Business

Okinawa monorail system to experiment with ticket gate Alipay payments for Chinese

by Kantaro Komiya

Contributing Writer

An Okinawa monorail firm said Thursday it will experiment with accepting fare payments made by Alipay, a QR code-based platform run by China’s Alibaba Group, at its gates to improve convenience for Chinese tourists.

The test will start at Okinawa Urban Monorail Inc.’s Yui Rail on Friday so passengers can pass through the gates simply by showing their quick response codes on their smartphone displays, eliminating the need to purchase paper tickets.

Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial Japan and four other companies will jointly manage the experiment, which will make Okinawa Urban the first Japanese rail gate system to accept an electric payment system developed overseas.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, Chinese accounted for 25.6 percent of all foreign visitors in 2017.

The monorail, which links Naha Airport with downtown Naha, already has a gate system that can read QR codes, which made the experiment easier to conduct, a spokesman from Orix Corp., which struck an alliance with Alipay in 2016. Orix will handle the Alipay transactions.

TIS Inc., a Tokyo-based information service firm, operates the mediating center for the mobile settlement system.

The experiment targets only Chinese tourists, said an Ant Financial Japan official.

Alipay is used by more than 50,000 stores in Japan that accept mobile payments linked to Chinese bank accounts.

But Chinese account for less than 1 percent of the Okinawan railway’s passengers, said Masaki Oshiro, who has been placed in charge of the project at Okinawa Urban Monorail.

Still, “it’s good to have various payment methods like Alipay rather than forcing tourists to first exchange cash currency and to buy tickets,” Oshiro said.