Railway companies' microblogs create convenience for travelers

Updated: 2013-01-19 09:40


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BEIJING - On Tuesday, online train ticket website 12306.com was visited by 17 million users fighting to get train tickets back home during the upcoming Spring Festival holiday.

However, fewer than 2.7 million tickets were available to be purchased from the site that day, with most of the tickets sold within minutes.

Such imbalances in supply and demand during the annual holiday travel rush have resulted in significant complaints and criticism directed at railway authorities.

Although railway authorities have long been criticized for being impersonal and out-of-touch, efforts by some rail companies to use microblogs to connect with their customers have started to prove useful.

After the announcement of a new policy that allows train tickets to be sold 20 days in advance of a customer's preferred departure date, a railway company in south China's Guangdong province posted a special calendar on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging site, that allows customers to easily see how far in advance they can purchase tickets for any given day in January.

The calendar has been reposted tens of thousands of times on Sina Weibo and other microblogging platforms.

Although the 20-day advance purchasing policy was issued on December 31 of last year, the language used by railway authorities to announce the change failed to attract attention.

However, the calendar posted by the Guangdong rail company has attracted a great deal of attention, as well as been imitated by other railway companies.

Following the post from Guangdong, the Beijing West Railway Station has also designed its own take on the calendar and posted it online, as well as printed it out and hung it in the station's brick-and-mortar ticket office.

Other types of special calendars, as well as flow charts and lists of "booking tactics," have been promoted online by railway companies and authorities.

Wang Likun, an employee from the Beijing Railway Company's publicity department, said the public's recognition of calendars indicates that netizens have new expectations in terms of how authorities should speak online.

"We have to use the folks' language to help people more easily understand," Wang said.

Xiaoyue, who edits the Beijing West Railway Station's microblog, said the essence of successful online communication lies in delivering information in a simple and direct way.

"Only sincere communication can promote understanding and improve our service," Wang said.

Spring Festival, which falls on February 10 this year, is China's biggest holiday. It is custom for families to reunite for the holiday, a factor that has led to massive seasonal travel rushes in recent years as more Chinese leave their hometowns to seek work elsewhere.

Public transportation is expected to accommodate about 3.41 billion travelers nationwide during the holiday, including 225 million railway passengers, according to an estimate from the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner.