Saturday, 13 October 2007

China's Online Travel Industry

The China Web2.0 Review blog recently covered several new Chinese travel sites, comparing them to some of the more popular US travel sites.

Comparing Some New Chinese Travel Websites

The author of that blog post concludes that "Overall, None of these websites seems really impressive. They are still far behind Ctrip on user base. I think adding more innovative ideas like personalized travel plan similar to what Yahoo Travel and TripHub did may help them gaining ground in the online traveling market."

I have an article in this month's (Oct 2007) issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review. Unfortunately, my article (titled "China's Growing Wanderlust"), cannot be seen without a paid subscription. One of the topics that I cover in that article is the state of online travel in China. A few points that I make are:
  1. Although online travel bookings in China grew 72 percent in 2006 to over 2.75 million bookings, valued at 1.54 billion yuan (US$204 million), it pales in comparison to the US, where the online travel market generated revenues of US$83 billion in 2006.
  2. Chinese consumers have been wary of both online transactions and the use of credit cards (both on- and off-line).
  3. Chinese travel agents discourage online bookings because they pay higher credit card fees online (1.0%) compared to in person (0.1%). So the approach to online travel in China is to direct the public to call centers for information and bookings, and to travel agency offices for cash transaction.
  4. Successful online travel agencies in China negotiate special travel packages at favorable prices that are attractive to the middle and upper classes, who are also more willing to use credit cards and pay a little more for the convenience of online travel bookings.
  5. The biggest online travel agency, by far, in China is, which accounted for 54.2% of online sales in 2006, followed by with 17.8 percent of the market. owns 52 percent of, but also has its own China website this year.
Although struggling now, many expect China's online travel market to explode in the coming years as more people enter the middle class and the use of plastic (credit cards) becomes more widespread. -- With trends like that, no wonder that the Shanghai stock market is booming these days!

(This blog entry was originally posted on my Web 2.0 Travel blog. - Alan)

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

What is Travel 3.0 ?

From the many podcasts that I listen to, I have basically heard of two definitions for Web 3.0:
  1. Web-Everywhere Technology - Always connected portable technology
  2. Total Immersion Web - Virtual worlds and MMOGs
Web 1.0 was the static, expert knowledge web. Web 2.0 is the interactive, user knowledge web. So these definitions of Web 3.0 as an always connected technology and total environment knowledge web make sense to me.

And either way, the significance for travel and tourism is enormous. An everywhere web is a traveling web. It means being connected when you travel locally to work, to the grocery store, to the gym, as well as on business trips and family holidays. The Web 2.0 tools that I review on my Web 2.0 Travel Tools blog are among the leaders into this everywhere web space, which I predict will move toward greater convergence in the coming decades.

I have personally not bought into the the Second Life virtual world phenomenon, which I think is far from ready for prime time. In the long run, however, I think that online virtual worlds will become an important way of communicating with other people, initially, and with distant environments, ultimately. The newly emerging Web 2.0 sites that have video tours of hotels and destination are important baby steps in this directions -- even more so than the experimental hotel building in Second Life because they are more accessible for the masses.

Travel 3.0 is clearly not here, yet. However, because we can conceptualize it -- imagine what it will be like -- it is an important force shaping the visions of todays Travel 2.0 engineers and entrepreneurs.

UPDATE: Check out the blog, which is "All about Virtual Worlds and the Tourism Industry". The site mostly focuses on the development of real world tourism destinations in Second Life.

UPDATE: March 26, 2008: Bill Ryan, heard on : "Web 2.0" was setting interoperability standards (including AJAX and web services, etc.) and creating communities and user-generated content. Web 2.0 was very exploitative of user generated content. "Web 3.0" is engaging more professionals to create user-generated data/content communities by compensating them. Also the semanitic web as the new tech-side supporting the new communities.

What would this mean for the travel and tourism industry? I am not sure. As an academic working on a couple of textbooks during my sabbatical, I think it is involving other academics who may adopt my books to create teaching and learning communities that provide value both for the teachers, students and the world at large. I had not thought about the potential role of compensation -- but am considering it now. I will be working on this over the summer.

(Originally posted on my Web 2.0 Travel Tools Blog - Alan A. Lew)

Thursday, 26 July 2007

The world is smaller than you think!

