Perhaps a surprise - user review giant TripAdvisor's Chinese brand DaoDao has fewer hotel reviews than online travel agencies in China.
A PhoCusWright-BrandKarma study (Traveler Reviews and Social Media in China) explains the popular social networks used in China, impact of review on trips, review contribution by OTA/metasearch/review sites, growth of reviews in recent past, review sentiment analysis and more.
Social media and travel
About 70% of the respondents are influenced by their friends' pictures/updates to visit those places.
Among the various social networks in China, Qzone, owned by Tencent, has the highest participation from 77% of users surveyed for the study. This service has over 625 million active users as of Q4 2013.
Another key and emerging social networking channel, WeChat (Weixin in Chinese), owned by Tencent, has participation from 58% of respondents. WeChat has over 355 million active users as of Q4 2013.
In addition to seeing social media as a marketing and customer service channel, it is also seen as a potential distribution channel in China.
Services such as WeChat support flight booking, taxi hailing, and now OTAs accept payment via WeChat.
Reviews: OTAs vs metasearch vs review websites
2013 was a breakout year for traveller reviews in China as the review volume almost doubled.
For the hotel samples studied, more than 800,000 reviews were posted online in 2013, compared to 415,000 in 2012.
Traveller reviews play a huge role in China. Nearly four in five users say they look at traveller reviews for at least half of their trips, and nearly half say they check reviews while planning most or all of their trips.
Interestingly, in China, the site that has transaction facility (bookable online) most likely attracts reviews.
By the end of Q4 2013, OTAs topped the review space with a whopping 84.8% marketshare, followed by metasearch services with 8.7% share, and the review service such as Dianping and DaoDao taking the third place with 6.5% share (this number was 13% in 2012).
Qunar, the leading travel search service in China, can also be seen as an OTA due to its TTS functionality that allows users to make a reservation on the site itself (without leaving to the respective vendor site).
Qunar's review volume tripled between the first and second quarter of 2013. Two specific initiatives by Qunar made this possible for the company:
1) It sent hundreds of individuals to approach hotels across China and added those properties to Qunar. This effort expanded the hotel network, and doubled the number of hotels in the system.
2) This is an interesting one - Qunar enabled users to write reviews, and rate hotels by SMS service. Users will be able to perform these activities in the post-stay SMS that they receive.
Shifting the focus to India for a moment, SMS-based services are used by a number of travel brands in India, for example:
AudioCompass (recently raised $400K), a mobile audio guide service allows users to listen to guide service via SMS (for users who do not have smartphones)TaxiForSure (recently raised $10 million), an Uber-like service in India, sends post-trip SMS to users to rate the taxi service. Users are asked to give a missed call to the respective numbers mentioned for each service level feedback (excellent, good, poor, etc).
In 2013, Qunar's review volume grew faster than the OTAs review sites. More than 70% of Qunar reviews are now posted via mobile channel.
With the rapid rise of mobile, travelers are increasingly posting reviews via their phones, and average review length (number of words) is declining.
The exponential growth in traveller reviews in China also partly comes with a push by travel brands - Ctrip and Qunar offer incentives to users to write hotel reviews.
Ctrip ties its offer for writing reviews with its coupon program (points redeemable for discounts), where as Qunar's points can be redeemed for hotel stay or consumer electronics.
Review services' user experience and low number of app downloads (compared to OTAs) are cited as a reason for low marketshare for reviews.
The study leverages consumer survey data from PhoCusWright’s China Consumer Travel Report.
PhoCusWright and Brand Karma analyzed more than 1.2 million traveler reviews posted by travelers across five travel sites – three OTAs, one traveler review site and one metasearch site – over 2012 and 2013.
NB:China image via Shutterstock.