Home Travel Industry All About the 5 Top Travel Agencies in China

All About the 5 Top Travel Agencies in China

Top Travel Agencies China
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20 min.

One of today’s largest travel markets was practically nonexistent between 1949 and the 1970s. Yes, the Chinese travel market didn’t exist because the People’s Republic was entirely closed to travelers until the late 1970s.

However, it’s not the only thing that makes this market exciting and inviting for a closer look. In 2012, China became the number one leader in outbound tourism worldwide, surpassing the US. It took China only a couple of years to gain a significant advantage as a tourist-producing country. In 2018, the outbound tourism market in the US reached $144.47 billion, while the same market in China peaked at $277.35 billion.

Meanwhile, the Asia Pacific region continues to experience the highest annual increase in outbound travel, at 88% over the previous year. In simple terms, as a tourism business professional, you shouldn’t ignore this region as it generates a wide range of business opportunities.

If you want to learn more about this market, scroll below to explore the top travel agencies in China, regional analysis, market trends, and more.

Overview of Top Travel Agencies in China

If you want a TL;DR version of the top travel agencies in China, here is a brief overview of the most popular OTAs in this country.

OTA NameYears activeHeadquartersParent companyPartnersHow to work with them?
Ctrip24Shanghai, ChinaTrip.com Group LimitedTripAdvisor, Google, and othersAccommodation owners and brands to advertise
Qunar18Beijing, ChinaTrip.com GroupWelcome Chinese, GGV Capital, Silver Lake, and othersContact a relevant department via email
Fliggy6Hangzhou, ChinaAlibaba GroupAgoda, TravelgateX, DidaTravel, & many othersCreate an Alibaba account and enter the Fliggy Merchant program.
Tongcheng Travel5Suzhou, ChinaTongcheng Travel Holdings LimitedTencent, GlobalStar, Kuaishou, Awareness Kit, & moreVisit the website and choose the right option in the Join and Cooperate section.
Meituan-Dianping8Beijing, ChinaMeituanPriceline, Pony.ai, Amadeus, Tencent, Starbucks, & moreBusinesses can create a free or premium account to reach tens of millions of consumers. You can do it through the operator Dianping hotline: +86 101 00 011.

Largest Online Travel Agency (OTA) in China

The largest and most commonly used OTA in China is Trip.com (formerly Ctrip). Over 65% of the participants of a recent survey use Ctrip to plan and book their travel. Ctrip doesn’t specialize in a niche. It’s a comprehensive platform that enables tourists to make a wide range of travel bookings. 

Trip.com

The platform supports various travel options, including weekends, activities, short vacations, cross-border excursions, and business travel. The platform continuously pursues innovation and currently offers cutting-edge solutions such as a global travel SOS emergency mechanism, six travel guarantees, and step refund and reform. 

Besides pursuing strategies to help the company attract more travelers through high-quality service, Ctrip continues to invest in other companies. In 2016, Ctrip made investments in MakeMyTrip and acquired Skyscanner. In 2017, it acquired the Trip.com Group. The company’s market share currently stands at 41.8%.

Most Popular Travel Offline Agency in China

The most popular offline travel agency in China is Traveling Bestone. Since China is the most populated country globally, it also has the largest elderly travel-abled population uncomfortable using online travel services. 

Traveling Bestone

Traveling Bestone offers its services exclusively through brick-and-mortar offices. Currently, it has over 5,000 franchised agencies all over the country. While the company offers B2B2C products and services, it specializes in B2B, offering exclusive sightseeing tours to businesses. 

While the value and potential of the offline travel market escape many travel business potentials, the best way to grasp it is to look at the news. Both Ctrip and Qunar, the two biggest OTAs in China, invested in Travelling Bestone to establish a better offline presence nationwide.

In-Depth Analysis of Key Players

Ctrip

History: Ctrip started as a small online travel site in 1999. It started moving forward quite quickly thanks to James Jianzhang Liang, who worked across the ocean in the US, where he saw how successful OTAs are. As an OTA, Ctrip really took off in the late 2000s when smartphones became widely available. Today, it’s China’s most popular and largest online travel agency.

