MaFengWo (马蜂窝) is considered the “travel bible” by younger Chinese netizens, providing long-form tourism focused content to help users with their travel plans. Founded in 2006, it has evolved its way to become the ultimate social-media-travel platform in China with a user base of over 100 million users!
Mafengwo (马蜂窝) has been viewed so positively in the travel industry that even the founder of Expedia, Rich Barton, participated in Mafengwo’s Series C financing round where Mafengwo raised a combined investment of USD $100 million. Time to reveal the secrets behind its success and how it can help with your business below!
Update: The day after we posted this Mafengwo raised another USD 250 million in its Series F financing round. The round was led by Tencent holdings representing a significant partnership between Mafengwo and one of China’s largest tech companies. We’ll see how Mafengwo makes use of these funds in the coming months!
Table of Contents
What is Mafengwo (马蜂窝) and What Makes It So Unique? Read Now
A glance at of Mafengwo’s Features Read Now
How Mafengwo (马蜂窝) Works As An OTA Read Now
The Core Reasons Behind Mafengwo’s success Read Now
How To Use Mafengwo (马蜂窝) For Business? Read Now
What is Mafengwo (马蜂窝) and what makes it so unique?
Mafengwo started as a travel forum for independent travelers. Users on the platform share their journeys, travel tips, itineraries, recommendations, and feedback with other users on the platform. Its user base has increased over time and has developed into an enormous millennial traveler community. One of the best ways to understand how it works is to think of it as the Chinese equivalent of TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, and Expedia combined.
Taking advantage of its understanding of millennials’ preferences and travel habits, Mafengwo branded itself as a travel-e-commerce site while keeping its social features in 2010. In 2016 it went even further and established itself as an Online Travel Agency (OTA). Over the years, it has become the go-to site for the younger generation with hundreds of thousands of young Chinese traveler’s posting content. While focused mostly on destinations and providing travel tips, the platform also allows content about products that make traveling easier (like neck-pillows, power banks, etc.). It now features content covering over 60,000 destinations worldwide!
By the end of the year 2017, it had reached over 100 million active users. Through providing access to its enormous number of users, Mafengwo (马蜂窝) presents a powerful opportunity for businesses to target young Chinese free & independent travelers (FITs).
A glance at Mafengwo’s Features
As a kind of all-in-one platform for everything related to travel, Mafengwo aims to provide everything that young travelers could ever need! In line with this goal, Mafengwo (马蜂窝) understands that users appreciate authentic information which is why it has placed such a high value on user-generated content and its social features.
Travel Focused Content
User-written travel articles have always been the most important feature of the website. You can find information on destinations sorted out according to your time of travel, the overall popularity of the place, or tailor-made suggestions based on your interests like culture, music, outdoor sports, etc.
User-generated travel diaries consist of elements like tips, photos, itineraries, and personal comments.
These articles are usually incredibly detailed, with many numbering in the thousands of words. Users post pictures with detailed instructions on how to make the most of a trip in the area the article focuses on. For example, in the article shown above
The Mafengwo (马蜂窝) Mall
Mafengwo is like a digital one-stop-shop of travel essentials. It offers a fascinating range of travel products and services which covers all you can think of for a trip. From hotel-booking to pick-up services from the airport, transportation tickets, visas, sim cards or other travel products, you can get them all from one single website!
Businesses in the tourism industry can contact Mafengwo directly to list their products on the site. This allows businesses to both promote and sell their goods or services all in one place!
What makes the online mall an outstanding success is that Mafengwo introduced its own series of travel products fulfilling all your potential demands for a trip, with products like clothing items, luggage tags, storage bags, and all-in-one chargers.
For most millennials, losing access to the internet during your trips can feel like a life-threatening situation. In recognizing their user base Mafengwo sells wifi services and sim cards for global destinations. Aside from that it also sells branded merchandise to make its users’ trips easier with things like power converters, luggage tags, power banks, and more! (I actually have one of their luggage tags on my suitcase right now!)
Mafengwo’s Social Community
In fact, the forum feature has always been one of the most important parts of the site. In the forum, in addition to communication regarding itineraries and travel tips in the Q&A session, users can even group together through the use of the “club system.”
Users can upload travel plans and form groups to interact with like-minded jet setters or even find potential travel partners. Mafengwo even holds offline social events countrywide for participants on the platform to mingle at.
Here you can see a range of topics “I’m going to Kunming, any activities for kids?” and “I’m interested in taking classes abroad, any ideas for educational trips?” As you can see, everything on the platform is heavily travel focused. As long as you can relate content to travel it will likely go over well with the community.
How Mafengwo (马蜂窝) works as an OTA
After being in business for over 10 years and accumulating a massive user base made up of young independent travelers, Mafengwo took steps in 2016 to become an online travel agency (OTA) where it could cross-sell travel products.
