WeChat has hinted at a move into travel services, partnering with key global travel destinations to offer City Experiences mini programs. Dubai, Britain and Sydney, were selected as the pilot cities for the City Experience mini program, which was launched at a showcase in Shanghai on November 30th. Other cities including Washington DC are to be launched very soon.
Tourism boards from each city, with the support of the respective national tourism organizations have partnered with key travel operators and experiences, to provide information on their respective destinations, including iconic attractions such as the British Museum, Selfridges, Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House as well as a variety of dining and shopping options.
The mini programs offer maps via geolocation services, an image gallery, audio guides about each attraction in Chinese and English and even suggest full one to five day itineraries. In later stages of development, the mini programs will enable travelers to book and pay for these experiences without leaving WeChat at all.
The City Experience mini program aims to provide more freedom and flexibility in the way that FIT and millennials travel to major travel destinations around the globe with each city’s mini program's interactive maps, enabling travelers to create their own itineraries to the attractions of their choosing.
While currently the experiences are limited to about 20 to 30 per city, WeChat aims to increase the number of merchants and attractions, which will provide travelers to explore off the beaten track experiences and create truly unique travel experiences that align with their interests at their own pace, in their own time.
Following the launch of City Experiences, WeChat will begin to engage in a comprehensive marketing campaign including providing QR codes at airport check-in desks in the international terminals in China and via travel and booking agents.
With the growth of outbound Chinese tourism tipped to hit 200 million by 2020, there is a huge opportunity to provide services and information, and to generate revenue, particularly via the growing FIT and millennial market. As the market matures there will be a continued demand to travel independently and away from traditional tour groups. Programs such as these will no doubt help the global travel industry to target more Chinese travelers, and while having a presence on WeChat will help, it will not exclude them from the mini program.
Both the data and information in City Experiences are owned by the respective tourism boards, with WeChat contributing to the cost of development.
This possibly points to a bigger move from WeChat, who may be angling to move into travel services, directly competing with very established players such as Ctrip, Mafengwo, Qiongyou and Alibaba’s Fliggy travel app. With monthly active users of nearly one billion, WeChat certainly has the audience numbers to make a serious impact in the travel industry in China, and beyond. Should they decide to move into the tourism sector as one of their core services via mini programs, they will be able to generate serious revenue for WeChat, Tencent and the destinations they are promoting.
It is still very early days for the City Experiences and it will be very interesting to watch how the mini programs evolve and adapt to the ever-changing tastes and demands of high value FITs, and how WeChat’s position in the travel industry takes shape.