Mobile payments is just one part of ANA's digital push. Photo: Shutterstock

All Nippon Airways (ANA) is the latest firm taking inspiration from the Chinese travel and tech industries. Japan’s largest airline is moving into the mobile payments market, hoping to build “ANA’s version of Alibaba’s Alipay.” The move is an attempt by ANA to hedge against the instability of profits in the airline business.

ANA wants to build it’s own “version of Alibaba’s Alipay”

Regardless, it’s a strange move for the airline, although many would argue that Japan is fertile ground for a new mobile payments platform.

Moreover, like many airlines, ANA already does have some payment services as part of its portfolio, particularly credit cards linked to airline miles. The company is hoping to generate 20 percent of its revenue from “non-airline” businesses. ANA’s plans to expand into other “non-airline” businesses such as real estate, insurance, and healthcare in Japan. To do this, the airline hopes to leverage the data it collects from its millions of Japanese passengers.

Along with mobile payments, ANA wants to branch out into insurance, healthcare, and real estate

At this time, it’s unclear what exactly the airline’s mobile payments platform will look like.

If successful in the mobile payments field, ANA could position itself as a key player at every step of a tourist’s journey. However, the company’s mobile payments offering will likely be unable to compete in the China market against the likes of Alipay and WeChat Pay.

ANA will face an uphill battle competing with Chinese platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay

ANA’s offering may even struggle in the Japanese market. Adoption of Alipay in Japan’s retail spaces in relatively high. While this is mostly a means to cater to the millions of Chinese tourists that come to Japan (estimated at around 7.4 million in 2017), Alipay-operator Ant Financial is reportedly developing a mobile payments platform specifically for the Japanese market.

Despite being one of the world’s largest and most advanced consumer markets, Japanese consumers still tend towards use of cash over cards or mobile payments. This is made even more strange by the early development of mobile payments platforms in Japan.

In contrast, China is a relative newcomer to the field of mobile payments, but the country’s consumers heartily embraced the technology in only a few years. Last year, Chinese mobile payments volume was in excess of $12 trillion.