I wish I could recycle headlines without feeling as if I would be cheating you.

See, not three months ago, I was trying to convey that second-tier travel portal eLong (NASDAQ:LONG) wasn't growing as quickly as market darling Ctrip.com (NASDAQ:CTRP).

"It's eLong Way to Ctripperary," was my headline then. Man, it fits even better now.

Last night's third-quarter report from eLong once again exposed it as a travel-portal pretender. Net revenues inched 8% higher to $10.6 million. A meager profit a year ago became a loss of $0.04 a share this time around. (Read up on eLong's previous disappointing quarter here.)

It's as bad as it looks, folks. With most of the gains coming from lower-margin air-ticketing transactions, gross margins took a hit. After that, we find service development, sales and marketing, and G&A expenses all growing faster than eLong's top line.

Compare that to Ctrip's stellar report last week. (Go ahead, I'll wait.) During the same three months, Ctrip's profits and revenues soared 68% and 55%, respectively.

See the problem? eLong isn't a poor man's Ctrip. It's a poor man to Ctrip's poor man.

It's a pity, because the two most obvious travel plays as we head into next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing -- Ctrip and Home Inns (NASDAQ:HMIN) -- trade at lofty multiples.

With $158 million of its current $233 million market cap in cash, eLong could have been that great little obscure Chinese growth stock with a world of upside. Instead of being a thinking man's play on China, it's now a stinking man's play.

If there is any silver lining to be found, it's that the company has someone new at the helm. Guangfu Cui may be just 38 years old, but he's studied all of the Western travel rock stars like Priceline.com (NASDAQ:PCLN) and Expedia (NASDAQ:EXPE). He received his MBA stateside from Northwestern Univeristy, with pro stints at FedEx (NYSE:FDX) China and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG).

More than just the resume, Cui should bring fresh thinking to a company that sorely needs to get out of its rut. Come on Cui. Send me to that well next quarter.

I've got some bullish headlines waiting to be used.

  • Take the eLong Way Home
  • Go Long eLong
  • eLong's e-Tude Gains Latitude

Ctrip is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems stock pick, while Priceline.com and FedEx are Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter recommendations. Which stock research service is the right one for you? Check either one out with a free 30-day trial subscription offer.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been a fan of China's high-margin stocks for a long time. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.