Ctrip

📝 Description: Ctrip is an online booking platform where travelers can check and compare prices, plan their vacations and trips, and complete bookings. Ctrip has a dedicated mobile app enabling travelers to tend to their traveling needs on the go. The Ctrip mobile app makes this platform complete, as it offers bonus features such as real-time flight status checks.

📅 Years active: 24

🌍 Website: www.ctrip.com 

🤝 How to work with them: As the most popular OTA in China, Ctrip is perfect if you are looking for a partner to help you advertise to Chinese travelers. The site also offers services to accommodation providers. To list your accommodation at Ctrip, sign up with a China-based mobile number or valid email address at the following link. Ctrip has a dedicated advertising team you can contact around the clock to advertise your services and products

Commercial conditions: You must pay a service fee to get access to the Ctrip services whether you want to list your accommodations or advertise your products/services

🏢 Head office: Shanghai, China

👉👈 Parent company: Trip.com Group Limited

🤔 Who works with them: TripAdvisor, Google, 

👍 What we like more: It’s great to see a Chinese OTA succeeding by implementing new technologies, making informed investment decisions, and delivering mobile experience to its users. At the same time, Ctrip has a transparent policy enabling travel business professionals to understand the terms and conditions.

👎 What we like less: Ctrip runs a great operation, and we didn’t find anything that needs improving.

Qunar

History: Qunar was established in 2005. It started as a small online portal enabling people to search for airplane tickets and compare prices. Over the years, the platform has expanded its reach and offer. Today, it’s right there with Ctrip at the top of the list of the most popular OTAs in China.

Qunar

📝 Description: As an OTA, Qunar offers a wide range of services. Travelers can use it to browse through and book all sorts of travel-related services. Qunar emphasizes user-generated content, which helps differentiate it from competitors. Users can create Qunar accounts and use various tools to publish their travel experiences or post public reviews.

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📅 Years active: 18

🌍 Website: www.qunar.com 

🤝 How to work with them: Qunar has a dedicated web page to help people who want to work with the company reach the right department. 

Commercial conditions: N/A

🏢 Head office: Beijing, China

👉👈 Parent company: Trip.com Group

🤔 Who works with them: Welcome Chinese, GGV Capital, Silver Lake

👍 What we like more: We like how Qunar leverages user-generated content to benefit from word-of-mouth marketing and instill trust in people who’ve never used their platform before.

👎 What we like less: Qunar could improve its transparency regarding commercial conditions and its cooperation with other businesses and individuals. 

Fliggy

History: Fliggy started as Alitrip, an Alibaba-operated brand. In 2016, Alibaba decided to rename Alitrip to Fliggy. The name means “flying piggy”, a funny name chosen to attract the Millennial traveler segment. The name resonated well with the audience, and the platform emerged as one of the most popular among Chinese travelers.

Fliggy

📝 Description: Fliggy is owned and operated by the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba. The company offers standard packages and services you’d expect to see in OTA’s offer. There are travel guides, A-Z travel packages, flights, accommodation listings, and other travel-related services. Fliggy heavily relies on personalized recommendations to delight its users. 

📅 Years active: 6

🌍 Website: www.fliggy.com 

🤝 How to work with them: Figgy has a dedicated web page for merchants interested in using its services.

Commercial conditions: Different commercial conditions apply to different merchants. It is best to visit the relevant page or contact the support center to learn more. You must create an Alibaba account to use Fliggy services and enroll in the Fliggy Merchant program. 

🏢 Head office: Hangzhou, China

👉👈 Parent company: Alibaba Group

🤔 Who works with them: Agoda, TravelgateX, DidaTravel, and many others

👍 What we like more: We love how Fliggy leverages user-generated data to deliver timely personalized recommendations relevant to the website visitors’ preferences and needs.

👎 What we like less: We couldn’t find anything that needs improvement.

Tongcheng Travel

History: While new in the Chinese OTA landscape, Tongcheng is not an inexperienced brand. In fact, it’s the combined business resulting from the 2018 merger of two major Chinese OTAs, eLong and Tongcheng. Over the course of 5 years following the merger, these two companies managed to create a successful brand that quickly became trustworthy among travelers in non-first-tier cities.

