‘Operation excellence is crucial for growth’: How Rakuten Travel Xchange’s CEO approaches global travel commerce

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, staying at the forefront of innovation and global expansion is essential for businesses to thrive. Rakuten Travel Xchange (RTX), one of the fastest-growing businesses within the Rakuten ecosystem, is a prime example of this commitment to excellence.

As a global platform for enhancing travel commerce, RTX has been instrumental in strengthening global transactions and collaborative efforts within the Rakuten Group. In an interview with RTX’s Director and CEO, Munekatsu Ota, we explore the key factors driving RTX’s growth and the future plans that make it a pivotal player in the travel industry.

Enhancing global transactions

Within the Rakuten ecosystem, RTX serves as a global B2B inventory platform for hotels and vacation rentals, playing a pivotal role in enhancing global transactions for Rakuten Travel. Ota explains that “RTX’s primary focus is to boost inbound and outbound travel and global transactions, supporting Rakuten Travel’s operations in and outside Japan.”

Rakuten Travel is a leading online travel agency in Japan under the Rakuten Group,
Rakuten Travel is a leading online travel agency in Japan under the Rakuten Group.

Ota highlights the two-way system that amplifies the global transaction capabilities, generating revenue for Rakuten. RTX collaborates with over 1,000 distribution partners including online travel agencies (OTA), wholesalers, travel agents and corporate travel companies in more than 90 countries, expanding sales opportunities for Rakuten Travel into Japan. On the outbound side, global inventory integration into the platform allows Rakuten Travel to offer more choices to its users holidaying outside of Japan. This collaborative approach is at the heart of RTX’s success, benefiting both inbound and outbound sales opportunities.

Strategies for explosive growth

One of RTX’s remarkable achievements has been its astonishing growth, with Gross Merchandise Sales (GMS) increasing over 1,000 times since its launch in 2020. Ota attributes this rapid expansion to two key strategies: operational excellence and inventory quality and quantity. “Our growth strategy involves optimizing operations and ensuring excellence in our processes,” says Ota. He emphasizes the importance of data quality through meticulous data mapping, a cornerstone of their operations.

Data accuracy is fundamental to RTX’s operations, and artificial intelligence (AI) integration has played a significant role in boosting efficiency. Leveraging AI for mapping and best-rate search accuracy, RTX has simplified the process of finding the best prices. However, Ota highlights the importance of understanding the nuts and bolts of operations before shifting to AI for greater efficiency. This path of progression has been essential to their continued success and growth.

Collaboration that benefits all

At the heart of RTX’s achievements lies a commitment to collaboration, fostering not only advantages for Rakuten but also for our valued customers. Ota underscores how this collaborative spirit enhances both inbound and outbound sales opportunities, widens our inventory offerings and yields invaluable data. For instance, working with 1000+ distribution partners that RTX partners with empowers Rakuten with data and insights into global travel trends, ultimately elevating Rakuten Travel’s ability to refine its direct sales strategies.

Munekatsu Ota, CEO and Director of Rakuten Travel Xchange.
Munekatsu Ota, CEO and Director of Rakuten Travel Xchange.

In the dynamic travel industry, data collaboration also plays an essential role. The wealth of data amassed by RTX emerges as a precious asset that benefits the Rakuten Group and our diverse customer base. It extends beyond profit generation; it’s about nurturing a data-driven wealth propelling growth across the entire ecosystem. “My goal is to offer products and services that are more personalized and exactly match the changing needs of our customers.”

Fostering excellence in the workplace

Team members at RTX thrive on their enjoyment and genuine interest in their roles. Ota underscores the importance of deriving pleasure from one’s work as a critical factor in achieving success.

RTX's global team gathering at Rakuten Stay Villa in Kamogawa, Japan.
RTX’s global team gathering at Rakuten Stay Villa in Kamogawa, Japan.

“People who take pleasure in their work tend to excel, while those who don’t find it challenging to achieve good results,” Ota said. “RTX cultivates an environment that encourages these qualities, but individual responsibility is equally essential.”

The foundation of successful teamwork rests upon the team’s ability to work cohesively, driven by their shared passion for their roles. Ota sees this unity as the driving force behind RTX’s sustained GMS momentum.

The road ahead: global expansion

RTX’s future holds exciting opportunities for global expansion. The company is already deeply entrenched in relationships with distribution partners worldwide. However, their goal is to continue growing and enhancing brand awareness globally. “Our goal is to boost brand awareness and facilitate global communication among our partners,” says Ota.

RTX members in front of their booth at ITB Asia 2023 in Singapore.
RTX members in front of their booth at ITB Asia 2023 in Singapore.

By participating in international conferences, RTX aims to promote its brand and foster mutual cooperation among global players. They plan to increase their global inventory further, focusing on outbound travel from the United States to Europe and beyond. Ota’s vision is clear: to continue expanding its footprint in the global travel commerce arena.

From growth to greatness

Rakuten Travel Xchange is not just a rapidly growing business within Rakuten – it’s a testament to its vision for innovation and global expansion. With a two-way system, a focus on data quality and a commitment to technological excellence, RTX is poised for continued growth. Collaboration with other Rakuten Group companies and a keen eye on global travel trends will be the driving force behind its future success.

By embracing technology, fostering a culture of teamwork and maintaining a data-driven approach, RTX is set to play an even more substantial role within the Rakuten ecosystem and the broader travel industry. In an ever-evolving digital landscape, RTX serves as a compelling example of how adaptability, innovation and collaboration are the cornerstones of long-term success in global travel commerce.

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