Ctrip starts to get serious about corporate travel

Ctrip has relaunched its approach to corporate travel, introducing a “TM+” strategy based on a comprehensive set of products, self-service and big data.

Speaking at a conference in Beijing, Ctrip’s corporate travel CEO Fang Jiqin said:

“In addition to the basic demand for cost savings through business travel management, enterprise customers currently hope to improve management efficiency through an effective and integrated business travel management system.”

According to research, China is the second-largest business travel market in the world, after the US, worth an estimated $290 billion in 2016.

Ctrip believes that the management and administrative side of business travel is as important as the travel itself. As a result it launched a new “whole process” version of its travel management app, which adds a selection of back-office capabilities.

No launch is complete without a mission statement of sorts – and Ctrip talks about TM+ being “comprehensive, self-service and smart.” The former two concepts are closely related, with Ctrip not only delivering everything from flight bookings to reimbursements and authorisations but also enabling all components to be managed through its platform.

Smart brings in big data. Its expertise will help the system make recommendation for specific travellers based on their past behaviour, while providing corporates with internal and external benchmarking options.

Jiqin hinted that the Ctrip behemoth could be on the prowl for M&A targets as part of its new push into corporate travel. He said that it was looking for “deeper strategic partnerships [with] office automation systems, cost control reimbursement software and travel service providers, corporate procurement platforms as well as social and financial platforms”.

Ctrip’s 2016 full-year results showed that its corporate travel unit brought in revenues of $88 million, a 29% increase on 2015 and has more than eight million users.

Talking to analysts on the earnings call, CEO Jane Sun noted that it is the market leader in China’s corporate travel sector, and is much bigger than the number two and three players combined. But the business is not content with this and is planning to invest in technology and grow its market share.

The international ambitions of Ctrip mean that any statement it makes warrants a look at how it might apply outside China. Ctrip execs have always had their eye on the long game and are probably aware that India has been identified by the GBTA as one of the world’s fastest growing business travel markets and could be the sixth largest by 2019.

Ctrip’s strategic partnership with and investment in India’s leading OTA MakeMyTrip is still finding its feet. MakeMyTrip does have a corporate travel product, the financial performance of which is not immediately obvious from its earnings. Ctrip’s knowlege and expertise could make its presence felt in India’s business travel market as well as its leisure sector.

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