TongCheng Travel

📝 Description: Tongcheng Travel is another competitive OTA in the Chinese market, with 87% of its customers coming from low-tier cities. As one of the leaders in the field, Tongcheng manages to keep up with other competitors through innovation and commitment. The brand’s goal is to make the Tongcheng platform a one-stop shop for travelers. At the moment, the company’s services include transportation ticketing, accommodation reservations, tourist attraction ticket reservations, corporate travel, hotel SaaS solutions, & more. 

📅 Years active: 5

🌍 Website: www.tongchengir.com/ 

🤝 How to work with them: You need to visit the website and choose the right option in the Join and Cooperate section.

Commercial conditions: N/A

🏢 Head office: Suzhou, China

👉👈 Parent company: Tongcheng Travel Holdings Limited

🤔 Who works with them: Tencent, GlobalStar, Kuaishou, Awareness Kit, & more

👍 What we like more: We like Tongcheng Travel’s devotion to technology. It’s one of the true technology-driven companies in China. The company leverages both AI and big data to deliver next-level experience to its clients.

👎 What we like less: There is nothing that we like less about Tongcheng Travel. 

Meituan-Dianping

History: Meituan-Dianping is a Chinese OTA with quite an interesting history. Meituan was a food delivery and group-buying company founded in 2010. Dianping, on the other hand, was a company focused on restaurant reviews with a dedicated mobile app founded in 2003. The 2015 merger enabled the companies to expand their reach, penetrate new markets, and pursue new funding opportunities.

Meituan Dianping

📝 Description: After 8 years of merger, Meituan-Dianping remains a leading super-app offering a wide range of services to consumers. Right after the merger, the company tapped into the hotel and tourism markets. The app enables users to book hotels, transportation, and entertainment. The latest reports outline the huge success of this new player in the OTA market since it managed to capture over 46% of the market share in hotel bookings.

📅 Years active: Dianping 20 years, Meituan 13, 8 years of activity as merged companies

🌍 Website: www.meituan.com & https://www.dianping.com/ 

🤝 How to work with them: Tourism professionals should consider focusing on working with Dianping representatives as this sector of the brand stays committed to building a social network for tourists. Businesses can create a free or premium account to reach tens of millions of consumers. You can do it through the operator Dianping hotline: +86 101 00 011.

Commercial conditions: N/A

🏢 Head office: Beijing, China

👉👈 Parent company: Meituan

🤔 Who works with them: Priceline, Pony.ai, Amadeus, Tencent, Starbucks, & more

👍 What we like more: We love the effort Meituan-Dianping puts into developing a social network for travelers. Leveraging new and emerging technologies, the company enables travelers to make informed decisions, book experiences, and leave their reviews, all on one platform.

👎 What we like less: The “how to work with us” section on the website has to be improved upon in terms of the information provided for the company to attract more partners and service users from abroad.

Business Models and Strategies

Chinese OTAs make the world’s second-biggest OTA market, valued at $44.7 billion, and the world’s fastest-growing OTA market with a growth of 27%. The business model of all major OTAs in the region is approximately the same, which is expected as they face the same challenges and cater to the same customers. 

COVID-19 and harsh competition forced Chinese OTAs to fine-tune their business models, adopting a wide range of strategies. Let’s name the ones with the most impact.

One of the latest news articles published on PhocusWire touches on all critical changes in the China OTAs’ business model. One of the more popular strategies is to change targeting to include lower-tier cities. First-tier and second-tier cities comprise only 30% of China’s urban population. 

Targeting lower-tier cities enables OTAs to reach the majority of the urban population. More precisely, OTAs started to market their services and products to young folks in lower-tier cities, knowing they are eager to explore the great outdoors and travel.

Also, the mobile market continues to rise. The latest Ctrip report outlines that over 90% of bookings made on this platform were completed on mobile devices. Mobile-first is at the very core of Chinese OTAs. It enables them to cater to the expectations of modern customers and a thriving smartphone culture.

