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Why some travel companies thrive in China

08/27/2015| 6:08:23 PM|

Tech products that have succeeded in China tend to be all-encompassing tools, providing highly pragmatic services and information within one app or site.

Tnooz guest article by Alistair Hann, CTO Skyscanner - It’s well-known in the tech industry that breaking into China is no easy feat.

Many companies have tried and failed to crack the Chinese market, attempting to impose their global product onto a market which has its own distinct consumer trends.

Tech products that have succeeded in China tend to be all-encompassing tools, meeting the needs of users by providing highly pragmatic services and information all housed within one application or site, and, ideally, in a package that conveniently fits the small screen.

Pragmatism and increased functionality

Speed and efficiency are the order of the day in the Chinese market, but the need to apply an innovative rather than copy-cat mentality is imperative – particularly in the tech space.

Wherever you look in this fascinating country, someone has come up with an ingenious ‘hack’ to solve a problem or answer users’ needs, but not necessarily by applying a Western equivalent.

Some in the West are guilty of labelling Chinese businesses by their Western counterparts. For example Tujia is often described as ‘China’s answer to Airbnb’, or WeChat as ‘WhatsApp but with stickers’.

While similarities can surely be drawn, comparing these businesses like-for-like doesn’t take account of the intricacies and wider functionality that Chinese tech products often offer their users.

Tech businesses who have been able to ‘break’ the difficult Chinese market are those that are able to adapt and innovate to it, taking the service they offer elsewhere and tailoring it with extra functionality to fit the Chinese consumer.

Difference engines

By way of example, Tujia lets out a spare apartment or holiday property. But it offers much more than that too; it’s an online-to-offline service, with local teams cleaning the property, handing over keys and taking out the rubbish at the end of the customer’s stay.

These sort of services, which in the West might be considered ‘added extras’, are instead very necessary in China. In a market of endless variety and options, consumers have higher service expectations.

Similarly, describing WeChat as China’s WhatsApp again glosses over many subtleties. WeChat’s payment functionality lets users store money with more than 7% interest and spend it all within one convenient platform.

Part of its reasoning is that it want to compete with Alibaba Group’s AliPay’s which pays 5–6% interest. But both compare favourably  with the  0.35% rates typical on Chinese current accounts.

Skyscanner’s approach

Skyscanner had to adapt its product to fit the market. In 2014, it launched Tianxun.com, its Chinese site.

Tianxun’s users are offered several Chinese market-specific tools, such as varied payment methods; when users are booking and paying for travel they have the option of a QR code log in, which, when scanned, verifies payment methods with a single click.

The Tianxun app also houses a variety of verticals including flights, hotels, car hire, package tours and attraction Tickets) all available to compare and book through one platform.

Concurrently, Skyscanner for Business – the B2B arm of Skyscanner – is also gaining traction in the Chinese market – through recent partnerships with Chinese based tech company Sungy Mobile and their downloadable ‘Go Launcher’ app, and Chinese e-commerce site VIPShop, powering their VIP Travelapp.

Big market, small screens

With the Chinese consumer so drawn to products which provide a breadth of service, the Chinese market provides a plethora of opportunity for Western business to make in-roads.  But those looking to do so must be prepared to adapt, innovate and be cognisant of the needs of the Chinese consumer – particularly taking heed of the consumer preference for multi-functional tools in mobile or small-screen formats.

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TAGS: Skyscanner | China | tech | Ailstair Hann
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