Alipay, Paytm and now WhatsApp? How travel firms can keep up with burgeoning consumer payments

By Anthony Hynes, Managing Director and CEO, eNett International.


Thanks to the fintech revolution, today’s consumers have more choice than ever in how they pay. This is especially true in Asia.

In India, for example, there are already around 60 non-banking providers offering digital payment services, including Paytm, MobiKwik and Amazon Pay, which have grown in popularity since the country’s announcement of demonetisation in 2016. WhatsApp has broadened the choice for consumers even more by announcing it will launch a new payment service in the country later this month. While in China, Alipay, WeChat Pay and JDPay are just some of the payment services vying for dominance.

With India and China’s outbound tourism increasing and travellers going further afield, both markets present huge revenue opportunities for travel companies. But how many travel businesses outside of these countries actually accept these forms of payment?

Keeping up with consumer payments

The undeniable truth is that payment options are increasing faster than the travel industry can keep up with them. Should businesses be concerned? When it comes to unlocking global revenue, yes, they should be. The broader the choice of payments on offer to consumers, the better the customer experience and the more likely they are to convert. Especially when it’s their tried and trusted payment method.

However, it’s complex enough for travel firms to accept the myriad of global payment options within their own systems, so how can they be expected to convince their suppliers that it’s worth the investment to do the same? In a world where many hotels still use cheque and fax, it seems like an impossible task. But the answer is not convincing their suppliers to change the way they accept payments. Instead, travel companies should change the way they pay them.

For example, Virtual cards or Virtual Account Numbers (VANs) – a 16-digit Mastercard number – can be generated for each transaction and processed like a normal card payment. Since they’re unique and integrate with existing booking and property management systems, they are an easy and safe way to make payments. They also benefit travel suppliers, as they reduce the risk of fraudulent card transactions. A win-win for all.

Payment innovation becomes a key differentiator

Innovation in payments will soon become a key differentiator amongst travel companies. Especially since online behemoths continually raise the stakes. One example is Airbnb’s launch of its Pay Less Up Front feature, which allows guests to pay for bookings in two instalments, making the buying and payment more accessible.

Consumers’ expectations will continue to grow and those travel businesses that can offer them a flexible, fast and easy payments experience, while having B2B payment processes in place to support it, are sure to gain market share. They should therefore be making it a priority to expand their payment options in the front-end to drive conversion and enhance customer experience.

And by having a universally accepted payment method such as VANs in the back-end, matching the payment demands of an international customer base is easier than ever. There really is no excuse to miss out on global revenue opportunities.

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