International cultural attractions striving to become ‘China-ready’ and welcome the world’s biggest, and most lucrative, travel market would do well to emulate Merlin Entertainments. Despite its behemoth status in the global entertainment industry with a sundry portfolio that includes the London Eye, Madame Tussauds, and Sea Life, the U.K.-based company continues to move with speed and precision when it comes to China.
Most obvious is Merlin’s continuing rollout of attractions in mainland China— they currently operate 11 theme parks and other attractions — which range from a LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Beijing to the inaugural Peppa Pig World of Play in Shanghai . These not only serve as important sources of revenue for a company listed on the London Stock Exchange, but create a brand awareness that can be harnessed when these customers travel abroad.
Merlin’s franchise expansions from Chengdu to Hong Kong may be headline grabbing, but collaborative efforts with Chinese technology companies are equally indicative of its successes within the market. In 2018, the company announced a partnership with Alipay which brought the Chinese mobile payment system to its London attractions. Its most recent move has been the launch of WeChat Mini Programs for SEALIFE Bangkok, Sydney Tower Eye, and LEGOLAND Japan.
Mini Programs function like lightweight apps within the WeChat ecosystem and offer users a seamless and speedy way of engaging with an account without the inconvenience of downloading a separate app. For Merlin Entertainments’ selected locations, the Mini Programs provide detailed information about the venue, allow visitors to buy tickets and play games as they line up for attractions. The hope is to provide ‘Chinese tourists a more interactive, immersive, and quality entertainment experience,’ according to a joint statement.
For museums and cultural institutions already present on China’s largest social media platform, creating a Mini Program is the next step to remove the language barrier and enhance payment convenience for Chinese visitors.
Merlin understands the centrality of a creating thorough digital strategy for attractions seeking to facilitate Chinese visitation. As its Global Trade Strategy Director Dominique Sidley noted in an interview last year, “we can’t approach this sophisticated market in a naïve way. It’s such an exciting market because of its digital focus.”