With its individualized tourism content database, Mafengwo developed a new model of tourism focused e-commerce. Instead of offering separate services to let the customers take the initiative to purchase, it matches travel products with relevant information hosted on the platform. In other words, it attempts to match supply to demand instead of the other way around. It, therefore, simplifies the complicated travel planning process. By typing in names of destinations or hotels, the sites give out all the travel essentials required all in one page whether its bookings, information or relevant products!
From the screenshots of the site you can see after typing in the destination 台南 (Tainan, a city in Taiwan) you can get information on local accommodations, travel routes, popular attractions and potential products needed for a visit there.
In fact, the scope of the services provided by Mafengwo is very diverse. They can be categorized into 6 parts that cover all that to you need for a perfect trip!
MaFengWo (马蜂窝) As An OTA: Transportation
Travelers can settle all of their transportations of the trip within Mafengwo. That includes flights, train tickets, bus tickets, transportation passes even cruises! Charter and pick-up services are also available for airport transfers and more. Car rentals are another major part of the transportation services on offer on Mafengwo.
In short, on Mafengwo you can book travel by land, sea, and sky!
MaFengWo (马蜂窝) As An OTA: Hotel Bookings
Unlike other OTA platforms that simply list out hotel deals, Mafengwo categorizes its hotel recommendations according to travel themes like “fairytale-like” or “historical”. Customers can make reservations of their favorites according to the nature of their trips and personal interests. These type of categories allow hotels and cities to differentiate themselves and get noticed!
Reviews of hotels are available as well, and for even more insight you can see if any of the hotels have been mentioned in one of the thousands of blogs hosted on the platform!
MaFengWo (马蜂窝) As An OTA: Travel Activities & Excursions
After confirming your flight schedule and where to stay on Mafengwo, you can start planning your detailed travel itinerary and get started booking activities.
Admission tickets of attractions are available on the site, for example, museums, exhibitions, nightlife, and shops, etc. This puts it in direct competition with other travel related apps like Klook, Tripadvisor, and Ctrip.
MaFengWo (马蜂窝) As An OTA: Travel Packages
However, if you’re feeling lazy, and don’t feel like doing the research to plan your perfect trip, Mafengwo gives users the opportunity to purchase full travel packages. Travelers can pick packages that offer differing levels of freedom. Ranging from tailor-made packages, all-inclusive ones to short trips and day tours. Mafengwo provides services to satisfy the need for different types of customers.
One special feature of the site is that it can even help organize study tours for its customers. Through dynamic packaging of travel products, the customers can enjoy personalized packages suiting their interests, budgets, and needs.
MaFengWo (马蜂窝) As An OTA: Travel Documents
Mafengwo processes visa applications for its customers, even in case of urgent orders. It simplifies the process by assisting in the preparation of required documents and photos. For the convenience of the customers, they also offer delivery services of the visa for certain countries.
Teams consist of translators, customer service representatives and consultants stand by and help with the application. All the customer need to do is to provide document listed out by the team and pay.
The Core Reasons Behind Mafengwo’s success
The majority of the information found on the site is written by users. The voluntary content contribution by users, as a whole creates an impression of trust as the information is essentially all “word of mouth.”
It is normal for readers to seek for a real human connection instead of branded, obviously commercialized messages. Users sharing their personal experience comes off as more genuine and trustworthy than messaging put out by businesses directly.
The information given seems much more reliable and diverse for them due to its authentic nature. The content-driven strategy of Mafengwo is what keeps it competitive and draws new users to the platform. Due to this, Mafengwo invests heavily in rewarding active content creators on the platform, as it knows this is the feature that keeps users coming back.
However, in October 2018, Mafengwo got into trouble after an article claiming that nearly 85% of its user-generated content (UGC) was fake went viral. The report was released by a WeChat Account called “Xiaosheng Bibi,” which found that many of the reviews on the platform were copied directly from competing platforms ELong, Ctrip, and Meituan-Dianping. The article also noted that Mafengwo’s 15,000 most active users often posted on weekends during working hours, which contrasted sharply to other content publishing websites.
Mafengwo claimed that only around 2.5% of the submissions on its platform were plagiarized and that it took action to remove accounts posting plagiarized content. The accusation obviously hasn’t stuck too hard as Mafengwo is planning to raise another 300 Million in financing in the coming years.
Aimed At The Right Target Audience (Gen-Z & Millenials)
Targeting young independent travelers, was what led to Mafengwo’s success. Travel in China was historically dominated by travel agents. However, with the rise of the internet more and more Chinese are making their travel plans independently without the assistance of travel agents. Mafengwo has added feature after feature to the platform in an effort to match the needs of Millennials and other young independent travelers.
