Friday, September 17, 2010

Universal Travel Group – another video log

There is more to this story than the dysfunctional website and the fact that an internet travel agent pays a lot in commissions (as part of cost of goods sold, not salaries I might add).  But for the moment the website is just so funny.

One reader suggested that it was possible to book a return flight with the return date before the departure date.  It was not quite possible – but hey – that was because it wasn’t possible to book anything.  But I tried that trick… and it was fun.  (This video is in high definition so you can see all the text if you want to push the 720HD option and look on full-screen.) 






Anonymous said...

Thanks for making a video based on my findings. Today I tried to book an international hotel. It is interesting that the company has now added some 'content' on the hotel pages. The name of the hotel and the correct picture is displayed along with the description. You can attempt to book a room as well. However, flaws continue

1) I tried to book a room for myself and entered the guest information. It would not go past the Book step in the 5 step flow shown.

2) I changed currency from CNY to USD for the 'Venetian Resort Hotel Casino'. It initially displayed the priced as 219CNY and in USD as 21.9 USD. Then on the next screen it displayed $219. Once again I could not complete the reservation.

The improvement is that the company is display 'content' on the pages. This is still a front end website. Even though the content is dynamic based on the hotel selected, it does not seem to complete the booking process.

3) I then tried to book a Hotel in China. It seems the currency conversion does not work. Site displayed CNY421 for 'Best Western Shenzhen Felicity Hotel' on the home page. On clicking it and on the rooms tab, I see $421 for the Superior room.

The book page is different than for international hotels. Enter Guest name and telephone. Do not enter contact information. You will see a pop up error in JavaScript saying "PLease enter your username". Well there is no field called "username" on the screen. I guessed to be the Name field under contact information. Then I get another pop up error saying " Please enter your contact means". I guess thats a way of saying please type in the phone number.

Please note that this way of giving pop up alert errors was used a decade ago. So, the technology and UI is not cutting edge to say the least.

When i completed the booking I got a standard success message "# Success! Your order has been completed! Please check your email for details regarding your hotel reservation.
# ● If there are any problems, please call us toll-free at 400-888-9966."

You know the funny thing is I never logged in. So, I am not sure how the website knows my email address. Even if they have a cookie, I would expect them to confirm who I am like other sites and if I am not that person ( since I could be sharing a PC), the website should prompt to login. I cannot believe you can book a hotel without login, without providing payment information on any other online travel website.

The order management does not work. Orders/Bookings never show up in that page. If that functionality does not work, the site should not add that link.

About the 4 links going to login page, Its kind of a shortcut. They want you to login before using two of the features and they combined the login/ register page. Thats bad but I can see it being done..

However,once I login, the top right should ideally change and the Sign In link should be replaced with a Sign-Out. I dont see a Sign out on the site. Tells me they dont really do anything with a Login. They dont even display my name or username on the top right as any website with a login will do.

Try the Edit Personal Information link. It does not tell you that you need to enter password again to change any information. When you miss it, you get an error in non-english ( Chinese/Mandarin..)

The button on that page reads "Ordrsp". Whats that?

All of these will make a fun long video...maybe multiple videos for each section of this 'online' travel booking website.

Anonymous said...

It's so sad that John Hempton and the rest of the shorts on this blog has already convinced themselves that UTA is a scam and a fraud.

But ... what if you're wrong John? Yes, it's been known to happen. You _could_ be wrong! This _could_ be a legitimate company and that maybe, for once, your compus is off.

For everyone who are convinced that UTA is a scam ... I ask you this:

Who made you judge and jury?

Are you sure you have ALL the facts?

Did you just pass judgment on UTA without hearing their side of the story?

Do you make all your decisions based on what one biased person (with an incentive to see the stock drop) said? (If this were the case, then every person whose ever been accused of any crime will be in jail today without a chance to defend themselves, including you).

Or are you a fair person who likes to hear both sides before making a decision?

Think about it...

Anonymous said...

