Trip.com’s CEO sees pivot to private tours in mainland China offsetting plummet in international travel

Daniel Ren
·3-min read

China’s largest online travel agency Trip.com Group is banking on private group tours to help it ride out the dramatic plunge in international travel after raising US$1.1 billion from a secondary listing in Hong Kong.

Trip.com’s chief executive Jane Sun Jie told the South China Morning Post that customised services are buffering the mainland’s largest online travel agency against a decline in the number of journeys.

“Consumers prefer to travel with much smaller groups, with their families and close friends,” she said. “So we offer them customised services and use it as a tool (to boost company performance).”

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Nasdaq-listed Trip.com, operates travel booking sites including Ctrip.com, Skyscanner and Qunar. It floated 31.6 million shares on Hong Kong’s stock market at HK$268 (US$34.49) each, a 5.5 per cent discount to its closing price of US$36.51 on Friday.

On its trading debut in Hong Kong on Monday, Trip.com opened at HK$281, up 4.9 per cent.

Private group tours refer to trips that cater to a family or a small number of travellers who prefer to avoid public transport amid worries about contracting the coronavirus.

Trip.com said bookings for private group tours during the upcoming Labour Day holiday from May 1 to 5 have jumped 533 per cent from a year earlier.

“I think the recovery for Chinese domestic travel will be very strong if we control the virus very effectively,” Sun said. “Hopefully, towards the later part of this year, or early part [of] next year, some of the [travel] bubbles will be created.”

Trip.com recorded a loss of 3.3 billion yuan (US$506 million) last year, down from a profit of 7 billion yuan a year earlier.

The global travel market dropped by more than 50 per cent to US$2.6 trillion from US$5.8 trillion in 2019, according to research by mainland data consultancy Analysys.

Sun said the company is now back in the “profit zone” and will invest the proceeds from its Hong Kong share offering in technology to enhance its booking services.

The company has an overallotment option to sell an additional 4.7 million shares to sell into investor demand.

Shares in Trip.com rise during market debut in Hong Kong. Photo: Trip.com
Shares in Trip.com rise during market debut in Hong Kong. Photo: Trip.com

Trip.com, formerly known as Ctrip, was founded 17 years ago and is now 11.5 per cent owned by Chinese internet giant and artificial intelligence company Baidu.

A stream of mainland Chinese companies have raised capital in Hong Kong via secondary listings amid ongoing US-China tensions.

Trip.com initially set a maximum offering price at HK$333 apiece for its Hong Kong debut, but the falling price of its American depositary receipts (ADRs) in New York forced Trip.com to lower its expectations.

“Release of pent-up demand for domestic and international travel will take place sooner or later,” said Wang Feng, chairman of Shanghai-based financial services company Ye Lang Capital. “Trip.com, as a leading online travel agency in China, has opportunities to grab a bigger market share in the domestic market as it benefits from the higher degree of digitalisation in the mainland economy.”

Trip.com is also looking to expand outside the mainland, banking on its Hong Kong listing to help.

“Part of the benefit we gain from being a Hong Kong-listed company is that our brand will be very well-known in the Asian market,” Sun said. “So I think the Asian market will be the first step naturally for us to expand.”

Additional reporting by Georgina Lee

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