Virtual riches

In 2017, Chinese travellers made more than 130 million outbound trips and spent an estimated US$115 billion while on them, according to a report released by the China Tourism Academy and Ctrip, Asia’s largest online travel agent – facts that have not been lost on tourism industries anywhere. 

Even as popular destinations are struggling to cope with an increasing influx of visitors, others are clamouring to cash in on the purchasing power of China’s big spenders, implementing mobile payment technologies such as WeChat Pay and Alipay, which have become ubiquitous in the mainland’s increasingly cashless society. 

After conquering China, Alipay and WeChat Pay push payment services to taxis outside the mainland

According to a white paper issued recently by data research firm Nielsen and Alipay, more than 90 per cent of Chinese tourists sampled said they would use mobile payment overseas if given the opportunity. Companies in countries across the globe are falling over themselves to acquiesce. 

From taxis in Australia and pharmacies in Germany (where milk powder is a hot ticket) to vendors in London’s Camden Market and Las Vegas casinos, Alipay and WeChat Pay points can now be found in many of the places frequented by Chinese tourists. 

WeChat, Alipay offer overseas tax refund services to tourists, meaning no more airport queues

But what about those people who want to use WeChat Pay but don’t have a Chinese bank account or credit card? Earlier this year, WeChat Pay made it possible to link international credit cards to an account – as long as the app was downloaded in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan – and the technologies are already wildly popular with expats living in China. 

Alipay is a unit of Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post.

As Alipay and WeChat Pay continue to expand beyond the country’s borders, so too does the influence of the Chinese traveller. After all, who can be blamed for not wanting to return home with pocketfuls of small change in foreign currencies? 


Bali working to spruce up ahead of IMF meeting

Bali has had a bit of a tough run of late. First its highest volcanic peak, Mount Agung, spent the later months of 2017 threatening to erupt, then the monsoon season brought with it hundreds of tons of rubbish – neither of which proved too popular with tourists. 

However, that did not stop the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group from selecting the Indonesian island as the location for its annual meeting, which will be held in Nusa Dua from October 12 to 14. And in anticipation of welcoming up to 20,000 of the world’s financial figureheads, academics and media representatives, Bali province is working hard to make the island more attractive. 

In particular, two of Bali’s most visited sites, or rather the facilities surrounding them, have been booked for a facelift. The tourism office near the Tanah Lot and Ulun Danu Beratan temples has been asked to clean up around both sites, website Coconuts Bali reported on April 13. 

“Cleanliness, the toilets and the parking area are of serious concern,” I Wayan Budi Artana, head of the promotional division of Tabanan regency’s tourism office, told Indonesian news portal BeritaSatu. 

The good, bad and ugly sides to Bali

Elsewhere, essential infrastructure projects are being rushed to completion, and a sculpture of Garuda Wisnu Kencana that has been more than 25 years and millions of dollars in the making looks like it might finally fulfil its destiny as one of the world’s largest statues. 

Conceived by Balinese sculptor Nyoman Nuarta, the 120-metre-high structure will show the Hindu god Vishnu riding on mythical bird Garuda, and has been designed to pay homage to the island’s unique culture. Slated for completion in August, according to The Jakarta Post, it is said to become Indonesia’s answer to the Statue of Liberty, which it will tower over by 27 metres.


Singapore beats Hong Kong – and the rest of the world – in passport ranking

The Passport Index provides a real-time ranking of all the world’s passports, sorting them according to their visa-free score, or the number of countries that can be visited without a visa or which enjoy visa-on-arrival privileges. The top spot is currently occupied by Singapore, with an impressive visa-free score of 164.

Hong Kong passport places 18th in global power rankings

Other Asian passports of note include those of South Korea (a score of 163), Japan (162), Malaysia (159) and Hong Kong (145), which finds itself in 18th place globally, but fifth in Asia. 

Spare a thought for those at the bottom of the list, which include Syria (32), Pakistan (29), Iraq (28) and Afghanistan (25).