Priceline, the largest online travel agency in the United States, recently joined hands with Ctrip.com in an investment that could see it building a stake of up to 10 percent in China’s top online travel site.
Is the market going to be dominated by top-tier players?
Not anytime soon as some Chinese boutique firms are trying to battle the big boys with a novel approach.
Mafengwo is one of them.
Starting as a travel tips website back in 2006, it has accumulated over 50 million users through the years.
Its site on average recorded a few million comments and downloads per day. The user-generated content on its site has become a valuable asset for the group.
Based on its huge database of travel logs and comments, Mafengwo can attract traffic by feeding customers with useful on-the-ground information through data mining.
Chief executive Chen Gang gave an example: if a user wants to have a look at a hotel in Tokyo, the site will extract relevant comments such as “the hotel is near Shinjuku train station, arriving by mass transit railway or Japan Rail is convenient. There is also an underground passage which connects the hotel and the train station, so it won’t be clumsy even if you are travelling with big luggage”.
Such details are often welcomed by travellers trying to make a booking decision.
Unique information such as this boosts customer loyalty and stickiness on the website.
Mafengwo is also designing travel products by analyzing user preferences on its sites, taking into consideration key variables such as when are trips planned for, the popular destinations and the budget.
In a recent venture, the firm teamed up with Beijing-based air ticket agency Zailushang and launched a seven-day, six-night Phuket wedding photo shooting package for 7,999 yuan (US$1,300).
Chen said this customers-to-business model is a new trend. Other industry players may find it hard to copy the services and information Mafengwo provides, he said.
Big players will enjoy an advantage in standard products given their extensive hotel and airline offerings but small players like Mafengwo also a lot of room to grow by catering to niche segments.
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