For any supplier, unlocking the massive potential of the Chinese market requires serving travelers there on their own terms—especially when it comes to payments, with ubiquitous mobile payment services like Alipay, WeChat Pay and China UnionPay occupying central roles in Chinese consumers’ personal and corporate payment lives. This year, UATP president and CEO Ralph Kaiser led the airline-owned payment network in making a major stride toward enabling air carriers to accept payment via those all-important channels, which collectively are used by more than 1 billion consumers.
In May, UATP signed a deal with Citcon, which specializes in providing acquiring and processing services for North American and European acceptance of Chinese mobile payment services. Under the alliance, Alipay, WeChat Pay and China UnionPay transactions—along with those of other payment providers—will run over the UATP network, so customers will see those mobile payment brands on any airline’s merchant website and mobile app.
“The end customer will not notice the difference on the front end; they just see the payment brands they want to use, and UATP makes it easier for merchants to offer these brands to their customers,” said Kaiser.
UATP, which entered the China market in 2007, made another major move in the Chinese payment sector in August, signing Air China, the country’s flag carrier, to issue UATP payment cards.
Progress on both initiatives has been steady in the months since, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continuing to sow uncertainty in the global travel ecosystem, according to Kaiser, who was quick to credit the projects as team efforts conducted in concert with UATP’s Asia and China market leadership. “Air China launched in August and has had very impressive growth in its first three months, with volume numbers far exceeding expectations,” said Kaiser. He went on to note an “impressive recovery” in the China market at large, where overall payments volume on the UATP network was “running at about 80 percent of 2019’s numbers” as of late November.
Meanwhile, UATP is in the process of recruiting air carriers to accept mobile payments via Citcon connectivity, while also continuing to expand its traditional payment presence in the market—where it counts several other Chinese airlines as issuer partners—in order to be well-positioned for what Kaiser anticipates will be a strong bounce-back in travel payments activity.
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