Wanghong web stars turn globetrotting into cash

They are young, pretty, well-off and popular — and they make their living globetrotting as wanghong.But they always worry someone prettier and younger will come along.

They have beautiful faces and pursue freedom. They hate rigid life without change and make money quickly. They are active on social media and tourism review websites and have many followers. Traveling around the world — the dream of many people — is just their daily life.

They are called professional travelers or tourism wanghong (web celebrity).

Zhen Meiqu, a 27-year-old global traveler, model, photographer and tourism columnist, is very busy. She does not have any rest for weeks and flies to overseas countries very often with ceaseless advertisement shooting, live broadcast and business activities.

Her busy work schedule earns her a hefty profit.

“I can buy a medium level car if I work four to five months,” she said.

Zhen gained popularity thanks to cooperation with Sina.com and yizhibo.com, a live broadcast platform. In September last year, she did 10 live broadcasts as a traveler to Thailand, attracting 2.6 million viewers in total.

“I want to be a wanghong, and I need attention,” she said.

Professional travelers

Six years ago, Zhen was just an intern at a tourism company and she operated some Weibo accounts. At that time, Weibo was the most popular social media platform, and the earliest blossoming of wanghong was writing travel reviews for tourism companies after they offered free tour experiences.

Strictly speaking, there was no such saying as wanghong at the time and these people who love taking photos and writing were active on travel review websites like Mafengwo and Qyer.com. From that background, the new job of professional travelers or tourism wanghong emerged.

Zhen’s experience is an epitome. She became a tourism product manager from a tourism editor and she quit her job to operate her own social media accounts three years ago when she had accumulated experiences and sources.

These people attracted a lot of young followers who are struggling on the urban treadmill with beautiful travel photos and poetic articles.

The most common way of making money is sending travel articles and photos to travel websites for remuneration, even signing with them, selling tourism products on Taobao, doing live broadcast and embedding advertisements in WeChat and Weibo articles.

But the industry is also quickly turning sour. Mao Li, a university student who started traveling around the world with her boyfriend one year after graduation became a hit in 2012 after she posted a travel story on Qyer.com about how she started a travel plan and her travel experience. She was the earliest wanghong in the tourism circle.

But she was entangled in a copyright scandal in 2014 after a photographer said her photos were used by Mao in her book, but there was no credit.

“Travel is not about experiencing the world, but a single business now,” said Mao Xiaodou, a professional traveler who writes articles on travel review websites.

In addition, wanghong have concerns because they may be replaced by younger and more beautiful women and Zhen hopes to open minsu, bed-and-breakfast accommodation in China or a shop before she turns 30.

Taking photos is one of You Jianwen's major tasks during his trip around the world.

You Jianwen

Drinking some wine, You Jianwen, 29, sits in front of a live webcam broadcast. Wearing casual clothing, he starts talking everything from daily life to travel experiences. Surprisingly, the live broadcast attracts more than 10,000 viewers within 10 minutes.

In a field filled with young and attractive women with heavy makeup and fashionable clothing, You is special.

He is one of the most successful and popular wanghong in the tourism circle. He has 500,000 fans in Weibo and WeChat, and audience numbers easily hit more than 10,000 within 10 minutes when he starts live broadcast.

You has a plain looking. He smokes, drinks wine, and criticizes or slams anything or anyone he believes is not right or could not bear. He never tries to please his fans. But he is interesting and real, and his topic setting can always trigger discussion and resonance.

“I don’t follow any mode in live broadcast. I do live broadcast anytime just because I want to do it at that moment. It can be — I drink some wine or others share an interesting topic.”

He never sets the duration of live broadcast as well. Once he just broadcast 10 minutes and decided to go to sleep just because it was hot.

“I don’t have pressure in live broadcast,” he said.

One of the photos You Jianwen took during his trip

The spot of his live broadcast ranges from Thailand beach to home.

At university, he did not like staying at campus and he traveled to Vietnam, South Korea and the United States.

After graduation in 2011, You spent the whole year traveling. He visited about 100 cities in more than 20 countries including Kenya, Syria, Lebanon, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Jordan.

He organized a group of friends and served as the tour leader.

A year later, he taught English at a training institution, but he found the job did not suit him even if he had been the youngest “star teacher” of the institution.

“I like playing and could not glue to work at the institution. I like working and I can work 72 hours without rest, but I don’t like following the rules and fixed time for work. I felt uncomfortable because I get used to a free lifestyle for a long time.”

