China’s Alipay and WeChat are making inroads into the U.S. as tourist promotion organizations tout new initiatives to welcome Chinese visitors. Six million Chinese tourists are expected to visit the U.S. by the year 2020, making Chinese tourism the fastest-growing segment to North America, per a statement.
Stony Brook, New York, a small town on the North Shore of Long Island, next month will start accepting payments from Alibaba’s Alipay payment app and Tencent’s WeChat social media app. Stony Brook, which is 60 miles from Manhattan, said most of the businesses in the town partnered with cross-border mobile payment company Citcon to accept Alipay and WeChat.
Destination DC, the official marketing organization for Washington, DC, expanded its partnership with WeChat by launching the first City Experience Mini Program in the U.S. to support Chinese travelers when they arrive in the city. The program lets WeChat users browse an interactive guide to the U.S. capital and find attractions that have audio tours in Mandarin, per a statement.
The U.S. tourism industry recognizes the need to appeal to Chinese visitors as the country’s growing middle class shows its increased spending power abroad. These consumers are also mobile-savvy, so they are likely to embrace the ability to pay via mobile and finding traveling tips on their phones. Mobile is an increasingly important part of the travel experience for smartphone owners around the world.
While U.S. social media platforms are banned from China, Chinese companies like Alibaba, Tencent and Sina have comparably unfettered access to the U.S., which means their vast user base is open to receive more information about where to visit and shop while in the U.S.
While the Trump administration’s contested travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries has had a chilling effect on tourism to the U.S., the trends for Chinese visitors remain strong. In fact, Chinese travelers were the only group that claimed the political climate in the U.S. under Trump made them more likely to visit than before, according to a study by tourism marketing firm Brand USA. Even though Trump blamed China for stealing American jobs as part of his presidential campaign, Chinese visitors said he will be an effective leader or make the country safer for visitors by addressing crime and terrorism threats.
The number of Chinese tourists to the U.S. rose 15% to 2.97 million last year from 2015, while their spending grew 9% to $33 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That makes Chinese tourism a major bright spot for the U.S., which saw a 2% decline in overall visits in 2016.