Alipay and WeChat Pay, China’s two dominant mobile payment platforms, are ratcheting up their expansion plans through separate initiatives that will allow taxis outside the mainland to accept digital payments from Chinese travellers using these services.
Alipay, which counts more than 520 million active users, aims to make taxi payments easier for mainland tourists visiting the United States through its strategic partnership with electronic payment transactions specialist Verifone, Alipay North America president Souheil Badran told the South China Morning Post.
In Hong Kong, both Alipay and Tencent Holdings-backed WeChat Pay have made separate announcements to extend use of their mobile payment services to local taxis.
“We believe that by simplifying the payment process, we will help increase use of the transport system in the US for the growing Chinese tourist population,” said Badran.
“Paying for taxis can be one of the most stressful elements of travelling abroad, particularly if you don’t speak the language.”
A unit of Ant Financial Services Group, Alipay recently extended its global partnership with Verifone to allow mainland consumers travelling in New York and Las Vegas to pay for taxis using Alipay’s mobile wallet function. Verifone first started working with Alipay last year to equip selected retailers across North America and Europe with a mobile point-of-sale system that accepts Alipay app payments at their stores.
That was designed to help accommodate around 100 million mainland consumers who annually travel abroad in making convenient, electronic purchases at these merchants.
“Alipay and Verifone are exploring additional opportunities to bring Alipay to more taxis in North American cities popular with Chinese travellers,” said Badran, who estimated that more three million mainland visitors will visit the US this year. “Our research shows that the top 10 destinations for Chinese tourists in the US are New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Seattle.”
At the end of October, 2,100 taxis in Las Vegas accepted Alipay as fare payment. An additional 14,000 taxis in New York City are expected to accept it in November.
“The rising middle class in China will reach 600 million consumers by 2022,” said Badran. “By that time, China will be the top overseas origin market for the US tourism industry.”
Launched in 2004, Alipay has evolved from a digital wallet used to make e-commerce payments on the mainland to a lifestyle enabler that is used to hail a taxi, book a hotel, buy cinema tickets or pay utility bills directly from within the app, according to Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding. New York-listed Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.
WeChat, Tencent’s mobile messaging service that has evolved into the mainland’s largest social network and popular online payments platform, on Tuesday announced its WeChat Pay HK service can now be used to pay for taxi fare and settle bills in the city.
Norman Tam, the general manager of Tencent’s international business group, said more than 1,000 taxis will accept WeChat Pay by the end of this year. Marketed as Weixin on the mainland, WeChat had 963 million monthly active users as of June 30. Local trade group the Association of Taxi Industry Development has estimated that there are 18,000 taxis operating in the city.
“We often see passengers run out of cash on taxi rides,” said association chairman Chan Man-keung. “With WeChat Pay HK, this pain point can be addressed with a new payment option for taxi fares.”
On Monday, Alipay announced a partnership with Hong Kong mobile payment system developers YedPay and Valoot Technologies to enable taxis in the city to accept fare settlement via Alipay and AlipayHK, which is a venture backed by Li Ka-shing’s CK Hutchison Holdings.
Paul Haswell, a partner at international law firm Pinsent Masons, said the growing adoption of both Alipay and WeChat Pay “will make it easier in future to open up these services to non-mainland users”.
“This is crucial to Alipay and WeChat’s plans for international acceptance,” said Haswell.