Shorter Anonymous@6:20pm:

"You could sell and it could go down, but then it could go up, so you should buy it because it could go up, unless it goes down and then you would have sold."


Anonymous said...

To "Mr. Think about it..."

Were you the show 'Last Commic Standing?' Or did you fall asleep in 3rd grade math class.

It's this simple.
A) Company says they are a leader in online travel (in China)
B) Company website doesn't work (as clear day and night)
C) If A and B exist, we've got a problem on are hands.

Now it's possible that the company has a technical glitch or a bug, but "B" is not that small of a problem.

Why would you defend a stock SIMPLY because you own it and are too wimpy to step up to the plate, admit you made a mistake and may have invested in a hoax and move on (or consult your tax advisor to see if you should sell now or wait until it drops to under $1). In the meantime, if you continue to fool yourself into believing this company isn't a big joke and a hoax - well you're not exactly going to reach a place financial wealth or intellectual honesty.

Anonymous said...

My apologies, my 11:57pm post was directed at Anonymous@7:59pm. Anonymous@6:20pm actually had a coherent and thoughtful post.

Unknown said...

I need to speak a little about travel in China. China is a large country with an enormous emerging middle class and this class will travel. That said, I need to mention "Universal Travel Group, (UTA) There is a guy from, Bronte Capital, that badblogged this Chinese online travel company, Universal Travel Group. Seems his worst fear is that the website, ( is acting funny. I tried it and it is acting funny, slow at some corners plain stupid at other turns, but for the most part OK. To this I say, I have been in the online travel biz since 1996 and I saw grow up and have growing pains, I've seen go through digital nightmares, destroyed a whole online community of affiliates in one fail swoop. All i'm saying, is that, we growers, have all had our growing pains. Universal Travel Group, (UTA) wants to compete and it will and it will also fix the bugs, (bugs are never completely fixed, just as Micro something or another). To all this I say "This to shall pass".

Anonymous said...

I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair... your deadpan delivery was just perfect. Thank you for posting this!

Anonymous said...

So if Travelocity, Priceline, Expedia or Orbitz's website were buggy back when it first started -- they were all scams?

I think the travel industry in China is in it's very early phases. It's expected that their website is crummy or has bugs.

But a website having bugs doesn't necessarily mean they are a sham.

Obviously, it don't look so good for them to have a buggy website but it's more of an embarrassment than a scam. Maybe this is just a wake up call for them to fix up their website.

I think John just over-reacted to bugs on a website which happens to the best of them like google or microsoft. i remember going to microsoft's website and the entire homepage said "oops, i did it again" and that was it. cuz some hacker got in and put that page up. lol!!

Anonymous said...

To Big Travel Guy:

If the problem was that the website had too many glitches that would be OK. In that case you would be correct.

However, you can't book anything online even if you tried to do so. There is a glitch and then there is a complete breakdown.

Now that alone would be only half probablimatic and given enough time and money they could work that out.

The FRAUD / SCAM is that they aren't able to sell anything online and yet they claim to do so and worse they have reported in SEC filings revenues, cash and other metrics derived from their sales -> majority driven from online sales. That's about as upright as Bernard Madoff was.

In their own powerpoint presentation on their wonderful website they compare themselves to Priceline, Expedia, CTrip and others...where do they get the nerve to do such a thing if they can't sell anything online? It's a big lie.

As an investor, if management is willing to lie about their web sales, product and numbers...well they shouldn't be given a chance to 'iron out the glitches' because they aren't trustworthy. Would you give Bernard Madoff your money to invest knowing what he did? of course not, because he created a fraud. So why would you trust someone who has been caught in a fraud, a lie, a hoax, a sham?

Management has been laughing at investors and American's (NYSE) for not doing any form of fundamental research.

We all know how strong the SEC is, so if you're waiting to hear from them before you sell, you're being laughed at by management. Once the SEC does get around to processing this fraud the stock will drop to below $1 and the management team will hide in China - with the millions they've already paid themselves instead of investing in results.

