China’s ride-hailing giants follow tourists abroad
Seven million Chinese tourists -- equivalent to the entire population of the US state of Washington -- are expected to travel abroad during Golden Week, an annual holiday underway in China.
And this year, there’s one piece of Chinese technology they don’t need to leave behind: Ride-hailing apps from home.
Ctrip, China’s biggest online travel agency, says their users can now get a ride in more than 1,000 cities around the world directly through its app. Payments are done using Chinese currency, and chats with local drivers are automatically translated both ways.
A quick look through the app shows the feature is available in popular destinations for Chinese tourists, such as Tokyo, Bali, Bangkok, Seoul, and Singapore. Other major cities listed include Abu Dhabi, Barcelona, London, Paris and New York.
Adding ride-hailing to its portfolio makes sense for Ctrip. The Shanghai-based agency, which goes by the name Trip.com outside of China, already offers a variety of booking services including hotels, air travels, train tickets, local tours and attractions, and more.
But it’s facing competition from a seasoned Chinese rival. Just last week, Didi Chuxing began offering taxi rides in Osaka, Japan.
Didi offers a Japanese app for locals, but visitors from China can use their native app instead, which comes with text translation and Chinese-language customer support. The new feature opens the door to more than 10 local taxi services, including the owner of Japan’s largest fleet.
Catering to Chinese travelers is a big business: This year, people in China are forecast to make 200 million trips overseas. Chinese companies also have a unique edge over global rivals, who are less familiar to consumers from China.
Alibaba and Tencent, among others, are at the forefront of capturing this growing opportunity.
Last year, thousands of taxis in New York and Las Vegas started accepting digital payments from Alipay. Apparel company Guess and dozens of outlets in San Francisco’s Pier 39, like Bubba Gump Shrimp and Ben & Jerry’s, have also adopted the platform. And WeChat Pay, too, is making similar inroads into North America.
And the trend is only beginning. As more Chinese cities get direct flights to overseas destinations, the number of outbound tourists is only going to grow -- and so will the lure for Chinese companies to follow them abroad.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)