image image

Asia travel

China’s ‘sleep testers’ search hotels for a good night’s rest

Thousands of people recruited by Qunar are travelling the world, staying for free in luxury and boutique hotels – expenses paid – and are reaping the many benefits that come from their elevated status as reviewers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 March, 2016, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 March, 2016, 2:49pm

Wu Jun has always been a light sleeper. But the part-time “sleep tester” has turned his sensitivity to light and noise, once a curse, into an opportunity to travel and make money.

“Sleep is far more than just a bed. Hotel doors, windows and curtains are all important factors that influence sleep quality,” says Wu, 37, who reviews hotels for Chinese travel website Qunar.

According to a survey conducted last year by the China Sleep Research Society, 38.2 per cent of urban adults have trouble sleeping, much higher than the world average of 27 per cent.

On World Sleep Day, 10 tips for how to sleep better on a long-haul flight

China’s growing middle class is increasingly conscious about health and quality of life. For the country’s upwardly mobile travellers, picking a hotel is no longer just about price.

Wu, who is based in Shanghai, is among some 10,000 part-time sleep testers recruited by Qunar nationwide since 2010. The job requires testers to find hotels, stay for at least one night, and review them online by uploading photos and leaving comments about the quality of guest rooms, amenities and transportation.

“I write about the brand of bed sheets, quilt materials, air conditioner noise and light sources,” he says, adding that a bright digital clock beside his pillow is enough to keep him from falling asleep.

“For an airport hotel or a hotel next to a busy street, double-pane windows are a must for keeping out noise, and curtains are also important to make the room dark as night during the daytime,” he said.

Wu has loved hotels ever since his parents took him on frequent trips as a boy. After graduating from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics as a public management major, he found a marketing job in a hotel.

To date, Wu has slept in and reviewed 400 hotels, including some overseas. Half of them are five-star hotels.

Some hotels have welcomed his advice. He says the Sheraton Hotel in Chuzhou in east China’s Anhui Province rearranged the lamps in guest rooms based on his recommendations. Qunar reimburses hotel expenses, but does not give its sleep testers additional pay. However, Wu started a public WeChat account last February, and his popularity as a reviewer has earned him nearly 40,000 subscribers. The account has generated perks and profits as hotels often seek him out for advertising partnerships. He does not say how much he makes through WeChat, only disclosing that he has earned many hotel coupons.

In addition to five-star hotels, customer demand has driven sleep testers to review more boutique hotels, which serve a wider range of clients and have more favourable prices.

Tang Xiangdong, director of the sleep medical research centre of West China Hospital of Sichuan University, says stress and poor sleep and eating habits are behind many sleeping problems.

The centre treated 20,000 patients last year, 60 per cent of whom suffered from sleeplessness.

Tang says more and more young people are suffering from sleeping problems. The youngest patient they treated was an 11-year-old girl who was under pressure to study from her parents.

“Emerging services such as sleep testers show the growing public demand for quality sleep, especially from young people,” he says.