Qunar CEO on Building China’s Largest Travel Booking Site from Scratch
Amid all the talk of a potential $ 10 billion mega merger with Ctrip, you need to visit Qunar’s head office on Suzhou Street in Beijing’s Haidian District to fully understand why Qunar’s co-founder and CEO , Chenchao “CC” Zhuang enjoys its competitive position and “prefers to run the largest online travel company in China.
Namely, Qunar, ie.
On the 17th floor and in parts of the other seven floors of the building, product managers and engineers sit tight in seemingly endless rows of desks, their eyes focused on their computer screens in an atmosphere that is alternately serious, informal. and fun. .
Young employees in bright yellow jeans or pants, and work boots or sneakers with speckles of purple, orange or pink, walk in and out of the reception area while potential employees looking to join the ranks of More than 2,500 Qunar fill the work applications, pens in hand, in the lobby.
CEO CC Zhuang walks into a modest conference room overlooking Suzhou Street, talks about the problems he encountered in 2005 when he sought to build a kayak for China, and deftly dodges answering the big question. day on a potential merger with Ctrip, but you may read a lot between the lines.
âI prefer to run China’s largest online travel company,â Zhuang says. âThere is such a long term. We will build the system matrix for Chinese online travel. There are so many exciting things for us.
Qunar, with the help of referrals, investments and technology sharing from controlling stakeholder Baidu, China’s largest general search engine, has by far the highest number of trips in the country, eclipsing Ctrip and everyone else.
When told about a potential marriage between Ctrip and Qunar, Zhuang has an answer. âI won’t talk about mergers. I’ll be the CEO of China’s biggest travel agency, which you can explain in several ways, âZhuang laughs. “Of course, Qunar itself will become the biggest Chinese online travel company where we are not opposed to any kind of merger and acquisition in order to speed up our process.”
Qunar started out as a travel meta-search player, but has evolved over the past three years into a hybrid travel search and booking site with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform to put tens of thousands of Chinese hotels online (60,000 registered in 2013), and soon providers of tours, activities and catering.
Zhuang says Qunar started with the idea of ââbecoming a meta-research site, China Kayak, as he puts it, but found there was so little infrastructure – airline databases. and from hotels to online booking capabilities – that Qunar had to build almost everything, from scratch.
There were also few well-established players in meta-research or property management systems, for example, and this created both challenges and opportunities, Zhuang says.
âIn China, you can be the star player because there is a lot of infrastructure shortage,â Zhuang said. âIn a lot of cases we don’t have a player. It’s empty. That is not here.”
Qunar’s vision is to become the âend-to-endâ matrix / solution for online travel in China. It already has the highest traffic and the most hotel reviews, including professional and user-written reviews, Zhuang says.
Pipe Room 77
Among the new products that Qunar is testing are the booking of single rooms in small hotels and the distribution of materials to properties so that Qunar can assess for its customers which specific rooms have the most sun and the least noise, between other measures.
The project, which is only in its infancy, resembles the type of single room reservation and measures that the US hotel search site Room 77 tried and largely abandoned after encountering a lot of resistance from hotels.
âIt’s on a very small scale for testing,â Zhuang says of booking individual rooms and distributing room measurement equipment. “But, I think it’s the future.”
Jenna Qian, who heads Qunar’s corporate communications and investor relations units, says the company is also making a big push this year to expand beyond and complement third-party partnerships by establishing direct relationships with destination activity companies, including tours, attractions and restaurants. , and make them available in Qunar’s mobile applications.
Qunar has a sales and marketing workforce of around 1,100 people, and when it enters major leisure markets to contract with hotels and provide Qunar’s SaaS solution for hotel reservations in line, the company plans to expand the product to the destination business, Qian said. .
Qunar wants to be able to offer the widest range of travel products, and her combination of search and reservation technologies can help deliver that comprehensiveness in a market that has what she describes as “hundreds of thousands”. from online travel agencies and 50 different prices. points for individual hotels due to the large number of providers.
Price parity for hotel rates, which is important in North America and Europe, does not exist in China, says Qian.
What Kayak and TripAdvisor Learned from Qunar
While Zhuang acknowledges that he initially sought to build the China Kayak from 2005, he contends that Qunar’s SaaS system for bringing online booking to the largely offline market was in place before Kayak began to making facilitated flight bookings through OTAs, and this is something that TripAdvisor is just starting to do for hotels in 2014.
While there may be a counter-argument from Kayak, Zhuang argues that Qunar also recognized the mobile’s desirability before just about everyone else.
On the mobile front, Qunar and Baidu recently co-developed voice recognition technology to help travelers find flights and hotels. Zhuang says it works well for flights, but it needs to be improved on the hotel side.
Qunar went public in November 2013, raising $ 167 million, and saw its mobile revenue and total revenue increase by 390% and 74% respectively in the fourth quarter of 2013, although the company continues to rack up losses. .
That’s okay, Zhuang says, because Qunar’s investors are patient and have a long-term commitment.
With such a huge opportunity, Qunar is focusing on the Chinese domestic and outbound travel markets and does not plan to deal with inbound travel for years, Zhuang said.
When trying to build an end-to-end solution for China, from travel planning and research to booking tours on mobile devices when the traveler is on the go and already at their destination, there’s a ton of work to be done, and Zhuang is excited about what he describes as an attempt to âjumpâ the competition.
For now, reading between the lines, Zhuang seems happy that Qunar is trying to do it on his own, without the help of his rival Ctrip.