Last year, France saw a 50-percent year-on-year increase in Chinese tourists with more than 2 million, according to Ctrip.com International, and about 60 percent of them were between 18 and 35 years old. It was the 17th most popular overseas destination for Chinese travelers in 2018, according to a report from Ctrip and Chinese government research institution China Travel Academy. Tourism suffered a bit at the end of the year due to safety concerns after the Yellow Vest protests, but that hasn’t stopped France from continuing to target Chinese tourists, and they hope to attract twice as many Chinese tourists by the time it hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics.
French institutions and brands have been at the forefront of embracing WeChat in order to reach a larger audience in China — and it’s paid off for many. The Louvre, for example, was an early adopter of the platform in June 2015 as a way to welcome the growing number of Chinese travelers to the storied museum, and Paris’ Asian art museum, the Guimet Museum, recently teamed up with WeChat’s parent company Tencent Holdings to digitize its entire collection in an effort to reach a larger Chinese audience. Now, France’s national railway company SNCF has launched an official WeChat channel (SNCF法铁) to guide Chinese tourists through 18 train stations around the country. Tourists can use the account to obtain up-to-date information and communicate with customer service in Mandarin. The operator plans to further expand the service with additional train stations in the future.
SNCF provides useful information to travelers through its official account (the railway company has only published two articles on its account so far) like how to connect to Wi-Fi at stations, luggage restrictions, and railway station restaurant information. At this time, however, the account only links to a separate app for download that allows travelers to purchase tickets on their phones. The app is essentially a standalone Mandarin-language version of the SNCF app for iOS and Android, which was released in 2015 and is only available in French, English, German and Spanish.
WeChat has a related mini-program listed on SNCF’s official account page called Europe Trip (欧洲之行), which offers different guides around French cities, including one for popular shopping destinations. For now, SNCF has no plans to introduce its own WeChat mini-program, but selling train tickets through WeChat may not alter Chinese tourist consumption habits much anyway since Ctrip has already been selling train tickets on its platform via a third party. The company is now discussing developing a rail ticketing app for France after it successfully launched its British rail ticketing app Trainpal in February 2018.