Anonymous said...

But what if later it appears that John Hempton was wrong, then I hope he get sued, had has to pay a huge compensation for substantial damages.

Kid Dynamite said...

anon @ 7:59 - I don't think that there's any doubt at all that John Hempton realizes that he could be wrong about UTA. None. There's no such thing as risk free in the markets.

Hempton already told you EXACTLY why he's short UTA. He's not putting a gun to your head and demanding that you agree. EVERYONE is free to make his own decision, which is why the comments on the other thread blaming Hempton for "hurting" other investors are also nonsense. NO ONE has to listen to John Hempton!

Anonymous said...

Here's a fun thing, if you click on their website in the top right corner on any of these 4 links "sign in" "register now" "order management" "my account" and look at the left margin under the help window you will learn which vegetables to eat, the benefits of honey, wedding traditions in South Africa and other very helpful items.

Good thing, because after I age some vegetables and honey the website started to work better.

I'm embarrassed for anyone who is long this dog poop. This is very funny.

Anonymous said...

"It's this simple.
A) Company says they are a leader in online travel (in China)
B) Company website doesn't work (as clear day and night)
C) If A and B exist, we've got a problem on are hands."

Are you really that naive to believe that a website never has glitches or has problems? You know, there was this one day I went to Microsoft's website and the entire page said "Oops, I did it again!".

Some hacker, who apparently loves Britney Spears, hacked the Microsoft website and put that message there.

Does that mean Microsoft is a scam and a fraud company too?

Are you really naive enough to believe that Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, or any other online travel agency had worked 100% of the time?

You don't think that these huge, legitimate websites/companies ever had glitches or downtime?

Seriously, are you really that naive? I'm a software engineer so I would know a few things about bugs and crappy engineers.

No one is denying that UTA probably has hired some really lame engineers but that doesn't make them a bunch of scam artists. They probably hired those guys who built the early buggy versions of Expedia or that got fired. haha!! (j/k).

Robert in Chicago said...

Looks like some of the Yahoo board has migrated here. Sorry.

CTrip said...

What am I, chopped liver?

Anonymous said...

This is typical epic fail for a western investor who knows nothing about China and projects his western mindset to the whole world.

UTA is not a fraud, simply because their CHINESE website works and works very well.

Your assumption is that a website is a fraud if its English version doesn't function as you expected.

What a joke! Don't you know that UTA's customers are Chinese? You think they care about English version??

Congrats on your single mind stupidity! I'll be more than happy to see your bankrupt and thrown into jail. Again, your stupidity helped you get there!

Unknown said...

to Anonymous September 18, 2010 5:18 AM.

I am now dealing with a regional cruise line that the owners are clueless about what is happening on their website.

What is happening with UTA is not good for PR but I believe they would like to compete with honestly.

They just need a little tech help from India. LOL

Unknown said...

To CTrip

No, you aint "chopped liver", it's just that your website works, so it is too boring to talk about you.

Go ahead, screw up and we'll get a badblog going about you Mr CTrip

Anonymous said...

"What is happening with UTA is not good for PR but I believe they would like to compete with honestly.

They just need a little tech help from India. LOL"

BINGO!! UTA should TOTALLY outsource their "english verson" of UTA's travel website to India. My gosh, at least those guys understand English and can probably build/fix the website for cheap.

Anyways, you guys are all right about the fact that UTA is a CHINESE website and that the CHINESE website actually DOES work. The English version was probably neglected because it doesn't generate any money for them (most Chinese in China DO NOT speak or read english).

Why would UTA want to spend any kind of real money on an English website, when in fact, 99.9% of their business comes from Chinese-speaking customers?

John, I hope you're reading this!

Jay Nixon Supporter said...

Heard from a small retail shareholder in Missouri last night. He's still long but has concerns that the company hasn't provided answers to the questions Hempton posed:

1. why such a dysfunctional website

2. why such a low rate of return on cash balance

3. why such a low salary for ceo, is she being compensated in any other way. she states she hasn't sold shares.

