It's nice that leading Chinese review guide Ctrip Gourmet List has tied up with OpenTable to introduce Chinese travelers to some of America's best food. But when will OpenTable bulk up its China listings?
— Sean O'Neill
Growing numbers of Chinese are becoming comfortable with traveling overseas independently, rather than via group package tours. Yet many of these independent travelers still have hesitations about where to dine while abroad.
Enter, The Ctrip Gourmet List, which is the Chinese equivalent to a rating and listing service similar to Zagat, Michelin, and Gambero Rosso combined. The list recommends 15,000 restaurants worldwide in various categories, such as “fine dining” and “local favorite.”
The culinary intel is displayed on a tab on the mobile booking app of Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency. About 15,000 food critics, 500 professional appraisers, and Ctrip’s editors make the selections.
On Wednesday Ctrip Gourmet List said it is adding OpenTable’s inventory for “tens of thousands” of restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. OpenTable is only adding North American listings, not all of its more than 43,000 restaurant inventory worldwide.
The tie-up represents the first time OpenTable content will be offered to the mainland Chinese market, though the company already had a Hong Kong-based site available in Mandarin. That said, a look at OpenTable’s China listings finds hardly any inventory.
The Chinese Market
Created in 2016, Ctrip Gourmet List picks restaurants not only for the quality of their food and ambiance, but also because they minimize the language barriers and cultural differences that might ruin the dining plans of Chinese travelers, the company said.
The list aims to address a need: According to a survey by Ctrip and the state-run China Tourism Academy, getting advice about foreign cuisine is a larger concern for Chinese tourists than finding recommendations for sight-seeing or tips on navigating unfamiliar transportation systems.
Gourmet List covers restaurants in more than 120 destinations, primarily in China and southeast Asia — the favored tourism region of Chinese travelers — though about a third of its inventory is domestic Chinese restaurants.
The OpenTable deal seems to undercut the original mission by adding uncurated, independent inventory in North America.
A spokesperson said, “The deal right now is more about adding value to user experience.”
The deal between Ctrip and OpenTable isn’t a coincidence. OpenTable’s parent company Priceline Group owns about 9 percent of Ctrip in equity and debt, according to estimates by Skift Research.
Ctrip Gourmet List isn’t the only restaurant reviews game in town.
Koubei, an e-commerce platform that is partly backed by retailer Alibaba, offers user-generated reviews of 1.6 million restaurants in China, with more than a million comments added every day, according to the company. Ctrip has been pulling comments for relevant restaurants into its website and app in a content partnership.
Another big player is Meituan-Dianping, an e-commerce rival to Ctrip that was created from the merger of Meituan, a food delivery and group buying company, and Tencent-backed Dianping, a restaurant review app, but that now offers a variety of consumer goods and services. Priceline Group recently invested $450 million in the combined company.