In a significant move aimed at enhancing the experience for East and Southeast Asian tourists, Alipay, the world’s largest digital payment platform, is broadening its global network to encompass 10 major e-wallets from across the region. This expansion, introduced under the “Alipay+” cross-border payments program, paves the way for a more seamless travel and spending experience in the People’s Republic of China.
In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay jointly dominate the digital payments landscape, where virtually every transaction, from grabbing a snack at a vending machine to renting a portable battery at a mall or unlocking a shared e-bike, is facilitated through these digital apps with a simple scan of a QR code.
However, this cashless ecosystem has sometimes presented a challenge for tourists visiting China who lack a Chinese bank account and phone number. They often encounter what can be described as a “digital payment wall,” rendering them unable to access a full range of dining, retail, and transportation options. Even using a credit card can be hit or miss due to the uneven availability of card machines. In response to this, in 2019, Alipay introduced digital prepaid cards for short-term visitors, enabling them to navigate the digital payment landscape more like locals.
Alipay’s E-Wallets Network Expansion
The recent expansion of Alipay’s e-wallet network promises to make these consumer options more accessible to tourists from East and Southeast Asia without the hassle of opening a temporary bank account. Eric Jing, chairman and CEO of Ant Group, expressed that this “regional multi-party partnership” would “help travelers enjoy greater choice and convenience” while in China.
With over 1 billion users, according to an Ant Group filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2020, Alipay collaborates with an astonishing 80 million merchants, making it a powerhouse in the digital payment sphere.
Notably, this expansion now includes 175 million e-wallet users through Alipay+, enabling tourists to use a diverse array of e-wallets within China, enhancing convenience for travelers from various regions. The list of e-wallets that can be utilized in China via Alipay+ includes:
- Hong Kong – Alipay HK
- Macau – mPay
- Malaysia – Touch ’n Go eWallet
- Mongolia – Hipay
- Singapore – Changi Pay, OCBC
- South Korea – Kakao Pay, Naver Pay, Toss Pay
- Thailand – TrueMoney
This strategic move by Alipay aligns with the impending 2023 Asian Games, set to commence on September 23. China’s first significant sporting event following the pandemic will take place in Hangzhou, the provincial capital of Zhejiang. It offers China a big chance to boost the economy of the region, especially during the post-COVID recovery period.
Hangzhou has actively promoted tourism in anticipation of an increase in demand brought on by an inflow of travelers. This has included giving out tickets to foreign visitors and providing “gift packs” that included subway passes and prepaid SIM cards. The South China Morning Post estimates that the Asian Games will make a significant 414.1 billion yuan ($56.8 billion) contribution to the country’s GDP.
Facilitating this consumption, Alipay and other mobile payment apps will play a pivotal role. NetsUnion Clearing Corp. of China, Beijing’s central clearing platform for third-party digital payment providers, has emphasized its commitment to support cross-border mobile payment scenarios and events like the Hangzhou Asian Games. Their goal is to create an “open and inclusive cross-border consumption environment in China.”
The 2023 Asian Games will bring together 45 countries from across Asia, featuring sports such as dragon boat racing and sepak takraw, also known as “kick volleyball.” This marks China’s third hosting of the “Asiad” since its inception in 1951, and the ease of mobile payments through platforms like Alipay is poised to enhance the overall experience for athletes and visitors alike.