ITB 2019 Special Reporting
Mini Programs and AI: Simplifying outbound travel
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS
Friday, 23rd August 2019

With each year passing, the percentage of Chinese outbound travellers able to communicate in English is increasing, shifting the language problem in many countries rather to the side of the locals who might only be able to speak their local language, like German, French or Russian.

However, IT and AI are also helping to mitigate the language barriers for Chinese abroad: The famous Youdao audio translation egg started as a handheld device which supported twelve languages and could be operated by talking into it in, say, Chinese and having the machine translating into spoken Portuguese.

It was named “egg” because it was supposed to be equivalent to the weight of just an egg. Nowadays Youdao Translate is an app that quickly translates between more than 100 different languages with three different translation methods. Simply writing the text, speaking it directly into the smartphone’s microphone and hearing the translation or taking a photo of the text and then seeing its translation in writing.

Many of these machinese are now cloud-connected, so they actually become smarter over time and adapt to the specific topics often used by the user.

Another major development adding to the Chinese tourist’s toolkit have been WeChat mini-programmes helping with orientation, finding shops and restaurant and other services for the individual traveller abroad.

Recently Alipay introduced the “Overseas Taxi” (境外打车) mini-program in its app, which allows payments in RMB for services provided by Lyft, Gett, Taxify, and Grab in many countries including the United States, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

Chinese travellers don’t have to struggle with language barriers to get around, because the app will display maps in Chinese and send messages to drivers in Chinese which are automatically translated. Alipay plans to roll out Overseas Taxi in over 100 cities in 20 countries before the end of 2019. According to a survey the company did, more than a third of Chinese travellers reported severe language problems when communicating with drivers as well as admitting anxiety about being cheated.

Tencent is also bringing more Mini Program overseas, especially to Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea and Australia, where Mini Programs are widely accepted.

Launched only in 2017, Mini Programs are built into Tencent’s WeChat, which boasts over one billion users as of now. With Mini Programs, users can enjoy many different services incorporated in the WeChat system, without the hassle of downloading each and every app separately.

Time to get a deeper understanding of all these new developments, if you want to keep all the millennials coming out of China happy and buying from you.

Prof. Dr. Arlt and the COTRI Weekly team / www.china-outbound.com

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