Ctrip.com doesn’t waste time. It was only at the start of this month that China’s largest online travel agency announced it acquired Trip.com domain as part of its acquisition of a San Francisco startup of the same name for an undisclosed amount.
In the last few days, Ctrip ported the travel recommendation service it acquired to a new domain, www.trip.skyscanner.com, and on Sunday it turned Trip.com into an English-language version of Ctrip’s online travel agency content. The homepage format is different in some ways from the English-language version of its long-standing Ctrip.com website.
As of launch day, Trip.com’s homepage is scrubbed of any reference to being Chinese-owned, although the the Trip.com About Us page says Trip.com is part of the Ctrip Group. The signature Ctrip logo is missing from the site. A promotional box emphasizes trips to Chinese cities, but the search engine offers travel to 5,000 cities in 200 countries.
The company had no official comment at publication time. But Trip.com appears to be a new plank in Ctrip’s global expansion. It’s notable that executives decided to bet on using the Trip.com domain to expand its online travel agency business rather than its Skyscanner metasearch subsidiary, which Ctrip bought last year.
Industry insiders will be watching whether Ctrip eventually uses the domain as an “open platform” that mixes Skyscanner’s metasearch model with traditional online travel agency listings. There have been signs that a mixed model, or “open platform,” is what company executives think will work best. Already in flight results on Trip.com, there are a mix of deals from wholesalers and suppliers when listing airfares, though not content from Skyscanner yet.
This summer, in Skift Research’s “A Deep Dive Into Ctrip and the China Online Travel Market 2017“, an interview with Steven Pang, general manager of China for Skyscanner, turned up this exchange:
“Skift: What are your thoughts on consolidation in the metasearch industry?
“Steven Pang: The distinction between direct and intermediated is getting more blurred.
We’ve seen this in China for a while. The consumer wants to get the most choice and be able to buy what he wants most conveniently.
“He does not care whether you call yourself meta or OTA [online travel agency].
“Nobody really spends time obsessing in the travel media here about whether we’re called a meta or an OTA. I think this is a little bit more of a legacy western thing because that’s how the industries grew up.”
Ctrip’s $25 billion market capitalization makes it second-largest online travel company after Priceline Group ($85 billion). Expedia’s market cap is currently only $18.9 billion. Ctrip has about 16,000 employees and is China’s largest online travel company if you include its sister brand Qunar.
On Sunday, users of Trip.com, formerly known as Gogobot, received notice that they should now look to a new domain instead of Trip.com. But a huge chunk of the audience most likely uses the Trip.com mobile app to interact with the content. As of Sunday, there was no mention of Trip.com as a product at the top of Skyscanner’s homepage. But it may be early in the promotion stage for the new product.
As of now, Trip.com is pointing visitors to download its Ctrip.com mobile app.