The CEO of China’s Trip.com Group tells us how she changed the game for OTAs
Jane Sun is one of the most powerful women in the world. In this session, Jane shared with Alex three high priorities for the industry’s largest OTA.
1. Helping partners reach Chinese travelers
Chinese travelers represent the fastest-growing segment in the global travel market, accounting for 10 percent of the local GDP associated with tourists and tourism. Trip.com routinely works with its travel partners around the world to increase tourism from China.
Jane offered three suggestions for destinations and suppliers to grow business from Chinese travelers:
- Make the visa application process easier and available online
- Offer more direct flights from major cities in China
- Have a Welcome Chinese program, including Chinese menu options and local language speakers in hotels and call centers
2. Leadership and support during the pandemic and recovery
Trip.com used a three-pronged approach to lead during the pandemic, focusing on customers, partners, and employees.
“When we went into the pandemic, our country locked down the borders to prevent the spread of this disease, so we stood up to give refunds to our customers before our partners promised our customers a refund. So we really put the best interests of our customers first.”
—Jane Sun, Trip.com
Trip.com also established a billion-dollar fund to inject cash to help supply chain partners and implemented voluntary executive pay cuts, which allowed employees to keep their jobs during the slowdown.
Even during lockdowns, Trip. com took proactive steps to build pent-up demand for travel. The “Travel in the Cloud” program, for example, enabled travelers and their families to explore museums and destinations of other countries online and plan future travel. Jane anticipates that buying power and demand will be strong as we emerge from the pandemic, and people will be ready to travel.
3. Building gender equality in the workplace
Under Jane’s leadership, Trip.com has embraced bold, game-changing strategies for gender quality and female empowerment in the workplace. Programs include free taxis for pregnant employees, education contribution when a child is born, flexible working hours, and covering the cost of freezing eggs for people who want to delay pregnancy while pursuing their careers and education.
As a result of these measures, more than 50 percent of Trip.com’s workforce are women, more than 40 percent of the middle managers are women, and more than one-third of the executives are women.
"We are very proud of our achievements, and we’ll make improvements even further going forward.”
—Jane Sun, Trip.com
Welcome, everyone, to Elevate 2021. We're excited to have you all here and to show off our packed agenda, from NDC to modern retailing to important dialogues about diversity, equity, inclusion, and sustainability to the cloud powering more innovation across our industry. We have a lot to explore!
We can't wait for you to hear the more than 30 speakers and 13 sessions in three days, and we hope you love our gaming theme as much as we do. Why did we pick this theme?
Well, since the pandemic began, the game truly has changed. ATPCO is prouder than ever to help power the exchange of ideas for the future of flight shopping and emerge with you as we recover, rebuild, and renew.
So let's press Start on our first session. Our President and CEO, Alex Zoghlin, discussing the game-changing model of China's largest OTA, Trip.com, with their very accomplished CEO, Jane Sun.
Hi, I'm Alex Zoghlin, president and CEO of ATPCO, and I’m honored to welcome Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com Group, for the first time at Elevate to discuss what it's like to run one of the largest online travel agencies in the world, how Trip.com Group has led and transformed through the pandemic, and why promoting gender equality in business is good for everyone.
So, Jane, my first question is about the Chinese traveler. There will be more Chinese nationals with passports by 2025 than there will be U.S. citizens in the United States. China's travel export spend is already higher than any other country. Are there specific things that the rest of the world can do or learn to attract these future travelers?
Yes. Chinese travelers represent the fastest growing segment in the global travel market. When we look at the numbers, about 10 percent of the local GDP associated with tourists, tourism, and the inbound travelers’ range of opportunities, as well as the buying power load into the local economy. And based on our observation, Chinese travelers in particular are very in front of buying local souvenirs, local products.
So it's a positive force to increase the GDP growth as well as the economic development for each country, which we very much love to bring Chinese tourists to different countries. Now the things we can do to attract Chinese customers, a couple of things.
First of all, if the visa application process for Chinese citizens become a little bit easier or can be applied online, that would be very easy, make it easy for Chinese tourists to come. Some of the countries grant a 10-year visa for the citizens in China, therefore Chinese people, which tend to make last-minute decisions, when they decide where to go, will have the flexibility to come and visit these travel destinations very easily.
Secondly, if we can make more direct flights from major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, into the major cities in the countries that will be very easy for Chinese people to travel into. For example, China has direct flights to Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, then by nature Chinese people will go to these cities as their first port of call, which will increase the visitors in these cities.
And thirdly, we advise our hotel partners, airline partners, local tour operators to have "Welcome, Chinese" types of programs. We can do very little things to make Chinese tourists feel at home, for example, in the hotel, if we can arrange one or two Chinese-speaking staff just in case some of the tourists do not speak English, that would be very good. If you can add one or two dishes, Chinese dishes, for breakfast, that again will be very good for Chinese tourists. Or have one or two staff speaking Chinese on the call center. That again will be tremendous help.
So again, Trip.com very much enough to work with each tourist board and local tour operators to make sure that we do everything we can to let the people in China get to know the local destinations much better.
Oh, very good.
So because of the pandemic, all businesses must transform and pivot. How have you pivoted and transformed your business to emerge stronger?
Yes, the China tourism, as all the other tourism, was very significantly impacted by Covid, however, we have never stopped. So for the local tour operators, we cannot send custom across border yet, however we can let our customer know what are the beautiful scenic attractions in each country. So we have a program called "Travel in the Cloud" so we can show, for example, the beautiful museums of each country online so the customers and their children get to know these countries much better.
