China's Ctrip faces turbulence in journey to the top
01/14/2019|7:16:22 PM|Nikkei Asian Review

The data center inside the Shanghai headquarters of International, China's biggest online travel agency, looks like a war room. Huge screens with maps of the globe stretch across the walls, logging in real time the travel plans of some 300 million users.

"We gather travel habits from past behavior to make an algorithm for the best personalized suggestion," said Jane Sun, the chief executive officer of Ctrip, in an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review. "Even if the user decided not to make a booking, the keywords they search are still important as they show that person's intention."

Ctrip, which brings flights, hotels and over 60 services and experiences onto a single online booking platform, has become a giant in Chinese travel since its creation 20 years ago. By snapping up domestic competitors, Ctrip now controls about 60% of China's online travel bookings in terms of value.

In 2017 its revenues reached 26.8 billion yuan ($3.9 billion), up 39% on the previous year. Its growth rate far exceeded that of global competitors Expedia at 15% and Booking Holdings' 18%, while its debt to equity ratio floats around 33%, much healthier than its global competitors' more than 60%.

But now China's economy is slowing and its consumers are increasingly cautious. 

Amid that uncertainty, Ctrip is focused on exploiting the data of its 300 million customers, using algorithms and artificial intelligence, to offer personalized services. The company employs more than 6,000 engineers to adapt and improve the system continuously, using 50 terabytes of data every day.

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