On a busy street in Seoul, Li Huan tapped a few instructions into an application on her cellphone and quickly figured out the best way to get to a nearby restaurant that had been recommended by other tourists.
"I can get all the information I need from different travel apps. I don't have to bring several maps anymore and I can even use translation apps to communicate with the locals," says Li, 27, an office worker from Liuzhou, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. She is enjoying her trip to South Korea.
Like many individual Chinese travelers, Li uses apps to book air tickets and hotels before her trips and to get travel tips and public transportation information during her journeys.
In recent years, the popularity of such apps in China has dramatically changed the way people travel and has encouraged more tourists to take independent tours.
"It's very convenient because I can download travel tips from the apps and read them later on my cellphone when I have time. Several years ago it was difficult to find travel information even about domestic destinations," says Liu Xiang, 26, who works for a foreign company in Shenzhen.
Thanks to ubiquitous Wi-Fi and local phone cards, Liu has easy access to the Internet when she travels abroad. She says travel tips by other people help her arrange her itinerary and experience places like a local.
"When I was a child I travelled with tour agencies. Sometimes I couldn't eat the things I like or visit the place I wanted to go. Nowadays, all information is available. Independent travelers have the ultimate freedom to choose whatever they like, just like online shopping," says Li Qing, the brand director of Breadtrip.com, a social media network for travel tips. The app gained 30 million users in three years. More than 70 per cent are between 25 and 40.
According to the 2014 Report of Outbound Independent Tours by Qyer.com and Chinese National Geography magazine, about 41 per cent used their cellphone to research overseas travel information, with the figure being 29 per cent in 2013. Among 109 million Chinese outbound travelers, more than 77 million chose independent tours.
"It's not that we just 'copy' the functions of Web products to apps. We do research to analyse why the users like our apps to enhance their experience," says Zhang Qi, vice-president of Qyer.com, a popular Chinese website for overseas travel.
Travel apps also play an important role in passing on key messages in emergencies.
On the afternoon of April 27, a massive earthquake struck Nepal, causing huge casualties and severely damaging some cultural heritage sites. Travel app companies are establishing emergency teams to contact their users in Nepal, update them with the latest information and help them return to China.
Qyer.com calculated that there are 2,743 users traveling in Nepal or planning to visit the country, based on data analysis of the apps.
According to Zhang, their users often use the apps to look for local scenic spots, restaurants and shopping centres, so they adopt Global Positioning System to help them learn about surrounding neighborhoods.
"Apps users like to make quick decisions but PC users often make reservations ahead of time. About 40 per cent of those who are using our apps do so in the middle of their overseas tours," Zhang says.
Shen Zhenyu, executive vice-president of popular travel search engine Qunar.com, says the growing mobile Internet market will surpass the PC Internet market, in both flow and profit, in the future.
In 2014, the company's revenue from mobile Internet was 708.7 million yuan ($151 million), an increase of 434.9 per cent over 2013.
Some foreign apps are also competing in the market by localization and co-operation with others.
"As we move around the planet, apps are providing locations and context. There are many interesting things to do on apps. For example, the best time to recommend a restaurant is when you arrive at the airport," says Gareth Williams, cofounder and CEO of global travel search site Skyscanner. Chinese users are in the top four.