 2023.’
As we look ahead to full recovery, we asked Lou about his ultimate aims for Trip.com. ‘One is our mission, which is to provide a truly unique travel experience for our customers, and to be considered the perfect trip companion.’
‘With that, what we’re going to do is to a) improve our coverage in terms of languages, countries and currencies, and b) strengthen our partnerships. We are well covered in some of the major destinations, but there’s still room for growth.’
As a final aim, Lou discussed the need to appeal to a younger audience. ‘We know many of our customers coming in are younger in age and they’re using different social media channels, so it’s about how we adapt to meet their needs.’
With its mobile-first approach being integral to Trip.com’s operations now and in the future, we asked Lou to tell us a bit more about the company’s mobile-first strategy.
‘It all starts with a simple assumption: travel is a continuum of tasks and activity. A lot of people think it’s just about bookings – booking your room, your flight, and then you’re done. It’s not. Travel is something that you continue to do until the end of your trip, and in that process you will have questions like, "What’s my booking number again?" or, "Can I call customer support and change my booking?" or, "What do I do when I land in that city?" All of these are realistic needs from our customers. And what is a better platform than mobile to fulfil all those needs in a few clicks?’
‘Mobile is the future, well I would actually say mobile is the present. Before Covid, people would say, "I’m not going to use my phone, its clunky." But with Covid training everybody to adapt to different things, it’s now well adopted. It’s the platform to be on and there’s a lot of integration that can be done at app level, where it’s no longer being supported by PC or other platforms. A lot of companies outside of travel are very invested in the mobile experience, we need to be too.’
With customers now able to check in seamlessly using a mobile boarding pass, it makes sense that mobile would become a key development site for new technology and innovation, especially for an OTA like Trip.com. And it’s not always a simple process.
‘There’s a lot to do,’ Lou admits. ‘People say, "Just transfer that feature onto the platform." Oh no. It’s about timing, it’s about aiming to give users the right information at the right time and making it very seamless.’
In a world where user experience is so critical to an app’s success, Trip.com is right to put time and effort into perfecting its app for the good of its customers. As Lou states, ‘At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is to have the user’s complete journey in mind and to make it easily accessible and always reliable. That’s what our mobile strategy is all about.’
‘Travel is complex. Travel is painful, to some degree, in terms of planning. The experience itself is pleasant, but in order to get to that stage, you have to invest a lot of effort and time. What we’re here to do is try to help the user along by making sure that it’s also seamless and enjoyable.’
It’s an approach that has certainly paid off. ‘We are now among the top 10 OTA apps as of 2022. We have seen double digit growth in Europe, month to month double digit growth at the beginning of this year.’
Trip.com’s ability to survive the global pandemic is testament to the hard work and dedication of its team members, but also in its adaptability.
‘The biggest impact for us was on our customer service,’ Lou explains. ‘Customers’ needs changed and people now want less stress around travel cancellation and more flexibility. In line with those changes, we made our platform and services a lot more adaptive to this environment and worked with our CS team to make our service more seamless.’
Additionally, where smaller partners might have gone out of business as a result of the pandemic, Trip.com is currently looking at ways to help ‘bring them back online and provide those missing services that are otherwise needed.’
‘Some startups are having a bit of trouble, but their ideas are otherwise great, so how can we support them to make sure they can continue through this tough time and are able to deliver the eye-opening new services that they have in mind?’
Rebound and Recovery
Now that many key APAC destinations including Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are reopening, Lou explains how Trip.com has been supporting further travel recovery with campaigns and partner involvement in these regions.
‘For example, a raft of free tickets to Hong Kong were just announced,’ Lou states. ‘How is that going to benefit our travellers? How do we actually make sure that they are aware of this and can make a booking in the proper way?’ By working with the airlines and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Trip.com is using its position as the number one OTA in Hong Kong to move things forward. ‘We want to be a driver, not just a recipient in driving the recovery.’
As travel recovery brings with it new enquiries and additional customers, Trip.com has also opened two new customer support centres in order to ensure that the company has ‘the right language coverage and the right time zone coverage to provide a best in class service for our customers,’ Lou asserts.
Lou’s upbeat nature means that, even when discussing the challenges Trip.com has faced over the last five years, he is unerringly positive.
‘The biggest challenge we have is supporting the ever-expanding markets that we’re working with. To add more context, initially you might think, "There’s these international markets, we can just service them." But as you get deeper into it, all the markets have their own unique needs, so how can you use one single app to support those? Case in point: we support the Arabic language on our app. Well, guess what? The Arabic language reads from right to left, not left to right. How do you manage a single app that can do both?’
Thanks to the dedication of the team, by giving themselves time and resources to rise to the challenge, they were able to succeed. ‘Today, when you go into our app you’ll be able to pick Arabic from the language selector and you’ll see, boom, you can seamlessly cut between languages with one click.’
Rather than see these issues as insurmountable when they arise, Lou is always up for the task. ‘That’s what makes our job fun, handling different challenges!’
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Reflecting on Trip.com’s 5th anniversary, Lou summarises the company’s journey by using the analogy of a marathon. ‘We have run probably 21 kilometres. We have come a long way, so, we need to drink enough water, have enough salt, and keep pace with those ahead. That’s what we’re trying to do, make sure that we are well equipped for the second half of the journey, while keeping our eyes on the prize.’
Thinking ahead to Trip.com’s 10th anniversary and what that might hold for the company, Lou echoes the sentiments of the brand’s chairman James Liang. ‘We want to be the leading international OTA in Asia. That is in our roadmap and that’s what we are aspiring to. On top of that, we want to be a well-known brand in Europe and America. Combining those will allow us, as a group, to have a world leading travel brand. It’s challenging. We need to grow faster and to hire more people, but it will be an exciting journey.’
Over the next five years there’s plenty to be excited about, as Lou explains. ‘For the group, having Make My Trip, Skyscanner, Travix and Travelfusion, we have blanket coverage across a big part of the world, so we are very excited about bringing those brands and our synergies together. We have seen some great results in the last year, and we’ll continue to see "hockey stick recovery" in some of those brands.’
‘As for the industry, travel, in some ways, is behind in terms of technical innovation. Sure, we have adjusted, there were some FinTech products that came out, but we’re in standstill mode, quite steady.’
Lou is particularly interested to see how augmented reality and artificial intelligence, technologies used by Tesla and other pioneering brands will be used by the travel industry in future. ‘If you have that, you will see travellers become a lot more empowered. They’ll get a lot more out of their journey because if you don’t have the right tour guide with you, you’ll say, "Oh, that’s just a boring pillar." Once you have the right person to guide you through the 4,000 years of history behind the different churches and cathedrals, then you’ll be a lot more appreciative of their experience.’
‘That’s what we’re missing, to be able to take the value out of our journeys and understand how technology can help us to do that. We need technology to come to terms with travel and then we will have a much more enhanced travel experience in the coming few years.’
Finally, after 5 years of incredible achievements, how are Lou and the team celebrating Trip.com’s 5th anniversary?
‘I’m going to Phuket in December with our team. Almost a hundred of us are going there for the first time in three years. We’re excited to meet up and celebrate together in a warm and pleasant place!’
Congratulations Schubert and everyone at Trip.com. Here’s to the next fabulous five years!