Social networking sites and the web 2.0 are growing massively. Several projects, from Facebook to MySpace are drawing more and more people in. I just recently signed up for facebook myself, to become a member of a network that was set up in there as an organzing tool for a real life network at Uni. But will we really use it, I am not sure. Despite their popularity no one really seem to be quite sure yet, whether facebook and myspace will transform social organization or honestly are just a huge waste of time.
This is totally different, from my perspective, in a specific set of servises, in which the rationale for networking is to allow the members to benefit from mutual hospitality across a web-based global community. It is highly intresting to assess Web 2.0 relevance to travel.
Signing up in Couch-Surfing or Hospitality Club, the two main providers in this field will avail you with 1000s of open invitations to stay as people’s guests, free of charge, on a couch or sofa, in a guest room or at least camp in the garden. I became acquainted with the systems last year and used it extensively recently on a trip through California. I have to say, I am a fan!
I met very friendly people in San Franzisko, Santa Barbara and in LA, they not only took me in but also showed me around, offering their insights into the local restaurant szene and bars as much as their lives.
Looking at it with a bit more perspective it quickly becomes obvious how intresting the issues is for travel and tourism studies. Hospitality Club (HC) is the older version, dating back to 2000 and has by now over 300.000 members in all continenets. Couch-Surfing (CS) started bit later, but quickly grew to over 250.000 today. These numbers don’t seem significant when compared to general tourism statistics. Yet there groth rates are amazing and there is not an end in sight. How does it function?
I entered HC first, last summer and then tried in on a short trip to Bratislava. I contacted a few people as offered in the list and got feedback from one member. She said her housemate wouldn't want to allow her to have people stay this time, but she was willing to show me around in Bratislava. Happily I accepted and we met and she showed me around, giving me insights into the town and her take on the cities situation that I would have missed without HC.

What makes the voluntary exchange intresting to tourism studies is the challenge is poses to the hospitality industry. As one user puts it: “"Who wants to sit in a lonely hotel?" Staying in annoynous and expensive housing is not necessarily convinient. Moreover it seems that despite calls for "post-tourism" and its claim that all tourists today relate with some ironic distance to the world of travel, HC and CS show that people still invest heavily into the idea of authentic travel experience and are actively looking for alternatives to commodified tourist scapes.
Moreover the extensive community and networking functions that the web provided are themselves restructuring the social realities of travel. Communities from in these sites are not remaining virutal, but realized themselves in festivals and camping events, organized in several places and of different geographical scope. A CS member from Leeds recently invited me to a Leeds members meeting in Hydepark in my neighborhood. And so through the help of a global networking page I might end up making friends just blocks away from my house.

Research should be undertaken into these sites and their communities as they are actively transforming the way travel works. I will keep my eyes open and hope that I see you soon on HC and CS.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Blogging About Tourism and Travel

Thanks to Fabian for adding me as a contributor to the N.E.T. I have several other tourism-related blogs and will post items related to the goals of N.E.T. here, as well. This first item is a bit peripheral to the new economics of tourism, but I think it would still be of interest to N.E.T. readers... Cheers, Alan

I recently sent out a question to some 1000 or so tourism academics (professors, lecturers, graduate students, and other researchers) on email discussion lists, asking them "Do You Blog?" The purpose was to see how blogging is used by tourism academics. A summary of my findings can be found here:

The major categories or types of blogs that people told me about include:
  • Blogging about Tourism
  • Blogging for Classes and Students
  • Research (and) Blogs
  • Personal Travel Blogs
  • Podcast Blogs
  • Email Lists as Blogs
For a full summary and links to those who responded to my query, click on the link above. Here, I am going to cover the more general topic of blogging about travel and tourism.

In my informal survey, above, I found a handful of people who are doing things in each of the areas that I listed. However, even though blogging has been around for about a decade, the higher education arena seems to be taking it up only now. Travel blogs, on the other hand, have been popular with the general traveling public for several years now. That is actually how I got started blogging -- by being encouraged by my daughter to keep a travel blog of a particularly interesting trip that I took June 2005.

Travel blogs have become incredibly popular because people like to talk about their trips. In addition, because they are in the public arena (on the Internet), they also provides an ever growing opportunity for tourism researchers. In my summary above, there were more people using blogs for research purposes than anything else -- including five research papers that I know of that have been (or will soon be) submitted for publication in academic journals.

There are a lot of travel blogging websites available. I, personally, use (aka; owned by for almost all my blogging, simply because they can all be accessed from one "dashboard." However, by doing so I am not getting the many other features that specialized trip diary blog sites provide -- such as easy photo and video uploads, trip mapping, and social networking. Some of these specialized travel blogs include:
  2. (formerly
Click on each of these to read a mini review that I have written of them over the past year.