The pandemic has changed travel patterns as well. You may not know it, but during the pandemic, travelers couldn’t visit some Chinese cities unless they had negative COVID-19 tests. These restrictions promoted weekend staycations, making them one of the most popular travel products. Chinese OTAs still include this product, enriching their offer with boutique glamping and camping products.

Next, we have extra support for travelers who want to plan diverse trips. Travelers in China can combine the longest high-speed rail network, air transport, and a vast car rental network to reach all attractive destinations. OTAs decided to facilitate trip planning by introducing multi-modal ticketing options on their sites.

Car rental services are among the most popular services used by travelers in China, especially outbound ones. Fliggy is a Chinese OTA that took the lead in this area by focusing on short-trip itineraries and partnering with the largest mobile car rental service in China, Zuzuche. Fliggy positioned itself as the leading OTA in the self-drive travel market by doing so.

More and more travelers use online resources when researching destinations. User-generated content is quite valuable because it’s fresh and often features unique upsides and downsides regarding specific travel products and services. Chinese OTAs decided to hop on the user-generated content hype train as it helps them launch cross-segment advertising campaigns and drive engagement ratings.

Finally, live streaming became a part of the Chinese OTAs business model. The pioneer in this area is Ctrip, selling $294 million in travel packages and hotel room bookings over streams. The OTA decided to introduce the live-streaming option to consumers and leverage it as an effective way to communicate the values of travel products and services in the spotlight. Fliggy followed soon after with a similar strategy aiming to increase the brand’s reach, accumulate fans, and promote travel products and services.  

Partnerships and Collaborations

The Chinese OTAs pursue their business goals through investments, partnerships, and collaborations. There are many moving pieces on the board, and listing all partnerships and collaborations is practically impossible. Let’s name a couple of the most noteworthy ones.

The most noteworthy investment was Ctrip’s $180 million one in India’s MakeMyTrip, thanks to which Ctrip holds 49% of voting power in MakeMyTrip.

When it comes to partnerships, Ctrip is also a leader. Thanks to the company’s efforts in 2020 to launch a live-streaming platform to promote travel destinations, Ctrip has expanded its partner network by 3,000 partners

Other noteworthy collaborations include Fliggy’s one with Globaltix, which enabled the OTA to introduce emerging technologies and engage travelers with interactive and immersive experiences. We will come back to it in the technology integration section.

Another major strategic partnership was established in 2019 between TripAdvisor and Ctrip. The purpose of the partnerships was to strengthen the market position of these two OTA giants in their markets.

Finally, a partnership between STAAH, a US-based channel manager brand, and Ctrip enabled the company to reach international travelers and boost inbound travel as well. 

Challenges and Risks

When it comes to challenges and risks Chinese OTAs face, the McKinsey report does a great job outlining them. First and foremost, OTAs are dependent on airline capacity, which went down during COVID-19. It will take time for airliners to restore capacity to pre-pandemic levels. Currently, they are only at 37% of what they were before COVID-19. Due to low capacity, the ticket prices significantly went up, which can affect the tourists when choosing which destination to visit. 

The same report outlines that scaling is hard in the Chinese travel market because it is overly complex and fragmented. OTAs must carefully choose channel types to effectively target and reach different customer segments. 

Regional Analysis

When it comes to differences among top travel agency players in China, there’s not much to talk about. In fact, all of the top players are casting a pretty wide net, offering a wide range of services and products. They are not doing it blindly, though. All top Chinese travel agencies, including OTAs, try to tailor their offer to reflect the latest trends. 

One of the recent trends among Chinese travelers is family travel. The latest Summer Travel Market Trend Report by Ctrip tells us that the number of family air tickets sold increased by 804%. The same applies to the bookings of family-friendly hotels, which went up by 80%. 

As of now, the most powerful segment in the Chinese market is Gen Z when it comes to purchasing power at least. The recent survey highlights interesting results. Gen Z makes the most of the Chinese travelers, with a traveler segment of 52.7%. The same survey finds out that 50% of Gen Z travelers choose top Chinese OTAs to plan and book their travel. 

China is also the number one country regarding business travel expenditure. According to the report by the Global Business Travel Association, the Chinese corporate travel market is going back on its feet again after suffering the blows from the COVID-19 pandemic. The corporate travel expenditure increased by 31.7%, and the market is projected to reach $400 billion by 2024.

