Jing Travel has reported extensively on the growing payments battle for Chinese tourist dollars, with incumbent UnionPay up against mobile payments giant Alipay and messenger-gone-everything app WeChat. For these companies, winning the hearts and minds of Chinese tourists has become critical—and as a result, strong global partnerships and overseas expansion have become crucial in this heating battle.

These companies intend to keep Chinese tourists inside their “payment ecosystem” even when traveling abroad, and in an ideal scenario, not requiring the use of any local currencies or—in the case of Alipay and WeChat Pay—not requiring the use of a bank card at all. Instead, customers can simply continue using Alipay or WeChat Pay just like at home. For tourists, the convenience is reason enough to make this an attractive scenario. For payment providers, on the other hand, being the preferred option for payments abroad hopefully cements their platform as the payment option of choice for China’s affluent global travelers.

It’s critical for Alipay and WeChat Pay to keep Chinese travelers inside their respective payment ecosystem when abroad

And for businesses around the world, embracing Chinese mobile payments promises a larger number of Chinese tourists. Part because of the added convenience provided to these customers, but also because the payment platforms can prove attractive marketing channels for targeting Chinese travelers.

Perhaps nowhere is the battle for Chinese tourists’ payments more obvious than in airports. For Alipay and WeChat Pay, presence in international airports is required to maintain the impression that their platforms genuinely are available in the international space. If these payment options aren’t even available in the most international of spaces—the airport—why would Chinese travelers feel confident about relying on these services for shopping and other payments during other parts of the trip?

Airports have become a crucial arena for Chinese mobile payment providers’ global expansion strategies

Meanwhile, the battle for Chinese duty-free shopping has never been more intense. With duty-free shopping now available for Chinese tourists virtually everywhere in many destinations, airport retailers who previously relied on this core group of customers are under more significant pressure to innovate and provide a superior duty-free shopping experience than what is found at downtown duty-free retail stores. Embracing Chinese mobile payments is a noteworthy step in that direction or even a no-brainer for airport retailers who wish to cash in on the rising number of Chinese travelers transiting through airports worldwide.

Alipay has proven particularly proactive in targeting airports in its push for Chinese tourist dominance. Back in 2016, it launched what it calls the “Airport of the Future” program, which initially rolled out at 10 overseas airports last year. These international airports implemented Alipay payment services, and the Alipay app was also upgraded with features that make these airports easier to navigate and enjoy for Chinese passengers transiting through these airports.

Alipay’s Airport of the Future program is a formidable opponent

While WeChat Pay isn’t absent from international airports, it hasn’t had a comprehensive strategy to take on Alipay until now. Perhaps inspired by Alipay’s Airport of the Future, WeChat Pay is now launching New Chitose Airport as the world’s first “WeChat Pay flagship airport”—but it most likely won’t be the last. Not only aiming to facilitate Chinese travelers’ payments at the airport, but WeChat Pay also refers to the initiative as a way to “demonstrate the brand’s capabilities to travelers around the world.”

The pitch is obvious: it makes sense for airports to embrace WeChat Pay, not least for the bottom line.

If WeChat Pay’s new focus on expansion in international airports will prove successful in strengthening its standing with global Chinese travelers hinges on its ability to quickly take its Hokkaido flagship airport concept to more airports across the world. Fortunately for WeChat Pay, airports are increasingly eager to embrace Chinese mobile payments. With the right pitch, perhaps they opt for WeChat Pay’s new initiative over Alipay’s Airport of the Future. Or why not both?

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Shopping & Duty-Free, Travel Tech & Social Media