In addition to these "consumer" travel blogging sites, there are other blogs that are more professional, travel industry, and destination marketing oriented. A few examples of these are:
So there is a lot out there. Blogs are a one of the oldest and most fundamental parts of the long-tail economy, the attention economy, and the social/new media economy. To talk and teach about the new economics of tourism requires an understanding of the blogosphere. And I think that the best way to do that is to read blogs and to write blogs!

Note: You can subscribe to blogs and read them as you would an online newspaper by using an RSS agregators, such as Google Reader or (two that I have used), or (very popular).

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

"'Voluntourism' becomes popular"

and more commerically exploited. Newpaper articles and online reports about voluntourism and voluntourists have surely increased in recent months.
A short query shows this. Publications like desertnews conclude in April this year conclude "that consumers are becoming more interested in vacations with a voluntarism aspect".
Also the LA Times observes that "Whatever the reason, more tourists — such as college students on spring break, jet-setting luxury travelers and retiring baby boomers — are using their vacations to volunteer". Whatever the reason....well, we want to know.
The recent surge in interest in voluntourism goes back to the Tsunami Catasrophy in Thailand in Winter 2004 that triggered the involvement of tourists into relief efforts. What initially was a spontaneaus reaction of travelers and tourists to help in a situation of need soon transformed into a new form of organized travel. The NGO Tsunami Volunteer Centre (TVC) in Thailand provides an example of this process.
Even before the hype that the theme of voluntourism experienced, academic research has approached voluntourism. After serveral empirical studies, Stephen Wearing wrote a book about the voluntourism in 2001 in which he assumed that voluntourists are developing their selves in their practise. A little later Sally Brown and Xinran Letho discussed that there we two different tendencies in the term Voluntourism, one sifginifing the fact that volunteer work often involved travel, the other that travel sometimes, and as they argued increasingly, involved a bit of volunteer work. (Brown and Letho 2005) This second tendency can also be described as a commericalization of the voluntourism. Brown and Letho are entirely optimistic about this new development. They imagine the implementation of elements of volunteering into mainstream tourism will "create authentic cultural experiences unlike any other in the industry" while "enabling every traveller to become an embassador of peace". But they open little room for the reflection of historical continuity of international charity practises in western culture. Methodologically their focus on the travellers involved in the practises ignores the reflection of the larger political economy in which tourism is taking and creating place. The commercialaztion of an individual desire to do good might provide a satisfying experience for both the traveller and the industry. Yet the local impact, the reaction of local participants in the exchange remains unreflected. Importantly than in the study of Voluntourism should focus on the bio-political production of subjectivities, the systems of assistance and dependence that evolve and how "meaningful" international travel exists in both a historical and contemporary international system of post- and neo-colonial powerstructures. A more critical approach to Voluntourism is indeed needed.

Informal Economies

We focus on aspects of the exchange taking place in tourism outside the frameworks of formalized regularization, for example public and private law.


Central to the concerncs of N.E.T is the current commerical hype of Volun-tourism.

Mission Statement

Issues of global distribution, social justice and environmental concern increasingly surround international tourism and travel. Not only are such issues defining new forms of tourism, they are also shaping far more fluid patterns of production and consumption. Processes of regulation, rationalisation and re-structuring are being re-cast in line with the highly complex and dynamic formation of informal structures, communicative practices, junctures and ruptures in a touristic world that escapes modernist notions of political economy. Destinations are being defined beyond the material notions of the nation-state, traditional mobilities are being challenged, motivations tested, and new forms of exchange are emerging in line with inter-and intra generational ethical thinking, and alternative political approaches to development.

A new weblog, based at the Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change (CTCC) at Leeds Metropolitan University, has been devised to interrogate the ‘new economics of tourism’ (N.E.T) – to transcend the narrow boundaries of contemporary tourism economics. N.E.T is a tool for networking and exchange between scholars and students reflecting on aspects of the new economics of tourism. From the operation of informal economies in tourism, to the alternative economics of exchange in ‘Volun-tourism’; from film and digital media’s post-geographical definition of destinations, to the individual bargaining of loss and gain in the expectation and practice of the journey, and the role of dreamscapes and virtual worlds in the tourist exchange, N.E.T seeks to provide a forum to explore original, alternative and challenging practices of, and approaches to, global tourism in the material, intangible and symbolic sense.

Contributions are invited from an international, multi-disciplinary range of scholars and institutions. N.E.T provides a convenient and illuminating proximity of breaking international news and lasting reflections on the issues addressed and serves as a global networking tool and as a resource for stakeholders in the expanding field of exchange and transformation that characterises global tourism. Proposals to contribute and participate are welcome.