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That it took Trip.com Group to pull together the global travel industry in a travel revival campaign rather than a world tourism body, Google Travel or Booking Holdings, shows the ongoing importance of the China outbound travel market.

In a never-before spectacle of global industry unity, Trip.com Group roped in more than 70 tourism, aviation, and hotel leaders worldwide to individually address tourists why their next trip would be their best yet.

The two-hour video launch on Monday is a cross-industry effort to instill confidence and inspire people to “Travel On,” with assurances that it’s attractive, safe, secure, clean, flexible and more affordable than ever. Although it is directed at all travelers in general, without doubt China’s gigantic outbound market helped pull the leaders together in an effort to revive travel.

Close to 150 million outbound trips by Chinese were recorded in 2018, an increase of 15 percent over 2017, with the market expected to grow to more than 166 million trips last year, according to the China Tourism Academy. Chinese tourists are also the world’s biggest spenders. At $277 billion in 2018, that’s nearly double the next largest spender, the US, which spent $144 billion in 2018, according to UNWTO data.

So even the Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary, Varga Mihaly, chipped in to launch Travel On. “We are very happy that in the last decade, the number of travelers from China has increased by 500 percent,” he said. “Hungarians welcome Chinese tourists arriving to our country with open arms.”

“When the time is right, Canada will be here to welcome you with glowing hearts,” said Davi Robinson, interim president and CEO, Destination Canada.

“We have put in place the highest standards of safety and security at all stages of your travel to safeguard your health, which is and continues to be our number one priority,” assured Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Touirsm. “So when travel restarts we trust that you will make a trip to Dubai. We, will wait for you.”

But the most irresistible welcome has to be from the governor of Gangwon Province in South Korea, Choi Moon-soon. “Our province is famous for potatoes,” he said. “We produce potatoes much, so people call us potato. So my nickname is also Potato. Next time when you meet me, please call me Potato.”

Trip.com Group claimed that more than one million viewers tuned in for the launch.

Second Wave

The premise of the campaign is there has never been a better time to start planning that next trip, and to travel on, said the largest online travel group in China.

As part of the campaign, Trip.com Group is incentivizing customers with an international Travel On Sale that offers discounts of up to 60 percent on flexible advance reservations at 30,000 hotels in 180 countries.

The group also intends to do more in-destination livestream broadcasts across the world, having done 14 pilots to-date that brought in at least $70 million in sales, it said. The marketing model, popular in China, combines livestreams with exclusive discounts and the ability for viewers to book immediately.

But whether or not recovery demand can be captured now is still up in the air, what with fears of a second wave in Beijing last week that resulted in hundreds of Beijing flights being axed.

Asked how to revive travel when recovery is in fits and starts, Trip.com Group’s CEO, Jane Sun, in an interview with Skift following the launch, said, “I remember on March 5, when we launched a revitalization plan for domestic travel in China. People couldn’t understand why, but we saw that the demand was already there. As an industry leader, we need to be two steps ahead.

“Similarly, we see that certain countries, such as Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, now have the virus under control and the people in those countries feel safe to travel, at least in nearby areas, so it’s the right time to boost the confidence of consumers and partners.”

Fears of a second wave in Beijing did cause cancellations, admits Sun, but she believes this is temporary. “It has not really dampened confidence. China’s population is 1.4 billion, what’s 30 new cases? The most important thing is educating people not to panic, and having a medical system that can handle and treat cases. And once the government has the experience in containing them, it can develop a protocol should they happen again, hence there is a good playbook to balance the handling of new cases with the need to reduce the impact on the economy.”

Sun said China “is back to normal” and believes that the economy and the travel industry of Asian neighbors that have controlled the virus will also rebound, at first with domestic travel, then bilateral, before a vaccine eventually fully restores confidence.

“We want to stimulate domestic recovery first with this revival campaign. Our partners have idle capacity and need the cashflow. On the other hand, there are consumers who can travel. So we want to create a win-win where consumers can get great deals and partners can fill up perishable inventory,” said Sun.

Trip.com Group has expanded its Travel On Fund from an initial $140 million to $500 million to help partners worldwide with cashflow to restart their businesses, in the form of a loan or an advance, she added.

The virtual launch of Travel On. Photo: Trip.com Group

Despite the dozens of tourism chiefs the world over warmly inviting tourists to visit their country, Sun admits cross-border travel is still “difficult, limited to hundreds then gradually thousands of people.”

Still, there’s good reason for countries farther afield to dream of welcoming back Chinese tourists, with short-haul destinations set to be the first gainers. More than 70 percent of searches on Trip.com Group platforms (Ctrip.com, Skyscanner and Trip.com) in the first five months were for short-haul places. The top 10 short-haul getaways were Bangkok, Seoul, Shanghai, Jeju, Tokyo, Bali, Manila, Busan, Xi’an and Kuala Lumpur.

Chinese travelers also appear to maintain their wanderlust for adventure and novelty. Casablanca, Lima, Tunis, Buenos Aires, Reunion Island were trending in the first five months, while the top five outdoor adventure places searched were Banff, Abu Dhabi, Marrakech, Rio de Janeiro and Fiji.

Asked what advice she’d give to Australia, which faces a travel ban imposed by China, Sun said, “Without referring to any specific country, the factors that are important in attracting Chinese travelers [aside from safety and booking flexibility today] are firstly, the availability of direct flights. Second is visa — how easy it is to get one. Third is how friendly and hospitable — look at Japan, which is known as safe and hospitable, or Thailand, whose capital city Bangkok has been the most visited city in the world for a couple of years, surpassing New York, Paris and London. Again, that’s because of the well-known hospitality.”

Photo Credit: Ctrip.com Group CEO Jane Sun launching Travel On. Photo credit: Trip.com Group