Wed, April 14, 2010
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Rooms with a view: Writer getting paid to live in hotels

2010-04-14 07:36:31 GMT2010-04-14 15:36:31 (Beijing Time)  China Daily

After Zhang Yumo was officially hired as one of the first hotel critics in China, she immediately changed her well-located 50 sq m apartment into a 30 sq m one and sent her three cats to a friend.

The 27-year-old knows that she will have limited time to lie in her own bed in the future because most of the time she will sleep in fancy hotels, thanks to her new job.

Before she was chosen from the 7,000 people competing for the "best job in China" - benefits include sleeping in various hotels and earning 10,000 yuan a month - she was a fashion magazine editor. Before that, she was a television editor and a part-time jewelry designer. She is also a freelance photographer and a traveler who always spoils herself with a one-and-a-half-month vacation every year traveling all over the world.

However, Zhang said she got the job by accident.

"My friend told me about the job. It's very special, I had never heard about it before. But as I had no job at that moment, I sent in my application just for fun and totally forgot about it until I was informed that I had made it into the second round," she said.

Zhang believed that both her previous writing experience and the photographic talent she inherited from her freelance photographer father helped her survive the second round.

"The company asked us to submit three hotel reviews. Every year, I stayed at around 20 different hotels during traveling or on business trip, so I already had some experience in this field," she said.

Of the original 7,000 applicants just 21 made it into the final round, and only three survived to become hotel critics with qunar.com, a travel search engine. Zhang described the final stage as a "reality show".

"We checked into different hotels and we were given two tasks, which were called 'mission impossible'," she recalled.

One task was to find the nearest local food restaurant around the hotel; the other was to take a picture of another guest's room without the knowledge of a hotel employee.

"Both of them have to be finished in one hour and we had to upload the photos and report how we finished the tasks online," Zhang said.

Zhang successfully completed the second task by knocking on her neighbor's door and using the excuse that she was playing "truth or dare" with her friend, and her friend had dared her to take a picture of a stranger's room.

Her succinct writing style and thoughtful review also impressed judges.

"I always put myself into the customer's shoes," Zhang said.

"Most people believe that all we need to do is to sleep and have fun at the hotels and write an article. In fact this job requires much more than that," she said.

The seasoned traveler has now formed her own "recipe" to review a hotel based on her own traveling experience.

"A review starts with the telephone booking. The hotel's initial telephone manner makes the first impression," Zhang said, adding her routine then encompasses everything from check-in to check-out.

The speed of check-in and check-out, the smile of the receptionist, the smell of the hotel lobby, all are included in Zhang's review. During the first hour in the room she will do a thorough sanitary inspection, including beneath the bed and under carpets.

"Then I will take pictures of the surroundings and write down everything I notice," Zhang said.

She described herself as "an easy-going backpacker" kind of traveler who stays in youth hotels most of the time, but admitted she has become more "picky" now.

"I will sometimes test the hotel by pretending I have a fever and asking for a specially-cooked soup, or I will call several times to get them to fix the internet in my room though I can easily fix it by myself," she said.

Though she only signed a six-month contact with the company, the ambitious young woman wants to turn the temporary job into a career and has bought herself a lot of hotel-related books to train herself into becoming a true hotel professional.

"According to our company's plan, we need to review two or three hotels a week. Before that, we need to make proposals and really convince the company the hotels we want to review are valuable for our online customers," she said.

The first hotel she will review as an official hotel critic in April is still a secret. Zhang has equipped herself with a new camera.

"I also want to buy a pink rabbit toy and make it join my hotel tours. So I can make imaginary conversations with the rabbit which will surely make my online reports more vivid," she said.

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