By Megan Harman
A month-long campaign currently underway in Canada’s biggest city is aiming to attract Chinese tourists, by providing special offers to users of Alipay, the mobile-based payment method that’s highly popular among Chinese consumers.
Toronto’s first ever digital Golden Week campaign, being spearheaded by Tourism Toronto in collaboration with Alipay and payment integrator OTT Pay Inc., runs from September 20th to October 20th—a period that includes China’s Golden Week holiday, which is celebrated from October 1st to 7th. Golden Week is a popular time of year for Chinese citizens to travel abroad, and since China represents Toronto’s largest overseas market in terms of visitors, it’s an important time of year for Toronto to showcase itself as a destination, says Andrew Weir, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Tourism Toronto.
“The tourism market from China has been growing significantly over the last decade,” Weir says. “It’s now our number one overseas market.”
What makes the Chinese market unique, according to Weir, is the preference for mobile payment apps such as Alipay and WeChat among Chinese consumers.
“The method of transaction for Chinese travellers is a key distinction, and we don’t face that with other markets,” he says. “So, as we want to become ‘China ready’ – ready to market to more Chinese travellers, grow that business, and serve that customer well when they’re here, we have to be able to conduct business in the way that they want to conduct business.”
Alipay users can link their debit and credit cards to the app to pay for all kinds of goods and services. The app also features a variety of other services, such as enabling users to hail taxis, book hotels, buy movie tickets, pay utility bills and purchase wealth management products.
A growing number of Canadian retailers and businesses have begun accepting Alipay and WeChat in order to cater to the massive Chinese market. Under the Golden Week campaign taking place this month, certain Toronto businesses are providing Alipay users with special offers as a further incentive for travellers to visit Toronto and some of its key tourist attractions.
“It’s an opportunity for us to reinforce the existing initiatives that we have with our Asian customers,” says Claire Santamaria, director and general manager at Yorkdale. “We know that the tourism market does contribute a significant amount of sales per square foot to the shopping centre, and our retailers have shared with us that Asian shoppers are extremely influential, especially within our luxury brands. This is a really good way for our customers who use Alipay to have access to many of our luxury brands, with an incentive and a little bit of a discount, which is never offered [at many of those brands].”
Yorkdale has been accepting Alipay as a method of payment at its guest services desk for over a year now, and some of the individual retailers in the mall also accept the app, according to Santamaria. She says it is growing in popularity, which is prompting more retailers to embrace it as a form of payment.
Last year, the shopping centre launched a pilot project as a way to test the level of appetite for mobile payment apps such as Alipay and WeChat. The results were “staggering,” according to Weir.
“It demonstrated the demand,” he says. “It demonstrated that if we build a tourism environment here that is conducive to the way Chinese travellers look to transact business, that they will consume at a greater level.”
Other businesses participating in the Golden Week campaign include attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium, the CN Tower and Royal Ontario Museum.
Weir expects that the campaign will demonstrate to other businesses the success that can result from making these payment options available to consumers, ultimately prompting more businesses to embrace these apps.
“There are a number of businesses that are leading the way,” he says, “but as a destination, we really need to see that penetration and that acceptance of Chinese mobile payments go much deeper.”