Have you read about it?
Updated: 2012-04-13 13:55
By Lin Jing and Su Zhou (China Daily European Edition)
An advertising banner of Mafengwo promotes the travel review website. Provided to China Daily
As more Chinese spend increasing amount of time on vacations, travel review sites in China are growing more influential
Shen Yiren says he's addicted to not only traveling but self-service traveling, where he books flights, reserves hotel rooms and maps out a city tour on his own. The 24-year-old IT worker claims to have seen more than 60 cities since 2007 and is proud of the fact that his excursions are based on information from his own research, from his own hard work, through his own arrangements.
But Shen can't take all the credit for his selection of destinations, or where exactly he goes on each trip. He admits that half of the work trying to locate that hip restaurant or the best deal on a hotel had already been done by his fellow community of Chinese travelers.
"Compared to advertisements from tourist attractions or travel agencies, I prefer to use notes and tips from other travelers," Shen says. "Their travel reviews are more detailed and there is real information on hotels, flights or some special places. I read them before I plan my own trip."
Vacationing and spending big on vacations is a new trend in China, as disposable incomes rise with each year that the second-biggest economy expands and expands. But no longer are travelers going down that road of blindly following the advice of a travel agency.
Thousands of Chinese travelers like Shen, with months or years of experience trekking around the world, are writing stories and snapping photos of their adventures and posting them online. And in helping other tourists in China with hints and advice about where to go, they are indirectly encouraging the development of the budding industry of travel review websites.
"Travel review websites have combined the consumer viscosity of SNS (social networking services) with an active participation in UGC (user generated content)," says Qi Jianzhe, an analyst with Analysys International, a Beijing-based research firm.
Where tourists used to go to bulletin boards or travel consultants in brick-and-mortar agencies for advice, they now head to sites such as Daodao.com, the Chinese domain of TripAdvisor, a popular and large travel community based in the United States with 65 million monthly active users. Daodao was launched in 2009 to provide opinions and advice for Chinese travelers. The website now has nearly 50 million reviews and opinions for more than 68,000 cities, 400,000 hotels and 90,000 attractions around the world.
Daodao.com also includes hotel reviews, photos and maps, enabling travelers to share their experiences with fellow tourists around the world.
Zhu Ming, business director at Daodao, says that as more tourists gravitate toward traveling solo instead of joining group tours, reviews will be in great demand.
"Travel reviews are based on real travel experiences and give valuable advice on hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants," Zhu says. "After tourists reach their destinations, they can refer to previous travel reviews around that area and make a more detailed plan and schedule their itineraries."
To ensure the quality of reviews, the company has a verification team of 20 professionals who check every travel review. At times, they contact hotels and the reviewers to double check that the information is authentic.
Zhu says that only high quality reviews will increase loyalty on Daodao, which he says imposes penalties, such as bans from participation, for anyone who provides false information on the site.
Other travel review sites are putting even greater efforts to ensure that travel reviews are sound. In March 2011, travel review site Kuxun.cn hired more than 50 "travel experience officers" across the country. The recruitment mainly targeted individuals interested in traveling who can write well and take photos. The aim was to bring real experiences to China's millions of potential travelers, mainly through Sina Weibo.
Users can apply to either full-time or part-time positions and are required to upload two travel reviews and five stories to Kuxun. The monthly pay is up to 10,000 yuan ($1,585, 1,210 euros) for a full-time position.
"When users are searching for information, Kuxun can show a full picture of the place and help travelers to plan their trips beforehand," says Chen Bo, director of wireless products at Kuxun.
Chen Gang, CEO of Mafengwo, another travel review site, says all the "information in the travel reviews are produced by users based on their actual experiences and the SNS element helps to enhance the authenticity and value of it".
Launched in 2006, Mafengwo last year raised $5 million (3.8 million euros) from private equity firm Capital Today, which also provided a $2 million loan.
Registered users at Mafengwo grew from 150,000 to more than 2 million last year. The company says on its website that it covers more than 95 percent of the most popular tourist attractions around the world.
Currently, advertising from travel service providers is the main source of income for the company. Chen says that the company will focus on expanding its consumer base.
"The first priority for making money is to accumulate a large consumer base," Chen says.
TripAdvisor.com, which a lot of travel review sites have based their platforms on, went public in the US in December with a market capitalization of $3.6 billion.
"TripAdvisor's IPO has resulted in fierce competition. But most of these companies have not generated enough revenue and still need to explore a new income channel," Chen says.
Wang Tingting, an analyst with iResearch, says that the demand for these travel review websites will keep growing as tourists seek more information before scheduling their trips. Feedback from tourists also helps merchants to improve their services.
He adds that these websites could possibly rake in profits by displaying advertisements for local hotels and tourist attractions, or referring consumers to airline companies and hotels.
Wang says the authenticity of these review websites is the key, without which their services would be worthless.
"No matter what route they take, they have to ensure the quality of user generated content so as to maintain their market value," Wang says.
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