Interview with Amy Wei, Ctrip, on payment methods, travel payments, and Train + X tourism

Monday 14 October 2019 10:02 CET | Editor: Melisande Mual | Interview

We interviewed Amy Wei, CEO of International Train Ticketing at Ctrip, to learn more about payment methods for travellers in China and beyond

What is the story behind Ctrip’s and TrainPal’s inception, and how do you differentiate yourself in the market?

Ctrip is a travel service provider of accommodation reservation, transportation ticketing, packaged tours, and corporate travel management based in China. In 1999, four co-founders James Liang, Qi Ji, Neil Shen, and Min Fan established the ‘click-and-brick’ model that combined information technology with traditional travel services in China. Since its inception in 1999, Ctrip has grown to become one of the best-known travel brands in China.

My team launched TrainPal, a mobile app that offers international train ticket booking services first in the UK in February 2018. Recently, TrainPal expand its booking service to Italy (Trenitalia and Italo) and Germany (DB), and we are looking forward to adding more train products covering other countries and regions in Europe, such as France and Spain. Currently, major debit/credit cards including Visa, Master, American Express, Maestro, Diners Club are available on Trainpal. Apple Pay has been added since April 2019, and an increasing number of customers use it, wit (1/3 TrainPal customers). In addition, we will launch Paypal support soon, which is under development at the moment. As for bankcard issuance country, we proceeded payments for cardholders in 125 countries in Q2 of 2019.

Ctrip is a one-stop shop, while TrainPal focuses on international train ticketing, which is a great supplement to other travel related products on the Ctrip platform as general interest in ‘Train + X’ tourism within China and abroad increases.

In September 2018, Ctrip first raised out the idea of ‘Train + X’ tourism in the industry and we believe ‘Train + X’ tourism will amount to 20% of China’s travel market by 2025. ‘Train + X’ refers to those packages that utilise train as transportation tool meanwhile book hotel, attraction tickets, or any other travel related products. We see the number of ‘Train + X’ travellers doubled for the past May Day holiday in China compared from 2018.

What is particular about Ctrip’s and TrainPal’s expansion outside China and what are the key challenges when expanding in Europe and in other Asian countries (eg branding, localisation, payments)?

Ctrip acquired Skyscanner in 2016 and in 2017. Now, under Ctrip Group, we have four brands, namely Ctrip, Qunar, Skyscanner, and Ctrip/Xiecheng and Qunar target the Chinese market, providing domestic and outbound travel services to Chinese consumers. Skyscanner, a global travel search site, concentrates on markets in Europe and the Americas. Meanwhile,, the youngest in the family, focuses on the Asia Pacific region. TrainPal emerged from Ctrip’s international train ticketing business and the UK is our testbed for serving international train ticket bookers.

We believe it is essential to understand your customer. In the months immediately following the launch of TrainPal, the user growth rate and ticket sales were not as high as we had expected.

In August 2018, we evaluated the user conversion rate with our partner, an App store. We were surprised that only one or two percent of those users who had looked at our app actually downloaded it. After examining user behaviour, we realised many users looked at the app without clicking into it. They would have learned in the app details it was ‘a cheap train booking provider in UK’ if they had clicked. Then, we realised we needed to boost our marketing and branding efforts in the UK, and that a good product by itself is not enough.

What kind of payment methods are popular among travellers that want to book and pay for rail tickets? Are there any major differences between Europe and Asia, for example, in terms of the profile of the typical traveller?

In China, WeChat Pay and Alipay are the dominant payment methods for rail ticket bookings. From what I could see, Chinese and other Asian market customers tend to favour third party payment channels.

As for Europe, I think Visa and Mastercard are among the most popular payment options. Apple Pay and Google Pay have caught up quickly in the past several years. PayPal amounts to some share too, but is still relatively small compared to that of WeChat Pay/ Alipay in China.

Earlier in 2018, TrainPal was soft launched. Can you share with us more information about this app and the ‘split ticketing’ algorithm?

As a consumer, I found it complicated as well as costly to book train tickets in the UK. To solve customers’ pain points, our team devoted itself to innovative solutions, specifically developing our unique split ticket algorithm, allowing consumers to get a cost-effective paper or electronic train tickets for all routes where operators offer them without a booking fee.

For example, I would like to book a train ticket departing from London Kings Cross to Manchester Piccadilly. Our smart search engine will find the cheapest ticket shortly by splitting the ticket to two, namely London Kings Cross to Milton Keynes Central, and Milton Keynes Central to Manchester Piccadilly. Using this method, we help our consumers save an average of about 40% on the train ticket fare.

China has become the world’s largest outbound tourism market and the world’s fourth largest tourist destination. How does Ctrip cater to the needs of Chinese travellers?

The ‘C’ in Ctrip stands for ‘customer,’ and customers have always come first since our inception. According to the 2018 Chinese outbound travel report jointly launched with the China Tourism Academy and Ctrip, we noticed that an increasing number of Chinese tourists seek unique travel experiences, and they prefer high quality travel products. Around 82% of Ctrip customers chose 4 or 5 diamond package tour products when travelling abroad, an increase of 2% from the previous year. It will be an interesting journey, I believe, sightseeing around the UK by trains booked with the help of TrainPal.

The editorial was first published in The Payment Methods Report 2019 - Innovations in the Way We Pay, which provides insights into the payment methods landscape, depicting the key trends and developments in the way people pay.

About Amy Wei

Amy Wei accumulated extensive experience in product management and international market expansion over the past 15 years. Before joining Ctrip, she worked at global technology companies including Amazon, Motorola, and Nokia. In 2015, Amy joined Qunar, a Ctrip Group company, overseeing international air ticketing. Since August 2016, Amy has been spearheading the international train-ticketing unit at Ctrip Group.

About Ctrip
Ctrip is a travel service provider of accommodation reservation, transportation ticketing, packaged tours, and corporate travel management in China. It is the largest online travel company in the country, as well as the top global player in terms of gross merchandise volume (GMV). TrainPal is owned by Ctrip Group and authorised by National Rail. Ctrip Group has signed an agreement with Evolvi Rail Systems to enable the sales of UK rail tickets on TrainPal. With the smart search engine, TrainPal recommends the cheapest fare to travelers and does not charge any booking or credit card fees.

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Keywords: Amy Wei, Ctrip, payment methods, travel payments, OTA, WeChat Pay, Alipay, TrainPal, China, Visa, Master, American Express, Maestro, Diners Club, Apple Pay, PayPal, debit card, credit card, Qunar, Skyscanner,
Countries: World