With the travel industry descending into the capital en masse for World Travel Market 2014, the latest trends and forecasts in the tourism sector are emerging thick and fast. We’ve been keeping an eye out for the ones that mean the most to our clients (and ourselves!) and something that’s really caught our eye is the rapid rise of WeChat (Weixin) in China.
WeChat is China’s fastest-growing mobile platform, and has become the second largest global messaging service, with 440 million active users to rival WhatsApp’s 500 million. It’s so popular in China that it has become Weibo’s biggest competitor, further fuelling the enduring rivalry between internet service providers Sina and Tencent.
Inevitably, marketers have been turning their eye towards the platform, and some brands have already established a presence on there. The WTM Global Trends Report 2014 indicates that this popularity shows no sign of slowing: In fact, the platform is emerging as a viable sales channel for travel companies.
The report, in association with Euromonitor International, has revealed that WeChat is expected to generate revenues of US$1.1 billion in 2014 and grow by 40% in 2015. Although most of this revenue comes from online games, the company is currently focusing on increasing its revenues from mobile commerce and payments. Given that surveys suggest that it is the most popular platform in China for the sharing of travel experiences, this can only be good news for those wishing to sell their offering to the Chinese market.
WeChat (as well as LINE, a Japanese-based service which is gradually gaining traction in China) now allows companies to manage customer support through their app, which is particularly useful for the travel trade, where a swift response to customer issues can make the difference between a positive and negative interaction. Several travel businesses are already taking advantage of this. Leading online travel agency Ctrip is selling air, rail and attractions tickets through WeChat, whilst Chinese taxi app DidiDache saw its users double to 40 million in one month after beginning a partnership with company. Low-cost carrier Spring Airlines also launched a WeChat service in April 2014, allowing users to book flights and check in using the app.
According to the WTM Global Trends Report 2014, WeChat is expected to be lauched on all internet-connected movile devices including smartwatches and smartglasses, meaning that the platform will tap in to another key growing trend. As World Travel Market’s Senior Director, Simon Press, commented: “Instant messaging platforms have emerged from nowhere to become an important sales channel in one of the world’s fastest growing travel markets, and there is still more growth to come.
“And as accessing the internet from a smartphone becomes commonplace, instant messaging as a transactional channel could take off in mature markets as well.”
China’s significance as a growing travel market isn’t waning, and emerging technological advances such as WeChat’s should make us all sit up and take notice. The ability to provide customer service via the platform is ideal for companies based outside of China who have previously found providing real-time customer service a challenge; whilst the expansion of its e-commerce capabilities means that brands enhancing their presence on the app can follow customer interactions through to purchase. The app’s early adaptation to mobile devices, including wearables, means that it is well-placed to continue its trajectory as one of China’s leading social media platforms.
In short, there’s no reason to delay in embracing WeChat as the best new way to interact with, and sell to, the vast Chinese travel market. Language barrier a problem? It’s not a problem for us at Rhubarb Fool, so why don’t you get in touch?