Uber lures Chinese tourists with expanded Alipay link

By Zhang Ye Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-2 22:13:01

Lack of bilingual service curbs interest

An UBER application in Washington DC Photo: CFP

US ride-hailing service provider Uber Technologies Inc extended its partnership with China's largest online payment tool during the May Day holidays to battle for the rising number of Chinese outbound travelers.

Starting from May Day, which fell on Sunday this year, Chinese Uber users could pay with Alipay while traveling in 69 countries and regions beyond the Chinese mainland, according to a joint press release Uber and Alipay issued on Saturday.

At the beginning of 2016, cooperation between the two began in a pilot program in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan "because of their popularity with [mainland] business and leisure travelers," Uber said in a statement on its website in February.

To woo Chinese tourists, Uber and Alipay launched a week-long promotion, which started from Sunday and runs until May 7, to allow Chinese Uber users to get up to 30 yuan ($4.6) off their first overseas hail.

Despite the offer, the lack of bilingual customer service in Uber's overseas app appears to have dampened interest among some Chinese travelers, including a Shanghai resident surnamed Zhu.

"I have no intention of using Uber to call a private car or taxi in Seoul, because I do not know Korean nor can I understand English as spoken by local people," the young lady, who traveled to South Korea during the May Day holidays, told the Global Times Monday.

Uber couldn't be reached for comment as of press time. But a spokesperson with the company's China unit said in an interview with the Global Times in April that its global operations enable users to push a button and get a ride anywhere - even if they don't speak the local language.

"Thanks to the advanced mapping technology, the user doesn't need to call the driver as they can see where the driver is and the expected arrival time directly from our app," said the spokesperson.

However, analysts said that sooner or later, Uber will also provide Chinese-language service in its overseas businesses, which will pose a great threat to its Chinese rivals such as Didi Chuxing, which are also eyeing Chinese overseas tourists.

Given the fiercely competitive domestic ride-hailing market, companies are all hoping to monetize the growing number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad, Zhang Xu, an industry analyst with Beijing-based market research firm Analysys International, told the Global Times Monday.

Data from the China National Tourism Administration showed that Chinese tourists made 120 million overseas visits in 2015, up 12 percent.

On April 13, Didi took its first step in the overseas market via the launch of a ride-hailing service in the US in partnership with San Francisco-based Lyft Inc, which enables Chinese tourists to call a Lyft car and pay with Alipay.

To sweeten the offer, Didi's overseas version pledges around-the-clock bilingual customer service so that passengers can communicate with drivers.

"Bilingual customer service is an appealing feature that may help Didi temporarily gain an edge over Uber," Liu Dingding, an industry analyst with Beijing-based market consultancy Sootoo, told the Global Times Monday.

But it seems that Uber already realized the importance of bilingual services, said Liu, referring to the company's latest move in Canada.

On April 11, Uber announced on its official Weibo account that it added Chinese-language services to its business in Canada, enabling it to send drivers who can speak Chinese to serve Chinese tourists.

Analysts expressed optimism toward the prospects of Uber in wooing Chinese tourists abroad, thanks mainly to its advanced big data technology and global operations.

"I prefer to call a taxi via Uber rather than Didi while traveling abroad. The former, which has long experience in doing business globally, is more trustworthy," Han Tao, a Beijing-based engineer, told the Global Times Monday.

Uber offers global coverage in more than 400 cities in 69 countries and regions worldwide, according to a statement it sent to the Global Times in late April.

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