Retail in Asia


China tourism spending rebounds on Alipay+ and Alipay during CNY

Data from Ant Group shows a robust rebound of consumer spending during the first back-to-normal Chinese New Year (CNY) travel season after the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in cross-border tourism.

Through the Alipay+ cross-border mobile payment technology solutions, Chinese travellers can pay for goods, food & beverage, recreation and entertainment at over 8 million merchants in more than 70 countries and regions.

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Such transactions are all conducted via the familiar home app Alipay, with no need to change money or carry cash. Alipay also offers in-app instant tax refunds, as well as transparent and competitive exchange rates.

International visitors paying with Alipay at a food merchant in China. Souce: Alipay

A global campaign has been in full swing on the Alipay+ merchant network since December 2023 to attract Chinese tourists. In the CNY holiday week between 9 and 12 February, the number of transactions made by Alipay users overseas surpassed 2019 levels by +7 percent while consumer spending recovered to 82 percent of the 2019 level, or 2.4 times of 2023.

Closer socio-economic connections between Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and the Mainland, the new visa-free policies from major Southeast Asia destinations and recovering international flight capacities are key drivers of the cross-border travel boom, Ant Group said.

While traditional Chinese favourites in Asia keep their enthusiastic following, more distant destinations in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and North America are also picking up in Chinese traveller spending, the company added.

Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Macau SAR, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, France, Australia and Canada are proving the top destinations for Chinese travellers by their Alipay spending. Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore combined saw a +7.5 percent increase over 2019, and a +580 percent leap over 2023, with Thailand leading in total volume and Malaysia showing the largest increase.

Besides a larger physical parameter, the Chinese globe-trotter is also expanding her interest from traditional activities such as shopping and tourism-spots hopping, to more immersive and unique local experiences, Ant Group said. Globally in the CNY week, Chinese tourists spent +70 percent more on food & beverage than in 2019, venturing from downtown hotspots to out-of-the-way local treasures.

In-town transportation volume grew fast thanks to the passion for ‘travel local’. Alipay users in multiple destinations now may choose from rail, taxi, rideshare, car rental, bus, subway and even scooter-share when abroad, all from the app. The cost per ride on any vehicle for Alipay travelers dropped by -60 percent compared to 2019. A lighter carbon footprint also means more local SMEs on the public transport network gain a share of international tourist revenue.

Singapore’s Yue Hwa Department Store attracts tourists by displaying banners showcasing acceptance of Alipay and other Alipay+ partner e-wallets. Source: Alipay

China native: AI, popular culture and social buzz drive consumer enthusiasm

On Alipay’s home front, 2024 is also the first time AI features were prominently adopted in online holiday celebration nationwide. AI features in the app drew 600 million user interactions during Alipay’s signature annual Five Fortune campaign. Over 12 million Alipay users created personalised digital red packets using AI voice and video-generation technology on the Alipay platform.

Consumer enthusiasm is also being fanned by major popular culture trends. Spending soared along Huanghe Road in downtown Shanghai, popularised in a recent hit TV series Blossoms Shanghai.

Alipay figures show the 2024 Chinese New Year Eve dinners at restaurants alongside Huanghe Road featured in the series were fully reserved a week before the festival, with transaction volume rising +800 percent year-on-year. Tourism businesses in the snow-cladded cities of Harbin and Shenyang in Northeast China were also surprised by an extraordinary influx of Chinese and international visitors thanks to a social media mega-buzz, Ant Group said.

Robust intra-Asia flows among Alipay+ partner e-wallets

The Chinese New Year is widely celebrated across Asian communities. With new partnerships in 2023 and increased travel, total cross-border spending on the region’s leading e-wallets powered by Alipay+ increased by +252 percent year-on-year. Daily average transactions increased by +304%. Japan, South Korea, Macau SAR, Thailand and Singapore are the top five most popular destinations for Alipay+ consumers besides the Chinese mainland.

International e-wallets and cards-enabled Alipay accounts saw multi-fold expansion in Mainland China. Since September 2023, ten leading e-wallets and payment apps in Asia have been serving their roaming users across Alipay’s 80-million-strong merchant network in China, also supported by Alipay+.

Visa, Mastercard, JCB, Discover and Diners Club International also expanded their collaboration with Alipay for travellers linking their international credit or debit cards to their Alipay e-wallet.

During CNY 2024, international travellers to China spent +500 percent more on their international card-enabled Alipay accounts at merchants in the Chinese Mainland compared to 2023. Chinese restaurants, tourist attractions and public transportation are the most popular use cases for international visitors travelling in China and experiencing the festival.

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“With its use spreading across age and income groups, increasingly mobile payment is becoming an important promoter of local and cross-border commerce in Asia and beyond,” said Ant Group Senior Vice President and Head of Alipay+ Douglas Feagin. “We expect to grow our partnerships with the payment industry leaders, national tourist agencies and merchants in 2024 to generate more growth.”