EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit

May 2019, London

Europe's biggest event for commercial and digital travel execs

Ctrip: on the rail track to shrink the world

With environmental pressure mounting, rail is increasingly becoming a priority for governments, and Ctrip is steaming ahead. Sally White reports

Rail is big! And it is getting much bigger every year - while its scale cannot match that of air travel, the latest figures from the European Union do show an annual rise of three percent. Under environmental pressure, across the continent governments are putting billions into their rail networks, from Spain, where €3 billion has been earmarked for new trains, to Germany which is investing €10 billion and Norway where €2.8 billion is being spent.

The UK, however,where Network Rail has an approved 2019-2024 spend of £48 billion for equipment and services including ticketing, tops the list. That is a definite attraction for China’s largest travel agency Ctrip, whose UK train ticketing app TrainPal, designed to offer savings through a ‘split ticketing’ smart tool, is proving very popular. (Split ticketing achieves savings by booking a journey in stages.)

Amy Wei, head of TrainPal and group general manager of international train ticketing at Ctrip, acknowledges that, “with the British government spending £80 million on revolutionising ticketing from paper to mobile and contactless, it’s the perfect time.”

…with the British government spending £80 million on revolutionising ticketing from paper to mobile and contactless, it’s the perfect time

Amy Wei, Head of TrainPal, Group GM, International Train Ticketing, Ctrip

Wei, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit in May, said that she assessed the value of the UK train market at over £10 billion out of a Europe market of €100 billion. “The European market still has huge potential, I believe. By February 2019, our ticket sales grew nearly 100x compared to when we first soft-launched the app (in late Feb 2018).”

Ctrip is clearly on a mission to promote TrainPal worldwide with, says Pal, “advanced technology and a customer centric strategy” and the group is already in discussion with many train operating companies in countries like Italy, Russia, etc.

UK-based online rail solutions provider Evolvi and British PR firm Citizens Relations have both partnered with Ctrip to deliver the new app. There are several existing websites that calculate split ticket fares, but Citizens Relations’ strategy and innovation director Scot Devine claims TrainPal is the only mobile booking app in the UK to offer the feature.

As China Daily comments: ”…the app will be well received in a country where 53% of people believe they are overpaying for rail transport, according to a 2017 survey from watchdog Transport Focus. A separate survey by KPMG found that with such an overwhelming number of ticket options available, only 34% of travellers in Britain believed they had bought the best value ticket for their last journey.”

Where are the windfalls?

While the app is aimed at UK travellers generally, it will undoubtedly attract the attention of Chinese road warriors who are extremely loyal to their national products and services. Europe was already the No.2 favourite destination for Chinese outbound travellers last year, according to a Ctrip report, with 11% opting to go there. So far in 2019, the data from ForwardKeys and the European Travel Commission is pointing to another windfall year in terms of numbers and spend.

In online media, ChinaLuxuryDaily observes that travellers to Europe like their luxuries as “customised itineraries and tours to Europe increased a whopping 147% year-on-year, with the average cost of such trips reaching $373 (RMB 2,500) per person per day.” Ctrip also notes that almost 80% of its customers booked 4- or 5-star products for their trips.

More interestingly, perhaps, is that the 2018 Europe Travel Report co-produced by government research institute China Tourism Academy (CTA), notes that 60% of Chinese tourists to the continent are women.

Taking advantage of this trend, Ctrip is planning to expand its business to Europe in 2019, CEO Jane Sun Jie announced at the company’s annual meeting a few weeks ago.

Onwards and upwards

Ctrip has been putting in the building blocks to grow its global business for some time. It bought Edinburgh-based Skyscanner for £1.4 billion in 2016 and snapped up US travel recommendation start-up Trip.com in 2017. Since then direct bookings through Ctrip have been rolled out on Skyscanner, and Skyscanner’s metasearch technology has been rolled out on Ctrip international as well as the new Trip.com.

Ctrip seems to be negotiating partnerships right across Europe, ranging from Air-France-KLM airlines to the European Travel Commission, Visit Britain, the UK online Leisure Pass Group to name just a few.  It recently concluded a distribution agreement with Amadeus to allow Ctrip’s 90-million registered monthly active users easy access to tickets from Renfe, the national Spanish rail operation-this will also be available on TrainPal.

Ctrip has been creating its own robots and installing them in hotels, but it wants to explore much more that what cyberspace can offer

Germany is the destination of another strategic move, where Ctrip is partnering with Bookingkit and will integrate tours, activities and events content into its listings. Ctrip has also signed a co-operation agreement with the Italian Tourist Board. And, if that isn’t enough, last month it announced that it was launching a multi-currency Visa card under its brand to be issued by Wirecard, which means that Chinese Ctrip customers will not need to convert currency or pay by cash.

Yet these moves pale in comparison to CEO Jane Sun Jei’s other corporate plans. This Chinese business woman, a former KPMG audit manager in Silicon Valley who has a Florida business BA, a Peking law MA and is married to one of Yahoo’s first employees, seems nothing if not an innovator. Ctrip has been creating its own robots and installing them in hotels, but it wants to explore much more that what cyberspace can offer – it is investing in Boom Supersonic, a developer of supersonic flights operating at 80,000 feet and Mach 3, with a speed three times that of sound! That, Ctrip told The South China Morning Post’s online magazine, will really “shrink the world”.

Join us at the Digital Strategy Summit in London (May 21-22) to hear more about the moves of Ctrip, AccorHotels, Ryanair, Best Western, Virgin Atlantic and many more 

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