How WeChat mini-programs can be used to boost the hospitality industry inside and outside of China

September 5, 2018

The Chinese social media space moves at a hectic pace, and after a slow start in 2017, WeChat mini-programs are on the rise and offer immense value for companies in the hospitality industry.

In the first half of 2018, mini-programs racked up 280 million daily users, including an average of four daily visits along with 10 minutes average usage time according to the mini-program analytics company aldzx.

But what does this mean for your business and what exactly are mini-programs…?

Quick recap: What are mini-programs and what are the benefits

WeChat mini-programs are essentially sub-applications that exist within WeChat’s primary interface. They provide advanced features such as ecommerce, task management, coupons, search, and booking services.

Previously, it was not possible to put hyperlinks into WeChat articles of Subscription accounts. WeChat was clearly trying to keep user activity contained inside the APP, but it obviously had its downsides. Mini-programs have created a way to solve this disjointed user experience that limited user conversion. Because brands can now link from WeChat articles directly to mini-program product or booking pages. So the mini-program effectively provides a new conversion channel. Hence conversion rates from Subscription accounts can now also be optimized and even tracked.

More benefits and something to keep in mind

As WeChat mini-programs are built into WeChat, it means they’re extremely quick to load and they integrate seamlessly with WeChat Pay. This makes them a perfect tool for offering e-commerce and omnipresent services. By “omnipresent”, we mean exchanges between the offline and online world such as scanning a QR code at a restaurant to order food or checking in to a hotel room from your phone.

Another benefit of WeChat mini-programs is that they can be easily shared online and offline through QR codes (which are favored in China over URL links). Online sharing is also made precise so that a specific page selected by the sender is sent directly to the recipient without reverting back to the landing page. The latter is often the case with HTML5 pages.

One thing to keep in mind is that sending push notifications to users from a mini-program is very limited. All such notifications are grouped in the so-called “service notifications” folder. This fits in with the intended purpose of mini-programs to assist users when needed and remain unobtrusive the rest of the time. But it does make them less ideal for sales-focused activities.

Integrating mini-programs into the hospitality industry

The hospitality industry in China is booming with increasing demand from the growing middle class, but this comes with the necessary problems. Obstacles such as hotel and venue saturation (especially in first and second tier cities), rising demands from consumers regarding quality and convenience, and rising training costs due to high turnover in staff.

For businesses operating in the hospitality industry technology is an important enabler to overcome these challenges. By digitalizing segments of their service offering, they’re able to offer a better and more convenient service to guests alongside lower overheads. In turn, this helps hotels to stay competitive as they keep guests satisfied and returning for repeat business.

One of the hottest new platforms to digitalize the experience for guests in China is WeChat mini-programs. Using this platform businesses can offer a range of useful options suitable for the hospitality industry. Features include venue selection, pricing/rates-check page, image libraries, payment options, maps, search nearby venues, loyalty program registration, bookings, games, and much more.

MacDonald’s mini-program packs a number of these features. This includes ordering dishes, coupons, food delivery service, menu and a loyalty program. They even run a campaign for kids, which links to another mini-program related to that campaign.

The MacDonald mini-program

Key benefits for brands

With their advanced features and a slick interface, mini-programs enable businesses to focus on optimizing the user experience and tracking the behavior and needs of their guests. Through the mini-program analytics dashboard, companies can view their page rank list and which pages attract the most traffic, the source of traffic, QR code performance, and other important metrics.

Next, mini-programs are an excellent resource to target a specific segment in the user journey, such as guest bookings or after check-in services. The Hilton mini-program, for example, helps hotel guests to discover nearby eating and leisure activities as well as route navigation to save guests from getting lost.

The Hilton mini-program

Other companies focus on the start of their customer journey when using mini-programs as a marketing channel. Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, for example, use their mini-program as a digital brochure for their national park in Canada. The mini-program includes information about nearby entertainment activities, local dining options, car hire, and other content relevant to Chinese tourists.

Banff and Lake Louise Tourism mini-program

For foreign operators such as Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, hosting a mini-program helps the business to understand Chinese guests through dashboard analytics and enables them to offer a fast-loading digital asset in China. After all, hosting a website in China isn’t possible for businesses that aren’t registered in the Mainland due to ICP (Internet Content Provider) regulations. While establishing a mini-program isn’t a substitute for a traditional website, it does offer a viable channel and an additional spoke as part of a multi-channel strategy.

Getting started

Even though setting up a WeChat mini-program takes up a fraction of the resources and time needed for developing a fully-fledged native app (outside the WeChat ecosystem), the process is more involved than simply setting up a WeChat Official account from a design and development standpoint. It’s therefore vital that you do your research and select the right features to generate a higher conversion rate and ensure a slick user experience.



For most foreign brands, this is one part of the Chinese digital marketing line-up you should resist attempting on your own. Experience is key to launching an effective mini-program, and at AgencyChina we can help lead you through this complex and exciting path to development.


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