Popular Chinese microblogging platform Weibo has become more than just a social space to share stories and photos. It has become the go-to platform for dissatisfied Chinese travelers to post their complaints, and it’s time international travel industry players take notice of the potential to improve customer service by leveraging the social media platform.
Weibo has been a focus for social media marketing in the travel industry, in part because it is the preferred platform for travel influencers, but their accounts – some of which have millions of followers – are now receiving customer complaints. And it would be beneficial for travel companies to address these complaints on the platform.
While a National Smart Travel Service Platform survey found that the majority of Chinese travelers are satisfied with their experiences, there were 380,000 travel-related complaints on Weibo (garnering 1.3 billion total views) in the first half of 2018, and the majority of the complaints were in relation to outbound travel, along with airlines and hotels, according to a national White Paper released collectively by People’s Daily, Beijing News, and Sina in August 2018.
Chinese travel service providers have been receiving more complaints from travelers on Weibo, and they are working to rectify the problems that travelers encounter
Major Chinese online travel agencies operate Weibo accounts that receive a large volume of complaints. Ctrip.com International leads with 50,000 Weibo complaints in the first half of 2018. Ctrip-owned Qunar.com, Alibaba’s Fliggy, and Ly.com each received more than 10,000 complaints on Weibo during that period.
The top travel complaints are related to international tour and airfare refunds, upselling, and tour operators cancelling booked tours.
One such complaint that received media attention was filed by popular Beijing social scholar Yu Jianrong in April 2018 and shared more than 2,400 times by his 5 million Weibo followers. Yu posted that a hotel he had booked in Wuhan via Alibaba-backed online travel agency Fliggy had a different name when he arrived at the address. When he asked to cancel the reservation, the hotel manager allegedly acted belligerent. The media attention the complaint received triggered investigations into Fliggy’s operations.
A complaint by popular Beijing social scholar Yu Jianrong led to an investigation into Fliggy’s operations
Other complaints filed through Weibo have not come from well-known users with such large followings. Some of those complaints, however, have not been overlooked by companies. For example, a Weibo user with only 117 followers posted a complaint on November 13 about a Didi Chuxing driver threatening ride-hailing app users to give him a 5-star rating before getting out of the car. Didi Chuxing replied to the post within a day, saying it had sent private message to the user about the matter.
While domestic operators may be quick to respond to complaints on Weibo, international tour operators without Chinese-language resources or social media presence are at a disadvantage as it can be difficult to receive direct messages from dissatisfied customers or even respond publicly in Chinese.
In September, one Weibo user posted a complaint about a group tour in Thailand, claiming the guide sold misrepresented products that cost tour customers a total of $24,450 (RMB 170,000). The user tagged multiple government tourism authorities, but none responded publicly.
According to the white paper, social media complaints mostly come from post-’80s and post-’90s consumers, who are now the largest Chinese tourist demographic. And with 400 million monthly active users on Weibo alone, social media is likely to play a growing role in consumer complaint resolution.
Similar to how companies have opened dedicated customer service accounts on Twitter to handle complaints, it would be beneficial for travel industry players to establish a customer service strategy on Chinese social media.