Designed especially for Chinese visitors, the WeChat MyHelsinki mini program is the first city app in the world to combine preferred personal recommendations, mobility planning and purchase options for travellers. The new service has been jointly developed by the Chinese internet service giant Tencent, the City of Helsinki and the Mobility as a Service pioneer MaaS Global.
As of June 25th, Chinese tourists travelling to Helsinki are able to use the WeChat mobile service to review local recommendations about the best restaurants, shopping, events and sights in town, plan how they will get from their hotel to the attraction of their choice, and pay for transportation – all within one mobile service. The digital service has been developed to respond especially to the needs of independent Chinese travellers, focusing on the whole city as an experience.
The MyHelsinki mini program is a scalable solution for more balanced tourism in cities. The “live like a local” features make it easy for the curious Chinese traveller to discover neighbourhoods beyond the most obvious tourist hot spots and offer access to the local service providers off the beaten path. With the shortest flight connections to Asia, Helsinki is a natural hub between China and Europe. The MyHelsinki mini program has been designed with the transfer traveller in mind, encouraging them to stop over and spend time between flights enjoying the offerings of Helsinki.
“By collaborating with Tencent and the world’s leading Mobility as a Service (MaaS) provider Whim, we have been able to develop an innovative user-based service that is the first of its kind in the world. The mobile service will help us ensure that visitors gain easy access to the best locally recommended experiences our city has to offer. It’s like having a personal guide but in a digital format, the experience is the same – in Helsinki you can be sure that everything will go smoothly and that you will enjoy your stay,” says Tia Hallanoro, Director of Brand Communications & Digital Development at Helsinki Marketing.
Mini programs are web-based apps on WeChat that enable purchases within the service. The app does not have to be downloaded separately, as it is included within WeChat, an all-in-one application with over a billion users. Of more than a billion internet users in China, 97.5 percent use a mobile device for browsing, and 35 percent of the 26.5 hours a week spent online are spent on WeChat. Within last year, WeChat mini programs have taken off: they represent 20-30% of total traffic in WeChat. Therefore, the new mini program offers the opportunity to serve Chinese consumers using their preferred digital services throughout their visit. Destination websites are of little importance when Chinese visitors search for information using their favourite mobile apps.
China is changing fast, and during the following 10 years, the country’s outbound tourism is estimated to grow to 400 million overseas trips by Chinese residents, accounting to nearly a quarter of global tourism. This cohort will spend over 453 billion USD overseas over the next 5 years. China’s urban, digitally savvy young generation are an emerging force not only driving market trends, but changing their country and the world.
“The number of Chinese visitors travelling overseas is growing rapidly and travel patterns are in real transition. Among those travellers in-depth traveling has become a trend. With Helsinki miniprogram, a comprehensive and reliable one-stop service, Tencent wants to serve them as well as possible,” states Zhan Shu, General Manager of the Tencent Governmental Affairs and Tourism Center.
In May 2019 Tencent announced its new venture into the travel sector at Tencent Global Digital Ecosystem Summit in Kunming. Yunnan province’s seamless online to offline digital travel experience is the domestic flagship, Helsinki mini program is the international showcase. Already from last July, Chinese visitors have been able to find out more about the Finnish capital through local recommendations included in the mini program. The service is based on the content and user interface of the City of Helsinki’s MyHelsinki.fi website and open API. As of June 2019, Chinese visitors are able to use the mini program to plan how they get about in Helsinki and pay for purchases using WeChat Pay.
Whim’s mobile service enables Chinese visitors to purchase all the travel tickets they need – using a single app. The Whim offering will be launched in two phases: the first phase consists of Helsinki region public transportation system, including local and airport trains, trams, buses and ferries to the nearby islands. The second phase, available later this year, expands the service to include taxis, rental cars and city bikes.
“From the perspective of independent travellers, simply getting about in an unfamiliar city is always one of the key factors that can hamper enjoying the full experience. When all available modes of transport and the most reliable service providers can be reviewed and paid for in your native language using a single app, there is no more need for separate tickets, apps and payment methods,” says Kaj Pyyhtiä, Co-Founder and Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer at MaaS Global.
“Growing trend of independent travelling increases the demand for easy to use local transportation services. For MaaS Global, working together with Helsinki Marketing and Tencent provides an exciting pilot for spreading Mobility as a Service offering to potentially hundreds of cities worldwide”.
Comprehensive service offerings enabled by the City of Helsinki’s open data
Almost a hundred percent of Chinese tourists travelling abroad use WeChat. The MyHelsinki mini program provides Chinese visitors better and easy access to local sights and service providers. The mini program offers Chinese visitors a genuine local experience and more than just the most obvious tourist attractions.
Helsinki is a global pioneer in providing access to public data and utilising it. The mini program developed together with Tencent utilises Helsinki’s open API and data about places, events and public transport and uses this data in its recommendations. Open data enables more in-depth recommendations and tailored services to be offered to Chinese visitors.
“Helsinki aims to be a global trendsetter in the digital revolution, and we strongly believe in collaboration and the possibilities presented by AI and API economy. The importance of genuine local recommendations in city marketing will continue to grow in the future. Our API represents a unique opportunity to share Helsinki’s destination information and recommendations through as many channels as possible for use by airlines and travel agencies, for example,” Tia Hallanoro states.