Understanding local intricacies as a B2B specialist
GTA believes it is equipped with a strong blend of content and technology expertise to make the most of its presence in the B2B segment.
ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta - The pie of China outbound travel business is expanding, and various stakeholders are strengthening their resources to offer a distinctive holiday experience.
As a specialist in this arena, GTA (Gullivers Travel Associates) believes it has substantial weapons in its arsenal to cater to the needs of both offline and online intermediaries in China.
Part of a wider global network, the entity today has offices in four Chinese cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou.
Daryl Lee, Regional Vice President, GTA
“We have managed to more than double our staff over the last couple of years, as we focus on the fully independent travel (FIT) business following our integration with Kuoni. In China, there are around 110 employees today, with the core technical team located in Shanghai,” shared Daryl Lee, Regional Vice President, GTA.
It’s been more than three decades since the company opened its first Asian offices in Hong Kong and Japan. “The team is looking to build on its legacy in China and Asia overall.”
The Chinese outbound travel market is a burgeoning business segment, and there is a strong demand for fully independent travel. So distribution specialists too are moving on from the relatively lower yielding group travel business.
Robust infrastructure + strong local know-how
Lee points out that GTA today is a supplier of choice in this market.
He stated that GTA has built its business on a strong foundation laid by relationships built over the years, on the ground expertise that helps partners to calibrate, set up and manage operations (for instance, helping agencies with price and availability checks to ensure their business flow is streamlined), and a strong content delivery network that runs efficiently and overcomes common obstacles that can ruin the aspirations of any business.
“Many online travel agents in China started focusing on domestic business. They are able to offer good product range, price and availability through direct contracting and also a robust front-end set up. However, when these OTAs start to offer international destinations, they are often unable to use the same approach given the vast amount of hotels they need to offer. Therefore, Chinese OTAs look to global aggregators for content and inventory. The most complex aspect of working with global aggregators and being able to offer real time price and inventory search is API connectivity. GTA has a robust structure, including offerings such as APIs, allowing OTAs and other partners’ access to its travel content via XML interface for integration into their own reservation system or website,” added Lee.
“Running an e-commerce business here in China is strikingly different as compared to the other markets. Also, the FIT business is all about speed, and it’s transactional-oriented,” asserted Lee. “There are plenty of obstacles for any foreign online intermediary that is trying to establish its operations here.”
As known, a big hurdle that many players face is the “Great Firewall”, which in the past clogged up Google services in China, and slowed down Internet access speed into and out of China.
As witnessed over the years, digital assets hosted outside of China tend to be unreachable. Also as is generally the case with a content delivery network, it is better to keep content on the server closest to the end user. So it is imperative for any business to ensure their web presence has total legal compliance. Equally important is hosting, routing and caching to pave way for delivery of dynamic content in a smooth manner. Lee says GTA has handled such critical issues with aplomb, and ensures its partners are aware of what it takes to excel in this market.
“So GTA stands out for its willingness to invest in IT infrastructure, requisite IT support, being adept at offering what would click with travellers to strengthen product strategy, and improving upon conversion rate,” says Lee.
Dealing with fragmented distribution B2B market
Lee says the company is currently associated with an array of intermediaries, including most of the major OTAs in China etc., brick and mortar agencies, and also traditional players eyeing the e-commerce pie such as Aoyou.com, the e-commerce arm of CYTS.
Referring to a key client, Lee shared that the way GTA works with Tuniu is about scrutinizing what users are searching for and eventually booking on the Tuniu platform. “So a core aspect of our association with Tuniu isn’t only about coming up with products for a subset of global destinations, but it also features business intelligence and giving constant feedback to the OTA in order to optimize the choice, and eventually ensure customers get closer to booking their preferred product.”
As for CYTS, the established group was looking to capitalize on its brand equity and extend its presence to the online domain. “The objective was to enable CYTS to leverage its presence, and reach out to more travellers in China via Aoyou.com. And this is where GTA helped the group.” Lee pointed out that his team had ensured that GTA customise its solutions and approach for all its customers
The variety of products from the GTA’s portfolio include accommodation options, tour guide and transfer services, city tours, excursions, attraction tickets etc. “Clearly the benefit for our international partners, encompassing 185 countries, is the reach that they gain from us,” says Lee. He also mentioned that the team works out special relationships with airlines to offer a strong bundle to agents. “For example, Singapore Airlines in China offers agents also working with GTA an exclusive airfare when they bundle in a package, air ticket and a hotel booking, for a trip to different destinations in South East Asia.”
Lee says a major challenge is to ensure the quality of product is top-notch. And this is where GTA attempts to excel, too.
“There are 13,000 sightseeing tours in our portfolio. Say, a customer intends to visit the Louvre Museum in Paris. Here, for us, a mere translation wouldn’t be sufficient. It has to be about delivering a tour that can enhance the trip of a leisure traveller,” explained Lee.