The price is right:

the importance of localized support for Chinese travelers

If there’s one thing international travel companies know for sure, it’s that China’s outbound travel market is booming. In 2017, Chinese travelers took 131 million trips overseas, a figure that’s expected to rise to 160 million by 2020 as more domestic travelers move to overseas trips.

With this expanding travel market comes a host of great opportunities for international travel companies. China’s 131 million outbound tourists spent $261.1 billion in 2017, ranking them first among all tourists worldwide.

However, many travel companies are struggling to capitalize on this impressive opportunity. Faced with a gap between the preferred payment channels of more familiar Western travelers and those of the new Chinese traveler, many are – at best – making only small changes to their existing processes to accommodate them.

This status quo in the online travel market presents a unique opportunity for travel companies who are agile enough to meet the needs of this market. This article will outline three key areas where travel companies should look to customize and personalize their services in order to meet the needs of Chinese travelers.

1. Provide support for local banking products – and the Renminbi

International credit cards remain uncommon in China, meaning that companies relying solely on Visa and Mastercard will struggle to collect payments from Chinese travelers. UnionPay controls 90 percent of the payment card market, with providers like Mastercard only able to enter the market in a partnership arrangement. UnionPay offers SecurePay, which makes use of a redirect to the bank, and behaves like an online banking solution. It also offers ExpressPay, which follows the flow of a classic credit card transaction, where the customer enters their card details to process their payment. These options integrate well with the interfaces offered by travel companies. Ingenico ePayments offers both solutions. Stories abound of Chinese tourists packing cash into their luggage for overseas travel because they’re unable to use their preferred payment options abroad.

In addition to allowing travelers to pay with their preferred payment methods, publishing prices in Renminbi (RMB) is a key – and simple – element of customer satisfaction. This avoids the need for consumers to attempt to calculate conversion rates on the spot using online tools and prevents any misunderstandings between the company and customer about the cost of a product.

When exploring the options for launching your business in China, ensure you partner with a payment provider that supports UnionPay, publishes daily rates on currency conversions and is able to convert foreign currencies into US dollar amounts to pay suppliers.

For more information on payment methods and partnerships, read our product overview.


2. Enable mobile payments to boost customer satisfaction

WeChat, China’s dominant messaging application with 1.1 billion users, is an essential integration that travel companies should establish with their own payment systems. This enables payments to be processed via WeChat Pay and also provides greater convenience for the customer via WeChat’s Mini Program. An app-based solution within WeChat, the Mini-Program allows consumers to access their favorite applications more easily. This could include, for example accessing their airline boarding pass within the Mini-Program.

The other top mobile payments platform is Alipay. In a recent report, Alipay highlighted a shopping outlet near Oxford in the UK, the Dotonbori commercial area in Japan and Australia’s Sydney Airport as the top three locations for Chinese consumers to pay using their phones. Since partnering with Alipay, the number of transactions using Alipay at each of these locations jumped 90-fold, 70-fold and 55-fold respectively. While these are primarily brick-and-mortar locations, each demonstrates the scale and potential of successful mobile payment integration.

Partner with a payment provider that offers the full suite of WeChat and Alipay payment options.


3. Improve accessibility with a personalized, customized website experience

China boasts more than 800 million active internet users, almost three times as many as the United States. Building a website experience that is easily accessible to Chinese consumers – in both the local language and a mobile format – is therefore key. This is especially critical in the travel sector, where 35 percent of consumers said they booked their travel through the websites of local online travel agencies, the highest single purchasing channel.

In addition to app-based integrations, for consumers making purchases through websites, setting up a WeChat Official Account for HTML is a good place to start. This is the simplest way to build a browser-based solution. The most significant area of complexity for payments is integrating the site with the travel company’s systems, but the right payments partner will handle this complexity for you, alongside any regulatory challenges.

The first steps to success in China

The size and scale of China’s travel market is such that even capturing one percent would yield significant benefits for an international travel company. It is well known that the Chinese traveler will bias suppliers who offer their preferred payment methods over those that do not, giving those companies a big competitive advantage. By putting the time and investment into building the localized payments experience these Chinese travelers expect and keeping up with the fast-changing nature of consumer preferences, international travel companies can position themselves for success.


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