Alibaba’s Alitrip Rebrand Reveals Big Bet on Chinese Millennial Travelers

Alibaba Group is replacing its Alitrip travel brand in favor of a new brand name that it believes will enhance its appeal among China’s millennial travelers.

Alitrip, already a household name among Chinese travelers and worldwide tourism stakeholders, was immediately phased out as the new brand name was unveiled. The new brand name was launched only one day away from the two-year anniversary of the Alitrip brand—which replaced the Taobao Travel brand in 2014.

Animated version of the new logo. (Alitrip/Fliggy)

Animated version of the new logo. (Alitrip/Fliggy)

Alitrip will now be known as Fliggy, or in simplified Chinese, 飞猪 (feizhu). The literal translation of the new brand name is “flying pig”, and the English-language version of the brand name is a combination of “flying” and “piggy.” The brand name is accompanied by a new logo that depicts a pig-like icon whose shape bears resemblance to a cartoon wing. The logo appears animated on the Fliggy website, with the pig’s snout’s changing between different travel-related symbols such as a palm tree, a camera, and a WiFi symbol.

The new brand marks stark contrast against the former Alitrip brand, which had a very functional brand image—no cute pig logos nor a playful name. The name, Alitrip, or 阿里旅行 (Ali Lvxing)—literally “Ali trip/travel”—was a very straightforward name that simply combined the Alibaba brand name with “trip.” Much like the unassuming name, Alitrip’s logo was a simplistic wordmark of the brand name.

Fliggy throws out the old brand conventions in favor for a youth-oriented theme that is heavy on the “cute/hip” iconography that it hopes will appeal to the growing number of Chinese millennials that go traveling every year. If the brand reorientation will be a successful plea to millennial travelers remains to be seen, but the rebranding clearly distinguishes Fliggy from its closest competitors Ctrip and Qunar—both sporting functional brand images similar to Alitrip before its rebranding.

China’s online travel market in Q1 2016. (Data from Analysys China via China Internet Watch)

Betting its future in travel on millennials is a move that likely makes sense for Alibaba Group as it operates in a highly competitive environment where coupons on discounts have become the key marketing tool to drive customers away from the competition. The subsequent lackluster profitability caused investor demands for consolidation, resulting in a large string of mergers and acquisitions, as well as so-called strategic investments between different Chinese online travel agents in the last couple of years. Therefore, focusing its efforts on the fastest-growing market segment within Chinese travel indeed makes sense in a bid for future profitability and growth. Despite recent industry consolidation, the mass market still suffers from little differentiation, limited customer loyalty, and significant reliance on discounts to drive sales—leaving industry players little room for profitability growth.

While Alibaba’s big bet on millennial travelers is likely to draw some investor criticism, the fact remains that millennials represent more than a fourth of China’s population—385 million millennials in 2016—and they’re more eager to travel than their elder peers. According to a study commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board, Chinese millennials are the biggest travel spenders among Asian millennials—spending as much as US$14,000 per year on travel—making it a key market segment for tourism stakeholders across the world.

Whether or not Alibaba Group’s new travel brand will help boost its bottom line remains to be seen, and initial reaction to the brand name has mainly focused on its prominent use of “pig” in its branding—which resulted in online controversy after a prominent Muslim netizen called on China’s Muslims to delete the app in protest against perceived cultural insensitivity. Fliggy defended its new brand on China’s social media, emphasizing that the new name and logo simply symbolize the desire for “traveling afar with freedom while staying comfortable at the same time.”

The rebranding of Alitrip will have no direct effects for suppliers advertising their travel products on Alitrip/Fliggy.

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