Responding to an Online Hack

Last week, China’s biggest travel website, Ctrip, experienced a major disruption to its website. Only days earlier, the booking website had announced its majority share holding in of one of its biggest competitors,  

As the Ctrip website crashed, users weren’t able to make any travel bookings.

Similar problems were found on Ctrip’s mobile app also.

The Crash

At the beginning, users encountered this error message: ”The Ctrip website is currently experiencing a problem, we apologize for the inconvenience while we are busy fixing the issue.”



Ctrip’s hotel booking sub-domain – – wasn’t functional at all.

And the Ctrip flight booking sub-domain – – displayed a similar message.

Ctrip has always had a reputation as a reliable brand, with a consistently effective website. This was unlike anything Ctrip, or its customers had seen before.

First Response

In China’s highly social internet communities, Ctrip’s breakdown was a major talking point, especially on WeChat (China’s most popular messaging app) and Baidu (the largest Chinese search engine).

The major responses included:

• Opportunistic competitor influence

• Ctrip’s response through WeChat on May 28

• Ctrip’s reaction through Baidu on May 29


One of Ctrip’s major competitors, travel comparison site, used WeChat to take advantage of Ctrip’s misfortunes.


Messages on the banner included:

• Attack? Revenge? Server technical issues?

• Data loss?

• What to do if you need to make travel bookings?

• is an alternative option

What followed was: An official response from Ctrip posted on, and spread through WeChat: “Since 11:09 on May 28, booking services on both the Ctrip website and the Ctrip mobile app have been out of service. We are busy investigating and recovering all our booking systems. To date, we can confirm we have not lost any of our customers’ information or booking data. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Another response (as a banner or infographic) from Ctrip was quickly followed. The message introduced Ctrip’s other subsidiary websites / booking engines as alternatives for all types of travel bookings:


For example:

• was introduced as an alternative for hotel bookings  

• was mentioned as an alternative for flight bookings

• was introduced as an alternative for train ticket bookings

The Ctrip Website

Later in the afternoon, the message on Ctrip’s homepage was updated to say: “Please visit” 


On May 29, Ctrip ran a number of brandzone ads on Chinese search engine Baidu under the major brand search terms, including Xiecheng (meaning Ctrip in Chinese), to reassure consumers that Ctrip could resist an attack.


A second version showed up when Xiecheng Bei Gongji (Ctrip attack) was searched. This official message within this ad briefly explains: “Ctrip’s systems were down due to an error during operations. It has taken longer than expected to fully recover the system as it involves multiple types of booking services. Both Ctrip’s website and mobile app are fully functional again as of 23:29, May 28. There has been no loss to customer booking data. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.” 



Any official response to a situation like Ctrip’s should be truthful and open in order for a brand to continue building trust with its customers.

On the Internet, very often the communication channels with the most effective reach are the major local social media platforms and major local search engines. Social tools (especially such as WeChat on mobile) are great at:

• Spreading unconfirmed rumors by a brand’s competitors in order to take advantage of a brand’s crash

• Responding with the truth prevents users from panicking or distrusting the brand going forward

Search engines, on the other hand, aren’t the most appropriate tools for brands to leverage or rescue a situation, but a way to keep consumers informed.

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