By Stefano Bettinelli, Head of Innovation, MultiPay Group
As restrictions surrounding international travel to the UK begin to ease, and with London consistently ranked as one of the most visited cities in the world and a gateway for tourists into the country, over 21 million visitors from overseas are expected to visit by the end of this year. Until now, many businesses typically catering to these visitors have had to endure using overly complex payment systems. As the world begins to return to higher levels of international travel, there is a huge opportunity to tap back into the large and growing tourism sector.
However, it’s undoubtedly true that the world looks and operates in remarkably different ways now compared to how it did before the pandemic. Where tourism is concerned, changes not only include pre-flight COVID-19 testing and the mandatory wearing of facemasks on planes and in airports, but also expectations from tourists in how they’d like to pay and the experience of doing so. For instance, after 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions, ecommerce has jumped in popularity worldwide. In fact, global parcel volumes reached 131.2 billion in 2020, equating to 4160 parcels shipped per second. By 2026, this could rise to as much as 303 billion. All of which means customer expectations have dramatically shifted whether at home or abroad to be closer to what they are used to when shopping online.
At the same time, people have become accustomed to the ease of seamless online payment experiences and the ability to pay quickly and effortlessly with whatever their preferred method is. Now, when they travel internationally, this expectation will continue – and this is where UK retailers and businesses wanting to capture an extra slice of revenue must make their play.
Accommodating the world
The number of tourists visiting the UK from China increased nearly 5-fold between 2010 and 2019, rising from 186,000 to 883,000with a spending power of over £1.7 billion. There’s no doubt, the country is an important and growing source of tourist revenue. Yet most UK retailers are likely not set-up to make the acceptance and processing of payments from Chinese visitors an easy experience for both parties.
Domestically, AliPay and WeChat Pay are standard platforms for everyday payments in China. Combined they are forecast to have a userbase of nearly 2.5 billion worldwide by 2025. However, unlike card payment system, these two alternative payment methods rely on the QR code freeware technology providing an easy-to-use and cheap way to pay. In China they are the most important payment tools, and although many Western countries are now beginning to integrate the acceptance of them in their payment ecosystems more work is needed.
If UK retailers are to tap into the growth potential offered by tourism, then the payment experiences they offer need to be updated to meet international customers with the experiences they’re familiar with. As borders reopen, working with a partner to integrate one of the favourite ways for Chinese consumers to pay should be a priority. If not, retailers could be missing out on vital sales and income.
Making the most of multiple currencies
There are other considerations to be made as well. When planning how best to accommodate growing numbers of international travellers, businesses must realise that although they might operate in one market this doesn’t mean they need to restrict themselves to transactions in domestic currencies only.
This is especially true for tour operators, such as cruise lines, that may start a journey in the UK and include multiple international destinations on a single voyage. However, accepting payments in multiple currencies and countries can make the payment process extremely complex. Travel businesses and retailers need seamless payment systems that simplify the payment process and provide a consistent customer experience regardless of location or currency.
Working with a partner that can simplify the payment system and remove the middleman means operators such as cruise lines can ensure they continue to deliver the first-class, consistent experience customers expect.
Furthermore, with alternative payments such as cryptocurrencies entering the scene and attracting increasing interest from consumers worldwide, now is also a good opportunity to start exploring ways to embrace customers wanting to make use of such types of digital payments.
Research by Visa indicates that 55% of global consumers have strong interest in crypto-linked cards that link to digital currency balances and allow them to pay through such methods. For tourists wishing to use these methods to pay for services either whilst in the UK, before or after a trip, the sending of money between territories is far from a borderless experience. However, cryptocurrencies based on blockchain technology can easily connect sellers with consumers, enabling faster transactions between parties, more efficiently and often with minimal transaction fees.
With the world now beginning to unlock international travel having the right payment system in place will ensure businesses and retailers are ready to capitalise on this surge in spending. By re-evaluating payment processes, businesses and retailers who want to make the most of the incoming boom in tourist spending will have a solid foundation on which to build a superior and welcoming customer experience.