According to a 2017 report co-released by The China Tourism Academy and Chinese OTA giant Ctrip.com, Chinese travelers made 130 million outbound trips in 2017 with 42% of them being independent travelers. This group now makes up the largest group of travelers. By focusing on this group, Mafengwo been able to make quite the fortune and establish itself as a major player in the travel industry.
Firstly, focusing on the younger generations need for social interaction, the platform implemented a range of features including the forum, Q&A, article sharing, and more. The interactivity generated through frequent visitor communication keeps users coming back to the platform for further interaction.
To add to this, through cooperation with teenage idols like ONER, whose members are all aged between 18-26, Mafengwo lured in the attention of its target audience by having celebrities share their travel experiences as well. The influencer approach has attracted a huge amount of fresh stories from brand new users. Shortly after Mafengwo launched the campaign, the Weibo topic “Bring ONER to travel” (#带上ONER去旅行#) resulted in over 210 million views and more than 6.6 million posts on the Weibo
The company recently even added game-like features like lucky draws and picture contests for users to compete in. Not only do they arouse a fun vibe, but also once again, help to build loyalty among users and keep them coming back to the platform.
Content & Online Travel Agency (OTA) in One
The OTA market in China is dominated by CTrip, eLong, Qunar, and Meituan-Dianping. While Mafengwo started as just a media site where users posted content related to travel, Mafengwo quickly realized it was perfectly positioned to become an OTA as well. With such a large amount of users coming to the platform in search of travel information, Mafengwo now offers users the ability to book their trips without leaving the platform.
The site now covers all stages of planning a trip, from choosing the destination, researching for related travel information to interacting with travel buddies and shopping for the essentials. Basically, you can complete all your essential purchases within just one website.
How To Use Mafengwo (马蜂窝)For Business?
As a social media platform well-known of its authentic user-generated content, you can’t underestimate the influence of KOLs on the site. Mafengwo has a tremendous influence on where users decide to travel, what activities they should participate in, and what things they need to see. Influencers on Mafengwo get far more reacher and viewership than an ordinary user, so cooperating with them can help to influence large amounts of users to participate in certain travel activity.
By including your company’s products or services as part of their itinerary or travel suggestions you’ll get a huge amount of exposure. There are many ways to make an influencer campaign even more successful. For example, make sure you are aware of the importance of compelling visuals on the site.
Users post beautiful high-quality photos on Mafengwo, and if your pictures don’t compete with these you’ll likely see less engagement. More attention can be generated by using an actual travel snapshot showing the KOL engaging with your product or service. Brands can give free trials of their products/services for the KOLs on their trips for them to take pictures of.
As mentioned above, the secret underlying Mafengwo’s success is the feeling of authenticity. While choosing a giant famous influencer for the campaign might sound ideal, in reality, it’s best for brands to cooperate with micro-influencers to make brand messaging seem more authentic. While their followers might be less than a famous KOL, nobody said you need to choose only 1 influencer. In fact, micro-influencer campaigns with many small influencers promoting a particular destination or activity can oftentimes be even more effective than working with a large influencer.
Know more about KOL marketing in China with these articles!
Let’s take one of the famous KOL Wang Yunyun (王鋆鋆) as an example of how influencers can insert product promotion into their travel blogs.
The Half-Filipino-Half-Chinese influencer is famous for her amazing travel snapshots with a strong cultural vibe. In her very recent travel blog back to her hometown, she was sponsored by Roaming Man Hotspot for Travel. In her blog she “sincerely” shared her user experience with the product with close-up pictures of it during the trip.
Despite the fact that Wang Yunyun has only 1,933 loyal followers, 2 months after the blog had been published on the site, it had been viewed over 65,000 times and her post has been ranked as one of the most recommended articles.
By targeting at Millennial travelers Mafengwo has established itself as a key player in the travel industry. With its platform, it has unique insights into this elusive market. As one of the highest-spending groups in terms of tourism, this makes it an incredibly valuable platform for businesses around the world hoping to attract more Chinese tourists.
Its content-driven customer acquisition values organic content from users and KOLs. The visual attractiveness of its content is aimed right at the heart of Millennials.
In March 2019, Mafengwo announced its cooperation with Union Pay. Within its app, there will now be a section for showcasing unique discounts provided by Union Pay. This is a significant partnership, and we expect that Mafgengwo will continue making partnerships and expanding its offerings to become a one-stop shop for travelers in China.
For foreign businesses who are looking to get into the Chinese market and make use of platforms like Mafengwo, it’s essential to have experienced marketers on your side!
Dragon Social is a group of experts devoted to tailor-make marketing solutions for foreign businesses to hold more firmly to their opportunities in China. Drop us a message to see how you could make use of the expert’s opinion or get regular updates straight to your mailbox by subscribing to our newsletter!