Jay Nixon was the best Attorney General Missouri ever had. He was a real consumer advocate and hard on fraud. I hope this shareholder enlists his help to get answers out of UTA.

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand all these "UTA is not a fraud and John is very bad".

If UTA is what UTA says it is, you should keep quiet, wait a day or two for the price to really get smashed, and buy lots of the stock.

If UTA is not dodgy, in 3-6 months I reckon UTA will trade on a P/E of around 15-20, maybe higher, it's now around 4; ctrip is around 50 right now. I think you can make 400%+ if UTA's filings represent reality.

John is short. A stock which goes mad when you're short looses you insane amounts of money.

John is a fund manager investing other people's money. His fees are based (I guess - don't know) on assets under management. If he publicly makes a fool of himself and looses investor money, he then looses investors, and so looses fees, and is poorer.

So just keep quiet, buy up as it gets smashed, sell out in six months. Benefit at the expense of John's investors.

Unless of course you now think UTA *is* dodgy, and you happen to own some. In that case it's rational to disparage John's posts and paint him in a bad light.

Nemo Incognito said...

I love how the yahoo board crowd's go to line is "you don't understand China" or "you are a dumb westerner who can't read chinese".

I read Chinese and Indonesian and this website is screwed. I also have seen my fair share of fraud cases as a result of my line of work (distressed debt investing) and this looks just as messed up as Peacemark, Fu Ji Food and Ocean Grand Holdings. I wonder if John has the time to take a look at some other companies - China Green, Chaoda Modern Agriculture and a few others in that space might make for interesting reading.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous Software Engineer (posted on September 18, 2010 5:56 AM)

There are many kinds of issues that can plague websites.

1) Sites go down due to too much traffic ( Usually they come back in few hours to a day or so. Recently Chase Banking had some issues with some 3rd part software)

2) Sites go down due to hacker attacks (Denial of Service.Example sighted of Microsoft)

3) Sites have minor bugs that make the system difficult to use in some parts. ( Example sighted of other large online travel sites in the US)

4) Sites do not function as advertised.

I believe UTA comes under category 4. I understand if it was in the categories 1-3. However, major parts of the site are not functional. That is not considered as a bug in my book. That is either an incomplete website that should not have gone live or the claims made by the management are false and misleading.

Here are some things that do not work
(1) Booking of a flight
(2) Online payment for flights/hotels is non-existent. No attempt is made to collect this information.
(3) Search for International hotels
(4) Booking of international hotels.
(5) No confirmation/ order number generated for bookings
(6) Order management does not work.
(7) Validations for various fields are inconsistent
(8) No indicator as to what an acceptable phone number format is
(9) No email sent when you register for an account
(10 No email sent when you book a hotel in China.

Can someone do these tests in the Chinese version of the website to see if all of these work? If i was the management, I would never go live with a non functional English version of the website.

If this is a front end site only, they do a poor job of fooling the people. It is very easy to do all of the things I said above and not process the order. They can atleast collect the credit card information and everything else i said...

General disclaimer

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Hempton. You should assume Mr. Hempton and his affiliates have positions in the securities discussed in this blog, and such beneficial ownership can create a conflict of interest regarding the objectivity of this blog. Statements in the blog are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to certain risks, uncertainties and other factors. Certain information in this blog concerning economic trends and performance is based on or derived from information provided by third-party sources. Mr. Hempton does not guarantee the accuracy of such information and has not independently verified the accuracy or completeness of such information or the assumptions on which such information is based. Such information may change after it is posted and Mr. Hempton is not obligated to, and may not, update it. The commentary in this blog in no way constitutes a solicitation of business, an offer of a security or a solicitation to purchase a security, or investment advice. In fact, it should not be relied upon in making investment decisions, ever. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author. In particular this blog is not directed for investment purposes at US Persons.