AWS for Industries

Executive Conversations: Building Resiliency with Jane Sun, CEO, Group

Jane Sun, CEO of Group Ltd., joins David Peller, Managing Director of AWS Travel and Hospitality, for a broad-ranging discussion about the recent disruption faced by travel and hospitality companies – and her company’s response to that disruption. Group, a NASDAQ listed company since 2003 (NASDAQ: TCOM) has over 44,000 employees and over 400 million members, making it one of the leading online travel agencies in the world.This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with industry leaders, where we seek to learn more about their resiliency, tenacity, and capacity for innovation.
The series follows the publication of the AWS Travel and Hospitality E-book: Building Resilience For The Long Run .” Filled with strategic observations, hints, and tips, the E-book provides guidance for building a more resilient organization, potentially serving as a useful resource as travel and hospitality companies address both current challenges and those yet to come.
David Peller: While your business is recognized publicly by many, what’s one unique characteristic or feature that is either lesser known or understood about your company?

Jane Sun: As the only female CEO in the online travel industry in China, I made it my mission to empower women to achieve balance and success in both their career and family lives. Group is the first company in China to offer egg-freezing as an employee benefit. Other female-friendly policies include birth gifts: an 800 RMB gift and 3,000 RMB education and commuter benefits for pregnant workers. Female empowerment and presence is equally crucial. At Group, women represent over more than half of our 45,000 employee base, and over a third of our senior managers are women. Out of our 7,000 engineers, roughly 30% are females. Such rates far exceed the average internet companies in China and Silicon Valley.

DP: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you managed through them?

JS: 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic brought travel to a standstill. This novel coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and ever-changing especially during a period over the busy Chinese Spring Festival when we expected great surge in travel numbers. The challenge we had was keeping track of the evolution of the pandemic, its spread, and how to ensure safety and addressing concerns that our customers may have. We saw call volumes regarding cancellations and changes to travel plans increase by tenfold. At the end of the first quarter this year, we refunded orders worth over 31 billion RMB of Gross Merchandise Value back to our customers. Furthermore, we initiated several initiatives as part of our global response package. Group is the first in the travel industry to initiate the Safeguard Cancellation Guarantee Policy, which was extended and upgraded multiple times in response to the COVID-19 situation. We also announced a 200 million RMB Natural Disaster Relief Fund at the very start of our global response package. To meet the gradual demand and interest for travel, we continued to enrich our Travel Revival V Plan as travel restrictions were lifted and new products were developed to boost customers’ confidence. Capital assistance for our hotel and other travel suppliers includes a 1 billion RMB fund and loan assistance program with our banking partners. Our aim is to support our travel partners in this travel ecosystem so that we could all weather through the storm.

DP: As we all prepare for the next phase of traveler or guest demand, what are some of the changes your company has taken (or plans on taking) to adjust to the current operating environment?

JS: Firstly, people are very cautious about health guidelines surrounding travel, so we work closely with our partners to ensure safety and security throughout their trips. Secondly, people prefer to travel within smaller groups, for example, with family or good friends. Small group tours and/or private groups offers privacy, safety, and are fast becoming a popular way to travel. Thirdly, our users are opting for more flexible, changeable, and cancelable bookings. As part of our Travel On Initiative, we have introduced Flexibooking, which allows such flexibility and help us to achieve our customer-centric goals.

DP: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times and what are you most proud of?

JS: As one of the first and most hard hit industries, we’ve had to rapidly adapt our business to respond to uncertainties in the overall environment, and changing consumer demands. We looked at consumer and partner demands. We discovered that travelers are looking for premium, private travel experiences. We learned that they prioritized guarantees for flexibility and safety. We took a cue from the recently popular livestream sales model in China to meet the demands of both consumers and industry partners. Our livestreams were well received by customers due to highly discounted and flexible advance booking rates.

DP: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?

JS: At Group, we champion moving forward with digital and mobile transformation where we can create digital touchpoints to better understand our customers. This helps to guide our business and allow for a more flexible and efficient business model that best positions us to innovate in the new normal. Some of our technological focuses are about transforming services and making it online such as the development of an AI chatbot for customer services and refund process along with smart product and destination recommendations. With technological capabilities, we are also able to find a strong and stable system to support our business and apply this to handle inquiries and demands from our customers during the pandemic.

DP: There’s much talk at the moment about how the travel and hospitality experience has changed and there will be a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you and how do you think the travel experience will look three years from now?

JS: In this era of the New Normal, there will be greater demand from our users for products and services that place their health and safety first. In addition to such safety guarantees, there is greater demand for flexibility. Deals that match user demands will act as the stimulus to help travelers regain their passion for travel. I remain optimistic with regards to the travel industry.

DP: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?

JS: I remain optimistic about the future and there are few elements that I personally look forward to as we head into the future of travel and hospitality. These are: ensuring that safety and security remain the top agenda and concern that we address for our customers. Customer preferences for domestic, regional, and customized travel experiences. Continuous flexibility – free cancellations, insurance coverage, presale and prepay to offer customers a peace of mind. Integrating technology to find solutions to increase digital touchpoints and gain greater convenience, knowledge about customer needs, and making improvements in services. The passion and desire for travel continues and as we see more formation of travel bubbles and opening up of travel destinations, I certainly would love to pay them a visit.

Learn more about the new Travel and Hospitality E-book: Building Resilience For The Long Run.”

See more Executive Conversations and industry insights on the AWS Travel and Hospitality Blog.

Jane Sun is the Chief Executive Officer of Group Ltd. Founded in 1999, the company effectively adapted to the rise of mobile Internet, growing from a small tech company into a one-stop-travel-shop for 400 million users worldwide. As the only female CEO in China’s high-tech industry, Ms. Sun proactively advocates gender equality. Forbes named her one of the Emergent 25 Asia’s Latest Star Businesswomen. She was also one of Fortune’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, and one of FastCompany’s Most Creative People in Business.

David Peller

David Peller

David Peller serves as Managing Director, Travel and Hospitality for AWS, the global industry practice with a charter to support customers as they accelerate cloud adoption. Before joining AWS, David held various leadership roles in Singapore, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom, in travel and hospitality technology businesses. He has been both an entrepreneur and founder, as well as being part of the launch team of a restaurant business in the UK. He is a qualified Solicitor in the UK, holds a Bachelor in Legal Studies from King’s College, University of London, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Studies from the London College of Law.