Cruising into the digital future in Asian waters with WeChat

Costa Asia was the first to introduce WeChat mini programs onboard a cruise ship in the cruising industry. Since the launch of our first Costa WeChat mini program 4 months ago, we have given birth to 3 different WeChat mini programs all aim to enhance our customers and guests experience to purchase cruise tickets, reserve services and products onboard, and inform our guests of onboard activities and events.

Costa Cruises was invited to attend the conference held in GuangZhou by WeChat Business College of Tencent on December 18th, 2017. The conference was held aiming to bring Travel and Tourism industries and service partners together to share best practice of application of WeChat Mini Program.

A bit of background of WeChat Mini Program

WeChat Mini Program

Tencent released WeChat Mini Program at the end of 2016 and started opening up to 3rd party developers soon after its initial release. WeChat (or else known as WeiXin to most Chinese) is a WhatsApp like mobile communication app that is becoming a monster app in China.

Access Inside WeChat to Mini Programs

WeChat Mini Program is contained inside WeChat that users can find and use via search and QR code scanning and can start using the features instantly. (Payload of each mini program is restricted to ≤2MB) There is no download / install process as to native app usage. Tencent wants end users to portrait mini programs as tools other than platform-based services which they can use and leave. It is a perfect touch point for business who has offline traffic to convert their these traffic online by providing the target audience with instant value and can later engage them through other digital channels.

Putting communication at the core of WeChat features and use Mini Programs to link offline traffic

Best Practices Recommendation from Tencent for Travel and Tourism Industries

Best Practice Shared by Tencent Product Manager

Tencent shared a good number of insights as of how to use the tools that WeChat mini program and eco-system provides.

Iteratively optimize product performance according to user feedback

China Southern Airline launched their mini program from a very simple use case: scaning boarding pass to learn more about your flight. For the 3 major phases of their product lifecycle:

  • Phase 1: Basic function of querying flight status update by scanning boarding pass
  • Phase 2: Detailed flight information and server process
  • Phase 3: Electronic invoicing, flight service feedback form, subscribe flight status, share flight status to chat using mini program card.

They put 4 of their engineers full time on their mini program and pushed out 26 versions and 106 iterations within 6 months since the launch. With limited amount of investment, they succeeded in engaging 3.5 million of their customers via WeChat.

Utilization of offline traffic to raise ROI

On the spot sharing (Disneyland) — Mobile Number Auth (HuaZhu Hotel Group) — Templated Message (China Southern Airline) — Online Payment (Ctrip)
  • On the spot sharing —Disneyland in Shanghai launched this mini program to help visitors generate customized photos with the theme park as the background and enabled instant sharing to friends on the spot.
  • Mobile number auth — HuaZhu hotel group utilized mobile number authorization to enable self-check in at the hotel counter. It reduces checkin time from 2.5 minute / person to 1 minute / person.
  • Templated service messages — China Southern Airline notices its passengers of realtime flight status changes via card style push messages.
  • WeChat payment — Ctrip integrates WeChat pay in their bus ticket selling mini program to enable instant on the spot bus ticket purchase.

Aggregates traffic from various fragmented and low utilization touch points.

Group Chat Sharing (Ctrip) — Push Message via OA (McDonald) — Social Coupon (China Southern Airline)
  • Group Chat Sharing — Sharing the Mini Program card inside a group chat is currently the largest source of traffic to mini programs.
  • Push Message via OA — Push messages sent via an official account using mini program message template has the click through rate that is 5 times higher than a traditional WeChat official account message.
  • Social coupon — similar to a group discount, where each new share of the coupon can help the sender get a coupon, can bring back 1 new visitor for each share.

WeChat Mini Program & Costa Cruises

Costa was the first to bring cruise ship into China with Atlantica back in 2006. With the highest penetration rate on mobile phones among Chinese guests, WeChat naturally becomes the most important digital product platform when we are hosting our guests in China. WeChat mini program offers us with a perfect entry point to engage our guest throughout the user journey from pre-cruise, embarkation, onboard, shore excursion all the way to disembarkation and eventually to our loyalty program. In addition to this, integrating WeChat into our overall digital strategy is inline with our brand digital experience principles, which are

  • Personal — Relevant for each customer, leveraging not only user demographic but also big data profiling through WeChat, we can be aware of and respond to individual needs through contextual interactions with our guests during the experience.
  • Engaging — Bring customers “Onboard” with mini programs early on, even from the point where they make ticket purchase and keep them engaged with content and services delivered through WeChat and on our ships.
  • Frictionless — Remove barriers, mini programs eliminates app download which is crucial for our onboard experience, the digital touchpoints are inserted into the existing cruising experience while keeping it simple and smooth.

WeChat mini program is for sure a very important piece of our digital assets, however on the other side it is only one piece of the puzzle when to comes to our digital strategy, either external consumer facing or internal business facing.

Costa Digital Unit is hiring in Shanghai!

Costa Digital Unit is building a team in Shanghai to support growing digital needs in local China and Asia market. Don’t think of us as the largest group in the cruising industry, think of us as a startup. We are iterating our products with lean and agile methodologies, in rapid build, test, learn cycle. We are facing an fast changing digital landscape in China together with a very high user expectation of digital products.

We are looking for talents that can bring in local consumer insights to help shape the future of cruising experience. If you are working as tech lead, design lead, data scientist, or creative content, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We are hiring a data scientist position in our Shanghai office. If you are a data scientist / analyst looking for new challenges, we should talk! Drop me an email at

There is going to a lot of fun building stuff here!