Overseas Chinese tourists boost consumer spending in Year of the Dragon as Alipay transactions increase 7 per cent from 2019

The Year of the Dragon may have signalled the return of the overseas Chinese tourist, with preliminary data from popular payment service Alipay showing an increase in transactions this year compared with 2019, the last time international borders were open before the onset of the pandemic.

Alipay operator Ant Group, the fintech business affiliated with Alibaba Group Holding, said in a statement that transactions made overseas by Alipay users from February 9-12 were 7 per cent higher than for the same holiday period in 2019, with a 45 per cent increase in Hong Kong, a clear sign of recovery for the outbound tourism sector.

Meanwhile, the value of Chinese consumer spending overseas recovered to 82 per cent of the 2019 level, according to Ant. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, France, Australia and Canada were the top destinations for Chinese tourists, based on Alipay spending. In Hong Kong, 90 per cent of merchants in the city now accept the payment app.

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Alipay’s use as an international payment app has been facilitated by the Alipay+ campaign, in which 8 million merchants in over 70 countries signed up, while new policies in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia that provide visa-free travel for Chinese passport holders also helped promote cross-border spending.

The payment data from Ant is expected to be followed by other data that will paint a picture of solid recovery in Chinese overseas tourism. Shares of Trip.com Group, China’s primary online travel agency, gained 2.5 per cent on Friday on expectations of a rebound in travel during the mainland Lunar New Year holiday period, which officially ends on February 17.

Separately, China’s food delivery and online booking giant Meituan said the daily spending on dining and entertainment by Chinese consumers during the holiday season increased 36 per cent from a year ago, offering hope that consumer spending has started to recover.

The Alipay logo is seen displayed on a smartphone in this arranged illustration. Photo: Shutterstock Images

In another sign of robust consumer spending, China’s box office revenue during the holiday period exceeded 7 billion yuan (US$979 million) as of Friday, according to the box office tracker Dengta Data.

The Alipay data also revealed new trends among overseas Chinese tourists.

“Chinese globe-trotters are expanding [their] interests from traditional activities like shopping and tourism spot-hopping, to more immersive and unique local experiences,” Ant said.

For instance, the group spent 70 per cent more on food and beverage consumption this year compared with 2019, while money spent on intra city transport saw rapid growth thanks to the passion for “local travel”, Alipay said.

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