And when we see our pent-up demand based on our search results, I think the buying power and the demand are very strong once the pandemic is under control and once the borders are opened, people will be ready to travel. So we just need to get ready for this release of the pent-up demand.
Wow, very good.
So you were named one of Fortune's top 500 most influential women in business for the last four years, and named Asia's Game Changer for your efforts in promoting gender equality in businesses. You're clearly invested in leveling the playing field and it's paying off. I believe your workforce is over fifty percent female representation, which is double the average Silicon Valley internet company. So what should other companies in travel and tech, what can we learn from your efforts?
Yes, we do a lot to promote gender equality and female empowerment. I’m the only female CEO in a major internet company in China, so I feel tremendous responsibility to make sure our female employees are very much empowered.
So when a female employee is pregnant, we offer a free taxi to bring them to work and take them home. When the baby is born, we give them 800 as a gift, 3000 as an education fee. When they return to work, we offer flexible working hours and we also realize more and more employees, female employees, are getting PhDs or studying overseas. Females all have a biological clock. If they get pregnant after the age 35 or close to age 40, the doctors will classify their pregnancy as a high-risk pregnancy, so if they decide to have their eggs frozen, we will pay for it. And Trip.com is the first company and only company in China who offers this policy, which is very progressive.
And as a result of these measures, more than 50 percent of our workforce are females, more than 40 percent of the middle managers are females, and more than one-third of the executives are females. For that we're very proud of our achievements, and we'll make improvements even further going forward.
Wow, that's amazing!
So, Jane, how do you see the Chinese market performing, especially versus the rest of Southeast Asia and the rest of the world?
China was the first country who went into the pandemic and also was the first country who pulled itself out of the pandemic, so overall, I think the infection rate is very low compared to the rest of the world. So we did quite a lot of things to make sure we put customers first, partner second, trip.com third.
When we went into the pandemic, our country locked down the borders to prevent the spread of this disease, so we sent, stood up to give refunds to our customers before our partners promised our customers for refund. So we really put the best interests of our customers first.
And second we also established a billion R&D fund to inject cash to help our partners with their cash flow in a very difficult time.
And the third one is to also help our employees because many companies had to shut down their operations and many people who suffer from the pandemic lost their jobs. But instead we, our chairman and myself, told our board that two of us will take zero salary, and then our VP volunteered with our board to take 50 percent cut for their salary, and then our employees were able to preserve their jobs by working four days and take one day off. That way we work together to really make sure we preserve our workforce to an extent we can, and gradually we move towards the recovery of the travel industry.
And last year we talked with our partners, and we realized that our hotel partners only have five percent occupancy rate, so we told our hotel partners that they can pick out these perishable inventory and give some discount and our customers will be able to prepay for this inventory and get a good deal. And our hotel partners were able to get precious cash flow to help them during a very challenging time. And through that we are able to achieve a very good recovery and lead the industry for a recovery in the market.
Wow, very nice. So Trip.com has been experimenting with work from home, I think for over a decade.
So you were well prepared for the pandemic. What do you think the effects of a work from home trend will be on corporate travel long term?
What we have seen on our workforce is that the efficiency needs to be adhered to. Since we have a long condition to allow employees to work at home, when the pandemic hit, we were able to very quickly recover our productivity.
In the long term what we have seen is that the work at home program in China was working, increasing the productivity for the industry, and enabled customers to be able to spend more time on the leisure travel.
So all -in-all, the impact is minimized so far.
So the Civil Aviation Authority of China has allowed limited number of international flights in and out of China because of the pandemic. So how are OTAs and airlines managing through this period of down travel?
Yeah, so for the domestic travel, it's pretty much recovered very nicely. So we advise our partners to really pay attention to safety measures such as offering hand sanitizers, offering masks wherever our customers go to and they have, they feel very well protected.
For international travel, I think the vaccine rate is going up for every country. Once it's reached a certain level, it will be very good for countries to consider increasing flights and therefore people can travel more freely.
Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining us. It's been a pleasure chatting with you.
I hope everyone stays tuned for the next session, it's called New to the game: Here's how ATPCO can help you.
And thank you all for leveling up with us at Elevate 2021. Thank you, Jane, I really appreciate it.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you. Bye.
Elevate 2021 is a virtual conference that powers the exchange of ideas for the future of flight shopping.
CEO, Trip.com Group
Jane Sun has served as the Chief Executive Officer of Trip.com Group, as well as a member of the Board of Directors, since November 2016. Prior to that, she was a Co-President since March 2015, Chief Operating Officer since May 2012, and Chief Financial Officer from 2005 to 2012.
Jane is well respected for her extensive experience in operating and managing online travel businesses, mergers and acquisitions, and financial reporting and operations. She was named one of Fortune's Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business for four consecutive years since 2017. In 2019, she was awarded an Asia Society Asia Game Changer Award and joined as a member of the Asia Society Board of Trustee. Forbes named her one of the Emergent 25 Asia's Latest Star Businesswomen in 2018, and one of the Most Influential and Outstanding Businesswomen in China in 2017. She was also one of FastCompany's Most Creative People in Business in 2017.
During her tenure at Trip.com Group, Jane also won the Institutional Investor Awards for the Best CEO and the Best CFO. Prior to joining Trip.com Group, she worked as the head of the SEC and External Reporting Division of Applied Materials, Inc. since 1997. Prior to that, she worked with KPMG LLP as an audit manager in Silicon Valley, California, for five years.
Jane received her bachelor's degree from the business school of the University of Florida with high honors. She also obtained her LLM degree from Peking University Law School.