ChinaTravelNews, Jerry Tang - With around 300 million registered users, Ctrip has accumulated a high volume of big data and consumer insights that can be used for consulting and directing services for marketing global destinations.
Ctrip set up its destination marketing unit in early 2013 to serve destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and tourist attractions at home and abroad through its diversified marketing solutions. “Over the past years, the company has teamed up with more than 300 DMOs through cooperation at different levels. The DMOs cover most popular destinations for the Chinese tourists,” said Ms. Jenna Qian, Ctrip’s General Manager of Destination Marketing.
The company is not only growing its own technologies for destination marketing, but also exploring cross-platform strategies by partnering with internet giants including WeChat and Google.
Compared with mass media websites like the New York Times or the People’s Daily drawing general audience, vertical platforms such as Ctrip or Priceline sites attract the targeted audience that demonstrate clearer intent to purchase travel services. Through user profiling techniques, however, the mass media and vertical platforms can still offer synergies.
Ctrip has extended its marketing channels from its website, app, affiliated Qunar and eLong, to external online platforms including Weibo and WeChat, in addition to Ctrip’s offline presence. With such diverse channels, the company lays claim to a unique advantage in developing multi-channel marketing solutions for global destinations.
“We have formed in-depth cooperation with major internet platforms such as Weibo, Tencent and Google, integrating Ctrip’s big data with cross-platform user traffic to conduct targeted advertising,” Ms. Qian said.
Ms. Jenna Qian, Ctrip’s General Manager of Destination Marketing
Ctrip provides specific destinations with precise advertising placement on WeChat’s “Moments” channel, similar to Facebook’s timeline. For example, the company targets Ctrip users that have looked for travel deals of an identified destination or have searched for relevant offerings in the past month, and delivers the destination’s advertisement to the targeted group on WeChat to improve the conversion rate.
Ctrip has rolled out this targeted marketing service for Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, Tourism Ireland and more, receiving more than 500,000 impressions (the number of times the ads were on screen) in 10 days for one campaign, according to Ms. Qian. The campaign performance was measured by not just specific numbers in exposure, impression, conversion and reservation growth, but also evaluative concepts such as brand enhancement and project implementation.
In addition to precise targeting tactics, Ms. Qian said that Ctrip also makes use of “alternative destinations” to boost online conversion. The company tags the users that show willingness to visit Southeast Asia during winter time as potential customers that might be interested in booking trips to Australia, for instance.
Aiming to build a network of 6,500+ offline stores this year with its subsidiary Traveling Bestone, Ctrip’s brick-and-mortar presence can also help strengthen brand awareness for global destinations. “This enables Ctrip to integrate its online and offline resources,” Ms. Qian said. “It’s still a long runway for the online travel sector. Other than top-tier cities, people in lower-tier markets also present great potential for travel consumption in the future.”
Marketing aided by products and data
Destination marketing is not a one-off undertaking but a long-term endeavor to lure tourists throughout the entire process encompassing travel inspiration, itinerary planning and product combination, to both acquire new customers and retain existing ones.
In terms of products, Ctrip works with DMOs in adapting to the destinations’ local characteristics and curating diversified and personalized offerings for Chinese tourists. Ctrip is currently working with the tourism office of Guizhou to promote the southwestern Chinese province’s “mountain travel”.
“Many of China’s fledgling destinations, if compared with the mature tourist cities like Beijing and Shanghai, have greater room for product development breakthroughs,” Ms. Qian said. “We want to help them design tour offerings that are more appealing to the millennial travelers.”
Travel destinations in relatively remote areas may not have adequate transport services such as flights, trains and local transport, adding hurdles to the growth of their tourist arrivals. Ctrip leverages its local resources by linking up multimodal transport solutions, and combining transport with hotel accommodation and attraction tickets, to help the destinations attract more visitors.
The company also provides the Guiyang tourism board with its big data API, which is capable of visualizing Ctrip’s real-time orders by domestic and international destinations and displaying top 10 destinations and attractions in specific area.
The big data visualization can help DMOs learn more about the demographics of their source markets, so that they can improve service and predict the status of hotel reservations and attraction bookings during major holiday peaks such as the Golden Week national holiday.
Two-way street for Ctrip and destinations
The very essence of an agency is to “provide a particular service on behalf of another business, person, or group”. Ms. Qian said that what Ctrip is trying to do on destination marketing is to make effective matching between travelers from the demand side and destinations from the supply side, thus improving market efficiency.
Ctrip’s role in destination marketing has expanded from a sheer advertising channel for DMOs worldwide, to adding a sales-enhancing synergy for its own travel reservation revenues. Unlike traditional marketing companies, Ctrip as a full-service travel booking platform is working with DMOs to not just increase the partner destinations’ brand awareness, but also grow its core travel booking operation at the same time.
The power of travel inspiration rarely ends when people start to browse booking websites. Some 54% of the users visiting Expedia sites are undecided as to where they want to go, presenting the OTA a huge opportunity for influencing destination choices.
A similar opportunity is also emerging for Ctrip. In a survey conducted by Expedia Media Solutions this year sampling more than 8,000 online travel consumers worldwide, the Chinese respondents are particularly open to destination inspiration, with 75% of them expressed the need for help in deciding where to travel to.
Reflections on destinations
Despite great potential in the destination business, Ctrip also faces unpredictable external risks in the sector.
Destination marketing is rarely a matter of just commercial activities. As the convention and visitor bureaus are usually associated with or funded by local governments, the affair of promoting certain countries or cities as travel destinations is, more often than not, mixed with geopolitical environment that business entities are unable to influence.
Regional security concerns are also factors that might jeopardize visitor arrivals and tourism receipts of certain destinations, making their marketing efforts less effective. The Guardian reported that the world’s top tourist destination France suffered 7% fall in visitor numbers last year due to continual terrorist attacks.
While its current approach on destination marketing is dominated by branding services for its DMO clients, Ctrip is still exploring a greater balance between brand exposure and actual conversion. The company may seek to further optimize its marketing capabilities in the days to come.
As search titan Google starts to display its own offerings and e-commerce giant Amazon expands its media channels for paid search results, the hybrid model of advertising and selling looks increasingly like a worldwide megatrend.
Jenna Qian will speak at the ITB Asia-Traveldaily China Session, which will take place on October 25 in Singapore. For more information, please visit the event website.