What Alibaba’s New “Credit Visa” System Means For Overseas Chinese Travel (and Why Brands Should Care)

July 13, 2015/2/0
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Leveraging the new “credit score” function launched by its online payment company Alipay, last week Chinese e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba announced the beta launch of a new “Credit Visa” service, which could put easy tourist visas within the reach of China’s most high-potential overseas spenders.

Designed for overseas-bound travelers (particularly members of Alibaba’s online travel agency, Alitrip), the service lets Alipay users with “Sesame Credit” (芝麻信用) scores of 700 or higher avoid having to submit proof of assets or other complicated paperwork when applying for visas to Singapore. Luxembourg-bound Chinese travelers are also fast-tracked, given they have a Sesame Credit score of 750 or higher.

According to Xinhua, Alipay “credit scores” are calculated by considering an individual user’s credit history, shopping history and preferences, demographics, social engagement with other Alipay users, and more. (Making these scores more of a “consumer legitimacy” rating than a credit score as such.)

Xinhua also points out that Alipay and Alitrip users with higher credit scores will gain access to a range of perks over time. An Alipay credit score of 700+ indicates stellar credit, with Xinhua noting that the majority of customers have scores in the 500-600 range.

This year, well over 100 million Chinese travelers will venture overseas, with ever more looking to obtain Schengen visas, which allow them to explore the entire Eurozone. Despite the many benefits to obtaining a Schengen visa, the application process remains something of a headache in China, with applicants required to submit a raft of financial and personal documents even when going through a travel agency. When traveling to Luxembourg in particular, Chinese applicants must submit more than 10 items of personal, credit, and financial information, such as bank account info, ID card, proof of payment of air tickets and hotel, and proof of income.

Luxembourg’s new linkup with Alibaba could make this process far easier for travelers with strong Sesame Credit scores. The elite 750-point users can quickly obtain so-called “credit visas” (信用签证) that allow them to travel throughout the EU after landing in Luxembourg. The higher their credit score, the fewer materials Alipay users must submit when applying for their visas, with the most elite users needing to submit little more than proof of income, ID card, and proof of hotel and air ticket purchase. For brands, retailers, hoteliers and more, these fast-tracked travelers are essentially pre-vetted as high-potential spenders. This makes it an imperative to start planning ahead, and figure out ways to connect and engage them in the months and years to come.

Currently being beta-tested by Singapore and Luxembourg, Xinhua notes this week that the “Credit Visa” process is slated to expand to other popular tourist destinations, such as Japan, South Korea, the UK, and Sri Lanka, in the near term.

Alipay’s new program is just the latest in a number of novel attempts to smooth out the visa application process. To date, these efforts have mainly benefited wealthy outbound travelers. This spring, the New Zealand Immigration Service and China UnionPay launched a collaboration that allows UnionPay Platinum and Diamond cardholders to apply for short-term New Zealand travel visas using their bank cards—replacing the need to submit a pile of financial documents.

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