Before we delve into how WeChat has made its voice heard in the tourism industry, let’s find out what WeChat is and how it functions. WeChat is China’s billion member messaging platform and is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent. It’s different from the slightly more popular (in terms of worldwide users) messenger on Facebook or WhatsApp.
WeChat’s primary use is messaging. Its format is similar to that of WhatsApp, and you can add people by inputting the person’s number, inputting their app ID, or using the ever popular method of scanning their QR code. In China, it is the preferred method of communication, and businesses often prefer it to the more ‘traditional’ email. ‘Moments’, a very popular social media feature on WeChat, lets you share pictures and videos with your contacts, similarly to Instagram, and allows you to like or comment on the post.
Besides messaging and social media browsing, users can also link their Chinese bank accounts to the app. Incredibly, 83% of users purchase products online using WeChat, and a hearty 40.3% donate to charity via the platform. You can also pay for everyday items such as your weekly shopping, hailing taxis, or ordering takeaway.
How has the multi-use messaging platform stormed onto the tourism scene?
Short answer: mini programmes! Mini programmes in WeChat are basically plugins/apps that can be downloaded and enable users to have more advanced features, such as e-commerce or task management, on their WeChat app. Popular sport clothing brand JD has a huge presence in the mini programme, as well as city bike sharing company Mobike. Tesla also have an app within WeChat that allows users to schedule a test drive, share Tesla experiences and locate their nearest electrical car charger station.
So how have these mini programmes influenced the tourism industry?
Kyle Paisley, Business Development Executive with WeChat Pay in Europe, says, ‘WeChat influences travel and tourism by linking local businesses with Chinese consumers. It gives businesses or brands the opportunity to engage with tourists before, during and after their trip. It can also be used by public initiatives, such as Visit Scotland, to create official accounts and help attract tourists to specific destinations. WeChat Pay can also boost spending for tourists overseas by combatting FX [foreign exchange] currency limits.’
A great example of how the tourism sector is expanding its appeal to Chinese tourists is with apps like the ‘Europe Experience’ mini program. This app offers users detailed tourist information for six of the most popular travel destinations in Europe: Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Rome, London and Barcelona. Users who download it can obtain in-depth information about these cities—including top tourist attractions, the best food, shopping, etc.—coupled with opening hours and location descriptions. It can also allow users to book tours, reserve tickets and receive promotional discount vouchers for local businesses.
As a tour operator, this is where you should look to include your tours. Chinese tourists spent $127.5 billion overseas in the first half of 2019 and ‘totall[ed] 149m outbound trips in 2018,’ according to Kyle Paisley. The volume of tourists and the money these tourists spend is there—you just need to capitalise on it. Look into your area/region and research which WeChat apps you could push to be included on. Countries like Scotland, Malaysia and New Zealand have all taken this initiative and created their own mini programmes. See if you can be included in your country’s region!
Another idea is to partner with Chinese tour operators. More likely than not, they already have a huge WeChat presence—and if you do too, tourists can easily see who you are and what you provide. The benefit of having a partner like this can also be that they’ll bring their own guides, and you might land yourself some repeat business!
Overall, if you’re a tour operator trying to wiggle your way onto the Chinese tourism market, the place to begin would be on WeChat. Create your tour profile on the app and search in your area to see if you can include your company or tours in an already existing mini programme. You can even take the initiative and create your own mini programme!
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