VirtualMalaysia.com morphs into social travel portal

  • Site to feature content by travelling consumers themselves, that can be shared easily on social media platforms
  • CEO says VirtualMalaysia.com not coming late into ‘Web 2.0’ game, but wanted to get social engagement part right
VirtualMalaysia.com morphs into social travel portal

CREATIVE Advances Technology Sdn Bhd (CAT) has revamped its VirtualMalaysia.com portal to take advantage of the user-generated content (UGC), social media and crowd-sourcing trends, in time for Visit Malaysia Year 2014.
 
The portal, one of the long-term survivors of the first dotcom wave, was originally launched in 1999, and made a name for itself by using then ground-breaking technologies such as live video-streaming and 3D photography. Its popularity saw it being recognised by Tourism Malaysia as the official e-tourism portal for the country in 2006.
 
“We’re not coming to the Web 2.0 game late,” said its founder and chief executive officer Rohizam Md Yusoff. “We’ve been studying these trends for the last two years and didn’t want to just set up a Facebook page and call it ‘Web 2.0’.”
 
He said it was important to get the social engagement part right, so that it would affect a ripple effect. “We want to create many-to-many collaborative multipliers.”
 
CAT is describing its revamped VirtualMalaysia.com portal, which went live on Aug 1, as an interactive ‘social travel portal’ that would help build a collaborative network encompassing bloggers, professional writers, photographers, product owners such as travel agencies, and viewers.
 
“In the past, VirtualMalaysia.com featured content solely produced by our internal writers. Now … we want the content on the site to be more social-media driven and to feature articles, photos, travel tips and information contributed by the travelling consumers themselves, that can be shared on social media platforms,” Rohizam said at the official launch on Aug 22.
 
He said that over the years, the portal has produced about 500,000 images of Malaysia, and was possibly the largest image bank of travel- and tourism-related pictures in the country.
 
“But everyone out there with a phone can also take such pictures – we shouldn’t be competing with them, but want to collaborate,” he added.
 
With the new social-driven model, Malaysians can upload articles, images, or posts on anything about the country, and their Facebook pages would be automatically be updated too.
 
Rohizam said VirtualMalaysia.com would practise a ‘soft touch’ with its moderation of content, with a focus on clarifying and confirming information. Content that do not meet guidelines – such as political commentary – will be removed.
 
He admitted that CAT would not be offering any incentives but will depend on users’ desire to share. A post on the durian put up by VirtualMalaysia.com on Aug 21 saw 59 comments within two days, including commentators pointing to their own blogs.
 
“You could share this on your own Facebook page, but that would mean only your Facebook friends will know of it – or you can post on our portal, so that all your Facebook friends and our own community can read and share it too,” he said.
 
Monetisation will come from “the usual advertising model,” he said – get enough traffic and engagement, and advertisers will come in.
 
Another key factor is the inclusion of other ‘players,’ said CAT chief marketing officer Joanna Liao.
 
“When you post on VirtualMalaysia.com, you’re including other players in the loop – travel and tour agencies, hotels and so on – which can take note and tailor their offerings or just to gather feedback,” she said.
 
In his keynote speech at the official launch of the revamped website, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Hamzah Rahmat noted that today’s travellers are a different breed.
 
“They are better informed as they research destinations before visiting. They are also more adventurous and would read up other travellers’ writings or blogs and visit more off-beat locales,” he said.
 
“The user-generated content featured on the new VirtualMalaysia.com will resonate better with these travellers as the reviews or write-ups come directly from travellers themselves,” he added.
 
Hamzah said MATTA was fully supportive of CAT’s move, and would be supplementing its efforts by getting its members involved.
 
VirtualMalaysia.com morphs into social travel portal“We will be inviting participation from our members, especially those with inbound licences, to come up with more innovative and attractive packages for inbound tourists, based on the many activities and attractions that Malaysia offers, such as sports, wellness, environmental-friendly travel and tour packages,” he added.
 
He also noted that the country hopes to achieve 28 million in tourist arrivals and RM76 billion (US$23 billion) in tourism receipts during Visit Malaysia Year in 2014.
 
In conjunction with the revamped VirtualMalaysia.com, CAT is also launching a ‘Merdeka Deals’ campaign on Aug 29, which will offer local travel deals and hotel packages that will be promoted on the portal until Sept 7.
 
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