With cities across China trying to get back to normal, some tourist attractions reopening and some travel restrictions being loosened, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, as far as China’s domestic travel market is concerned.
Companies are also getting back to work, and if there is one travel company that’s been in the eye of the storm since the start of COVID-19 outbreak, it’s been Trip.com Group.
CEO Jane Sun talks about the measures taken to get the company through the storm – pay cuts, cancellations guarantees, remote work and providing the right information to customers – and what it is putting in place to lead recovery as China picks up the pieces.
The past two months must have been a nightmare for you and your colleagues who are at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. How have you been managing it personally? And what has it taught you about, one yourself, two, your staff and three, the Chinese travel industry?
We are one world – one team and we need to work together to fight against coronavirus. We cannot really isolate one country anymore.
We should believe countries can strategically ease travel restrictions, limiting the spread of the virus while allowing the flow of business once again.
What are you proudest of?
I am very proud of our customer service team members who have worked tirelessly day and night to respond to handle travel plan changes, refunds and cancellations for our customers.
Despite the outbreak, they have maintained their service quality to ensure speedy reply and reassurance for our customers.
Clearly, the impact on travel to and from China has been massive, with the drying up of outbound travel as well as inbound. And it happened right after you celebrated your 20th anniversary and declared your mission of going global as Trip.com Group. How much of a setback has this had on this global mission?
This is a one-off thing and we remain optimistic about the future once the outbreak is over.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 growing into an international concern, we care about our global users’ safety and provide a series of services in the support. For example, we announced our global initiative Safeguard Cancellation Guarantee in the last month, targeting those who have been impacted in this period.
We provide the daily-updated reference of individual country and region entry restriction policies to global travellers. It is also our global mission, serving good services for global travellers.
It was going to be a tough year anyway, but this crisis has certainly made things worse. Expedia had said it was going to cut 3,000 jobs, 12% of its workforce, regardless of the crisis, which it did last month. Booking Holdings has alluded to cost cuts as well. How much cost cutting have you had to do to navigate your ship through this storm?
Starting from this month, James (Liang) and I will receive zero salary, and members of the senior management will take voluntary pay cuts, up to half of their salary. Proposed annual merit increase for front-line service staff will be processed as planned, while merit increases for other employees will be temporarily put on hold until the situation improves.
Every challenge brings with it an opportunity. While the virus represents a challenge for the entire world, it also gives us the opportunity to show our strength and extend our leadership.
With strong capital reserves to weather the storm, we will continue to elevate our service, product, technology and brand, for what does not kill us makes us stronger.
Together, we will not only overcome the challenge, but we will lead the recovery of the travel industry.
I know you are big on productivity and hard work – has remote work impacted productivity in any way or have you found that maybe people can be just as, or even more, productive at home?
Trip.com Group has the experience on remote work mechanism. (We had a nine-month experiment and James published an academic essay.)
Staff members can apply their working flexibility, time or place. It depends on different job positions, departments or individual personal conditions.
It is more productive when people have the flexibility, either working from home or working at office. If it just forces to work at home or work at office, the result would not be good.
When do you think we will see the first light at the end of the tunnel? Are you seeing it in the data? How are you keeping people’s interest in travel alive? And helping them to overcome their fear?
Awareness and proper prevention measures against the virus can protect people’s travel safety.
We also provide these kind of information and support to our users. Travel and tourism has become people’s daily demand and interest. Once the virus outbreak is under prevention and control, people will want to travel.
Just as you must have put in a massive crisis response to handle the masses of cancellations, as well as ensure the safety of staff, you must also have a response ready to turn things around – can you share some of the initiatives being planned?
Trip.com expanded coverage of the global initiative Safeguard Cancellation Guarantee to individuals directly and unavoidably affected by the outbreak, due to published travel restrictions or mandatory 14-day quarantine requirements by an increasing number of destination authorities, customers from affected origins (South Korea, Japan, Italy, etc.)
Safety of staff: work from home policy in mainland China, then in Japan and South Korea offshore during the comparatively-serious period of the virus outbreak; now in mainland China, people return to the offices, and our offices are equipped with a serial of prevention measures, health condition daily report, temperature check at the office entry, public area disinfection, etc.
There are those who believe China will emerge stronger from this – it’s been an opportunity to rethink, reset and reimagine the future. What do you think will be the most positive outcome for China, at large?
There is a Chinese phrase "包罗万象". It means “all-embracing”. Trip.com Group is a world-leading OTA, and we aim to provide a whole line of travel products and services and we did the achievements in the past 20 years, and we will continue it globally. It is our future.
Similarly, China will emerge stronger if the country continues to embrace more and more. More open and various connection between China and other countries are the future.
On March 5, we launched our Travel Revival V Plan together with the entire travel industry. The initiative brought together thousands of hotels, tours, flights and attractions, and aims to stimulate a revival in travel, all powered by our industry data platform.
"V" stands for victory. As an industry leader, we are confident that the travel industry will recover, although the short-term impact will be significant.
With the downturn affecting the entire industry, it is the responsibility of Trip.com Group to lead the travel sector to prosperity once again.
China is such an important contributor to the prosperity of the global travel market and I am sure many destinations are wondering when you think the market will return and when it does, where will the opportunities be. Could you name a few segments that could be interesting, once we are out of this?
- Sustainable tourism, responsible travel
- Global collaborations delivering down-to-earth localised services
Trip.com Group used innovative technology to deliver travel resources during the outbreak of virus. For example, yun tourism, or cloud tourism in English.
Through the cooperation with global tourism authorities, users can get an in-depth impression of destination tourism information by live-action videos in the "cloud tourism" model.
People can enjoy visual feast of world’s destinations and tourism scenes, and radio programmes on cultural and heritage introduction at home. It is popular among Chinese netizens during the outbreak of virus.
* This article originally appeared on WebInTravel.