Market Trends, Sustainability, and Future Prospects

Let’s quickly recap the latest report 2023 on travel market trends in China:

  • The number of inbound and inbound travel has increased by 170%;
  • The average expenditure per user of outbound travel went up by 21% from 2019 to 2023;
  • The top 3 departure cities include Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing;
  • Chinese tourists primarily travel abroad for leisure;
  • China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has expanded outbound group tour destinations.

What about technology, sustainability, and future prospects regarding the Chinese travel market? Let’s see what’s going on.

Technology Integration

Chinese OTAs are leveraging emerging technologies in new and innovative ways to accommodate modern travelers’ needs and wants. For instance, Fliggy has partnered with Globaltix. The partnership enabled the OTA giant to introduce dependable AI chatbots.

Ctrip followed this initiative and built its own chatbot based on OpenAI. The new chatbot, called TripGen, offers an interactive conversational interface to help travelers easily plan their trips. It currently supports traditional Chinese, Korean, English, and Japanese. 

Ctrip has also started using non-fungible tokens, popularly known as NFTs. The new NFT collection named Trekki enables travelers who own them to get premium access to specific experiences and benefits. The company decided to also introduce a gamification element enabling travelers with a vast collection of Trekki to access even more benefits. 

Fliggy, on the other hand, has decided to pursue different tech. The company developed Artificial Reality glasses. Fliggy partnered with museums across Europe to enable travelers to experience them from the convenience of their homes.

Sustainability Practices

While every OTA in China pursues sustainability practices to some extent, Ctrip is a leader in this segment. Ctrip started its sustainability strategy back in 2017 in its efforts to facilitate environmentally sustainable tourism. To do it, Ctrip decided to partner with UNDP and WWF

In 2018, Ctrip worked with China Southern Airlines and Tourism Toronto to distribute reusable cups and launched the “Scavenger Run – Be a Responsible Traveler” event to encourage travelers to jog and collect litter.

Future Prospects

The changes in the Chinese travel market are driven by changing traveler preferences. The tourism sector made a strong comeback, and the future looks bright for the OTAs operating in this market. According to Skift’s report:

  • 95% of Chinese travelers plan to travel in the next 12 months;
  • 50% of Chinese travelers plan to travel internationally in the next 12 months;
  • China is the main travel resurgence factor in Asia Pacific tourism;
  • 8% of Chinese travelers intend to increase spending on travel and vacation.

Competitive Landscape

While Ctrip currently has most of the travel market in China, the landscape remains highly competitive as other OTAs introduce new features and improve consumer experience across all touch points.

To paint the picture of how competitive this landscape is, Ctrip continues to acquire stakes from its major competitors. It includes Tiniu and Qunar, which are currently alongside Ctrip as the top travel agencies in China. Currently, Ctrip has 49% voting power at Qunar and 4% at Tiniu

One trend in particular can be seen across all major OTAs in China. They all want to go international and expand globally. The Railway Gazette report outlines Ctrip’s expansion into trains in the UK, Japan, Korea, and Japan and Fliggy’s expansion as a global brand.

Conclusion

To sum up, China is the world’s leader in outbound tourism, which makes a market valued at over $144.47 billion. It’s a vital part of the Asia Pacific travel market, which had the highest annual increase in outbound travel of 88%. When it comes to Chinese OTA market size, it’s nearing the size of its US counterpart. 

The most popular offline travel agency in China is Travelling Bestone, with over 5,000 franchised agencies nationwide. The popular OTAs include Ctrip, Qunar, and Fliggy, with Ctrip being the one with the largest market share of 41.8%. 

The travel and OTA markets in China are looking great. Family travel is up by 800%, and 50% of Gen Zers, who make up 52% of the travel segment, use Chinese OTAs to plan and book their trips. Corporate travel is up as well, and it’s bound to reach $400 billion by 2024.It’s definite that the Chinese travel market is going to continue to grow. As a travel business professional, you can leverage the popularity of OTAs in China to advertise your products or services to tens of millions of tech-savvy Chinese travelers.

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