WeChat Mini-Programs, All Fluff or Valuable?
Updated: May 27, 2019
Last month, Destination DC, Tourism Australia, Visit Britain and Dubai Tourism released WeChat mini-programs, aiming to enhance travel experiences for WeChat users. The mini-programs serve as an interactive guide featuring maps, top attractions, restaurants, shopping, and even suggest one to five day itineraries. In later stages of development, the mini-programs will enable travelers to book and pay for these experiences without leaving WeChat (JingDaily).
Mini-programs are WeChat’s first entrance into the travel service industry. This could be the first step in a bigger play for WeChat to directly compete with established travel platforms. Their functionality is similar to a mobile app and is hosted on and accessed through WeChat. Serving as complementary features to WeChat service and subscription accounts, mini-programs do have a number of advantages over apps:
Accessibility: users can access mini-programs by scanning a QR code, searching for their service name on WeChat, or by clicking on a link shared by friends. Once opened, mini-programs will be automatically saved to the users WeChat account.
Fast load times and take up less space on the phone.
Offer multiple functions: selling products, bookings, checking in and other travel related services.
Although this seems like an easily adoptable program, it has been slow to catch on with WeChat users. There are four major reasons why users would not use mini-programs for their travels:
Only useful once the traveler is in-market: While the interactive map feature is great, it is not useful to travelers throughout the planning process. Therefore travelers are not adopting the program or engaging with it before they travel. Long-haul travelers pre-plan their itineraries before they leave, so many are not looking for an interactive map while on their trip. However, if tourists want to use the mini-programs while abroad, they need internet access or an extensive amount of data.
Early lifecycle stage: The market is saturated, there are already many websites as well as apps that help travelers with planning and booking, e.g Mafengwo, Qiongyou, etc. Most people are satisfied with the services and do not see the need to change. Although WeChat is a heavily used platform, the mini-programs are on the early side of the introduction stage, meaning travelers are not aware of the programs and that programs are not yet filling a customer-needs gap. Destinations utilizing mini-programs will need to invest a significant amount of time and money, to entice travelers to engage with them in a different way. There will be a long adoption period, however, there is potential in the future as consumers look to minimize the number of apps on their phone and streamline the travel planning process.
Saturated market and tough competition: There is a vast number of established competitors in the market to name a few, Ctrip, Mafengwo, Qiongyou, Fliggy, Baidu travel app and many more. These players have an established user base, great content, covering broad topics and are more user-friendly. For WeChat Mini-programs to take off in the market they have to find a way to truly offer something different in order to change users behavior.
Lack of user-generated content: UGC is a key aspect in a Chinese traveler’s decision making and planning process. They rely on other travelers’ experiences and suggestions to make a more informed travel decision. Chinese travelers find recommended places or travel plans with reviews more reliable, and mini-programs only have short tourism site introductions with a lack of UGC.
A realistic question with mini-programs is: Do travelers want 20 mini-programs from different cities on WeChat or one Qiongyou app with everything they need?
It is still very early days to tell the future of WeChat mini-programs, but there are major shortcomings that could stand in the way of its success. We look forward to watching how mini-programs evolve and adapt to the ever-changing tastes and demands of FITs and how WeChat’s position in the travel industry takes shape.
Mailman X is China’s leading performance led destination marketing agency.