ChinaTravelNews, Jerry Tang - The tours and activities sector has had a good year in 2017, judging from active investment moves during the year – cases in point:
Europe-based startup GetYourGuide raised USD 75 million in November, Hong Kong-based platform Klook netted USD 90 million in two funding rounds within seven months, and other destination services including Singaporean firm BeMyGuest and Dutch ticket seller Tiqets collectively attracted nearly USD 200 million funding in 2017.
China’s OTA giant Ctrip has also made inroads in this segment during the year, notably through a recent deal with Big Bus Tours to sell the UK-based bus operator’s Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing tours in 19 major cities in the world.
“The two companies will cooperate directly to ensure instant mobile bookings and optimize the entire product range including customer experience and pricing,” said Ms. Xiaori Zhang, Director of Ctrip's Overseas Things To Do (TTD) Department. “We will upgrade the offerings on top of the existing products.”
Ms. Xiaori Zhang, Director of Ctrip's Overseas Things To Do (TTD) Department
New partnership adds user-friendly offerings
Ctrip’s TTD unit provides mainly two kinds of destination transport service: airport chauffeur transfers and intra-city sight-seeing bus trips including those provided by Big Bus Tours.
Ctrip’s partnership with Big Bus Tours brings about not just a complementary short-haul ground transport solution, but also more destination activity options for guests. Big Bus Tours’ sightseeing bus trips link up a major city’s various landmark attractions and form diversified itineraries for travelers to experience the city as a whole. Such offerings are particularly user-friendly to free independent travelers who want to have flexible and affordable itineraries at overseas destinations.
Big Bus Tours designs angles for tourists to take selfies on bus. The company also has recorded commentary in 26 languages including Chinese Mandarin to provide information on each sightseeing stop. For tech-savvy and internet-obsessed Chinese travelers, the company offers free Wi-Fi on bus so customers can share pictures and videos with their friends and families on social media.
They also package other offerings into the bus tours. “Walking tours, river cruises, attraction tickets, food and drink offers, there're lots of extra services built into our product,” said Mr. Omid Golshan, Executive Vice President, Global Growth at Big Bus Tours. “What this will mean for Ctrip is that with one integrated bus tour, the Chinese customers can get access to all that is included in the bus ticket through just one QR code.”
Mr. Omid Golshan, Executive Vice President, Global Growth at Big Bus Tours
Bringing suppliers technological transformation
Chinese tourists tend to use mobile devices for researching and booking at destination compared to travelers from the rest of the world. A Phocuswright research on tours and activities shows that less than half of all travelers worldwide who used their smartphones to research activities ended up making bookings with their mobile devices, while around 76% (38% mobile booking/50% mobile research) of the Chinese travelers that used their smartphones to research ended up making mobile bookings.
To adapt to this consumer trend, Ctrip and Big Bus Tours provide instant-booking and instant-confirmation through QR code-scanning which is particularly popular among Chinese customers.
Ms. Zhang noted the comparative advantage in this tie-up with Big Bus Tours: “The book-and-serve feature is most applicable to standardized destination activities that have set prices and are readily available, such as venue visiting and sightseeing, but less so for events like spectator sports.”
To ensure a one-stop booking process, the companies go beyond simple connectivity via API and streamline the entire customer journey. Ms. Zhang said: “As there are regular bus services across different cities and so the products are readily available, and the proportion of Chinese tourists for the products is still relatively small, we only need to tweak the technical end to enable last-minute booking by users.”
Ctrip’s listings of the Big Bus Tours offerings
“Destination activities is a fragmented sector operated by lots of small- and medium-sized suppliers overseas,” Ms. Zhang commented. “It is a big task aggregating all these overseas local resources, but Ctrip has a natural technical advantage. We would like to integrate and share our destination technology and inform our overseas destination suppliers of the entire technological transformation, based on the characteristics of Chinese travelers.”
Local alliances at global scale
Mr. Golshan said product innovation and marketing are key parts of the tie-up with Ctrip. “In terms of product innovation, we’re going to work with Ctrip to lay down what the customers actually want about or beyond the products we already have.” He added. “Ctrip knows well what the customers want and has a very large customer base; we, on the other hand, have the expertise and local know-how to create the right products.”
Other than Ctrip, Big Bus Tours has also formed various partnerships with a number of partners in China and other parts of the world. “We have signed a global deal with Alibaba and we opened our brand store on Fliggy a few months ago.” Mr. Golshan said that the company also collaborates with Alibaba to find ways to serve the market better.
In addition to the company’s direct deals with online travel retailers, Big Bus Tours also has offline channels connecting itself to entities like travel agencies and hotel concierges which sell tickets to customers face-to-face. The company signed a global agreement with B2B distribution giant Hotelbeds in June.
There are many retailers in the market who have the ability to sell a travel product. But the company wants partners to go beyond that and bring the product to life. “The concept of Hop-on Hop-off is not just about the Chinese market. Neither is it about putting the product on the shelf and hoping the customers will easily understand the concept and purchase it.”
“It is not about how many clients or partners we have in the market, but about the quality, the synergy and the vision we share. The idea is to create a compelling proposition, as opposed to just building our products into big platforms.” Mr. Golshan reckoned that it’s more important to have the customers see the real value of their service through the depth of the experience that they will enjoy which will include multiple-attraction visits, shopping, selfie-taking at landmarks and more.
Big Bus Tours started its first operation in Shanghai with a local partner a few years ago, but the service was suspended about two years ago for reasons that Mr. Golshan did not disclose.
Does the company plan to relaunch its service in mainland China?
“We have our eyes on a number of destinations. And we are keen to look at ways to operate in mainland China,” Mr. Golshan replied. “We would like to expand our portfolio, but it takes time.”
Partnering with destination suppliers worldwide seems to be a logical move for the Chinese online travel titan. Ctrip has so far extended its destination services to more than 700 cities and nearly 80 countries worldwide, with its bus sightseeing offerings covering 31 countries at the moment, according to Ms. Zhang.
Ctrip acquired Trip.com in November and shortly after turned the site into its English-language platform. It remains to be seen whether the company will then integrate destination resources, including the Big Bus Tours offerings, into the new site to build a full-service travel platform.