There’s no question that Tencent has big ambitions for its messenger-gone-everything-app WeChat. And while WeChat may have implemented exciting features like its CityExperience travel guides, its still most prominent connection to travel is through its payment product: WeChat Pay. In WeChat Pay’s global battle against archrival Alipay, things still look very much undecided. Could WeChat’s gradual expansion into international airports change this balance in its favor?
While Alipay still retains a larger market share in China, the Chinese mobile payments battle is far from over. With China basically saturated, the strive for an edge to convince consumers to stick with their platform has gone international. While Alipay and WeChat Pay may essentially be equally convenient to use in China, this doesn’t have to be the case abroad. And, just maybe, the platform with the largest foothold outside China will convince China’s arguably most valuable consumers—travelers—that it’s the superior platform.
For businesses around the world, no clear favoritism for Alipay or WeChat Pay has emerged
But even internationally, it remains an open race with no clear winner other than the Chinese tourist. While everything from small retailers to large international chains not to mention tourist attractions and other tourism businesses have been eager to adopt Chinese mobile payments, there’s no clear favoritism for either platform. Rather the opposite, businesses who care enough about Chinese mobile payments seem to often implement the both of them. Even companies that help roll out these solutions around the world often offer potential customers the implementation of both Alipay and WeChat Pay.
Again, definitely good news for the Chinese tourist, but perhaps all the harder for Alipay and WeChat Pay as they try to gain an edge over one another.
But there might just be one final frontier where there is some potential for gaining a competitive advantage: international airports.
Airports have proven more willing than retail outlets to signing deals to exclusively implement a single payment platform
Unlike with many retailers around the world, it would appear as if airports are more susceptible to signing on with a single Chinese mobile payments provider—at least as a first step into the world of Chinese mobile payments. And this is where WeChat Pay has been trying to gain an edge with its so-called “Flagship Airport” program since late 2017. Pair this with Tencent’s We Tax Refund, and you have an attractive pitch as to why airports should consider WeChat Pay.
And airports are listening. We Tax Refund’s real-time tax refund services are available at 77 airports in 19 countries, and there seems to be a new announcement about an international airport rolling out WeChat Pay close to every week. Just last week, Singapore’s Changi Airport announced a three-year marketing partnership with WeChat Pay. As a result, more than 150 retailers at the airport, including Changi’s online shop, will start accepting WeChat Pay in one go.
But it’s not just in Asia or in airports that process the largest number of Chinese passengers where this development is underway. For example, earlier this month, Lagardère Travel Retail launched WeChat Pay at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport in France—far from a major hub for Chinese travelers.
European airports have also been eager to start implementation of Chinese mobile payments
The Chinese tourist matters more than ever to airports around the world, and in WeChat Pay and Alipay they have massive companies eager to partner up in the name of increasing Chinese spending.
Alipay, too, is very much a part of the airport battle as well. Its equivalent to WeChat’s Flagship Airport program is Alipay’s “Airport of the Future” program.
While neither company is particularly insistent on using these monikers as they expand around the world, the names of both programs are indicative of both companies’ ambitions. They want to be a part of the airport of the future, and they’d much prefer to be the flagship Chinese payment option at the airports where they’re available.