It is difficult to gauge just how significant the impact will be, as there is a putative way out of the situation, but for the moment, it appears possible that WeChat, the omnipresent and omni-functional app used by more than a billion Chinese and millions more in countries throughout the world, might be unavailable in the U.S. beginning in mid-September to those travel and tourism companies that rely on it for its marketing, promotional and sales programs.
There are still details to come, but the basic “who-what-when-where-and-why” of the situation is this: U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this month signed an executive order that would ban the use of the app in the U.S. The ostensible reasons are/were that WeChat (Trump also issued a nearly identical executive order for TikTok,) censors some content on the app and that it has the capability to manipulate content in ways that could influence U.S. elections. The Trump Administration’s way out of the situation would be for a U.S. company to buy the app from its current owner, Tencent. This hardly seems likely, as Tencent, headquartered in Shenzhen, is a corporate conglomerate behemoth that is one of the world’s largest venture capital firms and investment corporations with nearly $1 trillion in assets and stakes in some 600 entities. Should there be an attempt to acquire WeChat, it is clear that Tencent would dictate the terms of such a transaction.
Impact on Tourism Industry: George Cao, co-founder and CEO, Dragon Trail Interactive, a global digital marketing firm that specializes in helping travel suppliers and national, regional and city DMOs and destinations promote and sell their tourism products, provided INBOUND this brief statement explaining the role that WeChat serves in promoting tourism from China, which is the world’s largest source market for overseas tourism:
“Overseas tourism brands, including DMOS, airlines, hotels, and museums, all use WeChat to provide useful information and marketing content, to attract Chinese travelers, help them plan their trips, and improve their experience once they’ve arrived. WeChat is also an irreplaceable platform for Chinese to communicate with friends and family while abroad, and to share their travel experiences. On the B2B side, it’s an essential communication tool for anyone doing business with the Chinese travel industry. To lose it would have profound consequences for any business or brand to be able to welcome and communicate with the largest outbound tourism market in the world.”
We received another take from Sally Davis Berry, who was instrumental in greatly increased Chinese visitation to the Corning Museum of Glass during her tenure at the attraction. Berry, who keeps busy as a tourism industry consultant and who has conducted numerous programs aimed at helping U.S. travel suppliers to better understand and use the WeChat application, told us: “Politics aside (if that is possible in 2020) the limitations of WeChat in the U.S. will make it even more difficult to capture that market post Pandemic. Many of us were using WeChat daily to stay in touch, build relationships and make the language barrier much easier to overcome.”
She added, “Tourism professionals with little to no marketing budgets could promote their business with key operators and influencers. Seeing how it made daily life easier in China gave me a glimpse into the future of mobile payments and online bookings. I will personally miss being able to stay in touch with friends if we lose the ability to use this ‘Superapp’.”
Where to Go from Here: The path ahead on this matter is not clear. There aren’t many other paths to a solution, because there is another important reality that makes WeChat both popular and unique in the USA: It provides tourism businesses in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world with a channel of contact and interaction unavailable to users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other popular channels because these sites are banned in China.
In sum: How this plays out is still TBD … unless it’s already been determined and we don’t know about it.