China’s biggest chat app WeChat is set to make its payments service more ubiquitous in Japan, a popular outbound destination for Chinese tourists.
On Tuesday, the Tencent-run messenger unveiled a partnership with Japan’s Line chat app on mobile payments. The tie-up allows Japanese brick-and-mortar merchants with a Line Pay terminal to process WeChat Pay transactions directly. Instead of going through the hassle of currency swaps, a Chinese customer can simply summon the WeChat app and pay by scanning a QR code the retailer presents.
The fresh alliance is hot on the heels of a similar gesture from Tencent’s most serious rival, Alibaba. In September, the Chinese e-commerce giant’s payments affiliate Alipay teamed up with Yahoo Japan in an effort to grab Chinese outbound travelers.
Tencent did not provide information on the number of potential Japanese retailers reached through the scheme when inquired by TechCrunch. But the firm says its setup with Line Pay allows small and medium-sized businesses to adopt mobile payments at relatively low costs because it doesn’t require merchants to purchase QR code scanners.
Both WeChat Pay and Alipay have already been going it alone in Japan over the past few years. WeChat Pay, for instance, claims that it scored a six-fold increase in the number of transactions in Japan between June 2017 and 2018.
On the other hand, having an ally with an extensive local reach can help Alibaba and Tencent capitalize on a wave of increasingly sophisticated Chinese tourists.
The partnership with Line “significantly boosts WeChat Pay’s penetration among small and medium-sized retailers and its application in more daily scenarios, rather than serving Chinese people only at traditional tourism hotspots,” says a Tencent spokesperson. “This strategy is in line with an upgraded demand from Chinese people to travel like locals.”
Japan’s appeal to Chinese people is on the rise. During China’s week-long “Golden Week” national holiday in October, Japan leapfrogged Thailand for the first time to become the most popular destination for Chinese tourists, according to a report from Chinese online travel agency Ctrip. In 2017, the Japan National Tourism Organization recorded a total of 7.36 million Chinese tourists, who made up more than a quarter of all visitors to Japan that year.