After three years, he quit the job.

He had a long vacuum time after that and read books and played games at home because he “did not know what to do.”

Last year, he opened accounts on Weibo and WeChat.

He wrote a lot of travel stories, and he particularly focuses on the life of youngsters. Topics include graduation and love, and even women’s rights.

“The key of ‘we media’ account is personality,” he said.

About 70 percent of his fans are women aged between 20 and 30 years old, among whom a large number are postgraduates. They have good education background and a distinctive view point. Most of them live in first-tier cities and coastal cities.

“I hope to attract a certain group of people and eliminate the ‘loser’ group by topic setting. Overall, the consumption concept of women is healthier than men.”

He talks about everything on Weibo. He makes money by selling grape wine on these platforms, including live broadcast, and the sales figure hit 100,000 yuan (US$14,814) within 10 hours. The live broadcast of wine promotion attracted more than 450,000 viewers and the total sales figure within a week was over 490,000 yuan.

He spends at least two hours replying comments every day, and many fans become his friends.

He replied about 2,000 comments the night before the interview, which is very common for him.

He does not flatter or behave arrogantly.

A woman said she finally said goodbye to her scumbag boyfriend. A woman wanted to commit suicide and You called her, persuading her to live on. She finally got rid of trouble and came to Beijing alone, finding a job and meeting her Mr Right.

“These are things that make me happy. Some people have followed me for a long time, and it is like accompanying them in their growth.”

You Jianwen has 500,000 fans in Weibo and WeChat accounts.

You is very popular on live broadcast and his fans flood in when he starts broadcast. But You said he did not cash in on that. He did not receive gifts. He rejects cooperation invitation from live broadcast platforms.

“Live broadcast makes me get close to my fans and enhances our connection,” he said.

“Most people like watching beautiful women dancing in live broadcast. Of course, I am not good in that or singing. But I am smart.”

You said there are no extremely big bloggers in the tourism circle and there are only about 100 bloggers in the field nationwide.

“One of the most important abilities of bloggers is exploring topics, making topics, and interpreting topics, which displays the power of wisdom,” he said.

“There is big bubble in the live broadcast industry, and the success model of female wanghong is not difficult to copy,” said You.

He is now looking for talented tourism bloggers with the hope to create some good short video works. He has signed cooperation with S. Mall, a company specializing in making in-depth content on new media.

“I hope to change the current situation of the industry after several years and make some cool and heart-touching videos together,” he said.

Jong May is a travel host.

Jong May

Jong May, a United States student of the Communication University of China and also a travel host or travel presenter, has many followers on social media.

She was born in China but moved to the US at a very young age. She was named “櫓?” or China and America by her parents with the hope that she would always be able to work in a field related to China or Sino-American relations.

“After studying dance in college, I learned a lot about Chinese culture and history in general from Chinese dance culture. With this basic knowledge, many television stations began to ask me to participate in their shows,” said May.

Since then, she became a travel host or travel presenter, traveling across China and meeting Chinese people. She speaks very fluent and standard Mandarin.

“I hope to be able to better present my own Western culture and values to China and present Chinese modern life more accurately to the West,” she said.

She has traveled to so many cities in China that she can’t count. She primarily works with CCTV, Yunnan TV, Meishe video app and YY livestream, mostly hosting and streaming travel related shows. She also often joins shows from other stations such as Hunan TV and Chinese video streaming site Youku. She interacts a lot with her fans.

“My fans are so cool! They always come up with funny questions or crazy answers to my questions! When live-streaming, fans can teach me things I had no idea of before, or make me try some crazy things like pranking people at the airport!”

But May does not like the title of wanghong.

“I consider myself a host, a TV host, in which yes, I hope to continue to make a living by the job, but wanghong? No, not at all!”

The beautiful travel presenter is curious about life and will try simply anything (mostly for the camera).

On May’s WeChat, there are many travel photos. She wears red ancient costumes and rides a horse with a bow in her hand and follows the dances of Miao ethnic people, just to list a few. She has a long list of favorite destinations.

“There are so many. It’s quite hard to decide, if you want to see grasslands, go to Inner Mongolia or Xinjiang. If you love ancient Chinese history, visit Suzhou and the center of China, if you are simply fascinated by Chinese history in the past 700 or so years, visit Beijing, and if you want the longest all-day breakfast ever, visit Guangzhou!”


Jong May learns to pick the teas.


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