Award Applicant

MyHelsinki x WeChat: One-stop service for Chinese travelers in Helsinki

MyHelsinki WeChat Mini Program

Challenge

Helsinki is a highly functional and convenient city to navigate - unless you don’t speak English or Finnish and are used to living your life through WeChat. This is the reality for a growing number of Chinese visitors coming to Helsinki.

How could we help these Chinese visitors unlock everything Helsinki has to offer?

Outcome

A WeChat Mini Program that helps Chinese visitors in Helsinki discover personalized experience, event, restaurant or shopping tips, get there with public transportation and pay for everything - all in one app. The MyHelsinki Mini Program is a mobile one-stop service for Chinese visitors to Helsinki, unique in the world. It is powered by the MyHelsinki API, Tencent’s WeChat platform and Helsinki-based smart mobility pioneer Whim.


Welcome to Helsinki

Following more than a year’s worth of growing anticipation around the app, City of Helsinki, Tencent and smart-mobility pioneer Whim are finally poised to launch an all-inclusive travel solution with the WeChat MyHelsinki mini program. The mini program is the first city app in the world that let’s you plan every part of your holiday. Focus is on the entire city as an experience – the service combines tailored personal recommendations, mobility planning and purchase options for travellers. With the launch of WeChat Pay, Helsinki will take the crown as the first cashless destination for Chinese travelers.

In September 2017 the City of Helsinki, Tencent and MaaS Global signed a cooperation agreement, according to which Helsinki will serve as an intelligent tourism model for Chinese outbound tourism. The three cooperation partners have since co-developed a destination mini program that offers Helsinki travel information and an easy way to explore the city destinations to over one billion daily WeChat users. Tencent’s mission is to focus on the global connection between technology and humanity, and to help Chinese tourists intelligent outbound destinations through the products of “Urban Travel” overseas. Since their launch last year, 580,000 mini programs have cropped up on WeChat. MyHelsinki mini program is one of the very few strategic mini programs for Tencent, developed by the company itself in co-operation with local partners.

Helsinki’s strategic aim is to be the forerunner city of digitalisation in the near future. For travellers we want to be the safest, most functional and happiest place to visit.Jan VapaavuoriThe Mayor of Helsinki

The challenge

Right now there is an interesting moment in time, where cities are looking to other cities to see how they solve problems and address common issues of urban life. Cities will determine our future. Urbanization is set to continue, two thirds of the world’s population will be urban dwellers by 2030. Today cities power over two-thirds of global GDP: they are marvels of innovation. Joint efforts of the city, its citizens and businesses are turning Helsinki into the world’s leading test bed for new solutions.

At the same time on the other side of the world, China is changing fast. With the rise of innovative, top Fortune 100 tech-giants such as Tencent, all eyes are turning to Asia. China’s urban, digitally savvy young generation are an emerging force not only driving market trends, but changing their country and the world. China is only now opening up to the rest of the world, but during the following 10 years, the country’s outbound tourism is estimated to grow to 400 million overseas trips by Chinese residents, accounting to nearly a quarter of global tourism. This cohort will spend over 453 billion USD overseas over the next 5 years.

Helsinki has become increasingly popular among Chinese tourists in recent years. The number of registered overnight stays by Chinese travellers in Helsinki has more than doubled in the past five years. In 2017 the number of overnight stays by Chinese visitors increased by 29,3 percent over the previous year to 135 000. Especially high potential is among the transfer travelers, who fly through Helsinki on their way to other European destinations.

As the fastest route from Asia, Helsinki is an important stop over route towards Lapland and other European capitals.

Given the huge growth, there are downsides as well: many European cities such as Venice, Amsterdam and Barcelona are already tackling with issues of over-tourism affecting the local quality of life.

Helsinki will never be a mass market destination and is happy to leave that to some other destinations. The city’s focus is on quality – not quantity. This also supports the city’s mission to develop tourism in a sustainable way. A small city must concentrate on the most beneficial outcome for the city. Helsinki takes its responsibility as a facilitator seriously.

MaaS, short for Mobility as a Service, brings all means of travel together. MaaS Global’s Whim application combines options from different transport providers into a single mobile service, removing the hassle of planning and one-off payments. Whim improves the user experience making traveling around the city more easy and sustainable, and enables exploring the new city easy in Chinese language.

The strategy

With WeChat MyHelsinki Mini Program, Tencent, Helsinki and Whim have come up with a scalable solution for more balanced tourism in cities. MyHelsinki mini program’s “live like a local” features make it easy and accessible for the curious Chinese traveler to go outside the most obvious tourist hot spots and better access to local service providers off the beaten path. The service has also been planned with the transfer traveler in mind, encouranging them to spend the remaining time between flights enjoying the offerings of Helsinki.

Experiencing the whole city is something that the Chinese young generation prefers. A growing 65% of the Chinese visit European cities independently opposed to the travel agency operated group travelers of the previous years. On a more personal level, independent travelers tend to seek out meaningful experiences, unique and authentic encounters. There is a growing appetite for broader and edgier cultural experiences.

Cutting-edge technology, exotic foods, adventurous activities and accommodation with an authentic local flavor – this is the travel style of the new generation of Chinese travelers.

The number of Chinese visitors travelling overseas is growing rapidly and travel patterns are in real transition. Among those travellers in-depth traveling has become a trend. With MyHelsinki mini program, a comprehensive and reliable one-stop service, Tencent wants to serve them as well as possible.Zhan ShuGeneral Manager of the Tencent Governmental Affairs and Tourism Center

Understanding Chinese visitors with a Cultural Probe and interviews

To better understand Chinese travelers needs and feelings related to visiting Helsinki, we set up a Cultural Probe and pop-up interviews.

For the cultural probe, a toolkit was created and given to the Chinese travelers in Helsinki. The participants used stickers to mark the tourist attractions they visited and their feelings along the day. The toolkit enabled the participants to easily capture their experience in Helsinki and also gave us inspiring first hand insights.

Following the Cultural Probes, we conducted deeper interviews to further understand the Chinese visitors experience in Helsinki.

The research uncovered three major challenges for Chinese travelers visiting Helsinki:

  1. Using public transportation in Helsinki is challenging
  2. It’s hard to get accurate and relevant information about local sights and activities
  3. Paying is difficult for Chinese as they are used to mobile payments

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The solution – city as an experience

Our solution was a one-stop WeChat Mini Program that enables Chinese visitors to easily discover activities and sights in Helsinki, find a route there and pay for the trip with the help of Whim. All within one Mini Program.

Mini programs are web-based apps on WeChat that enable purchases within the service. The app does not have to be downloaded separately, as it is included within WeChat, an all-in-one application with over billion users. Of more than a billion internet users in China, 97.5 percent use a mobile device for browsing, and 35 percent of the 26.5 hours a week spent online are spent on WeChat. Within last year, WeChat mini programs have taken off: they represent 20-30% of total traffic in WeChat. They have a total of 170 million daily active users. Therefore, the new mini program offers the opportunity to serve Chinese consumers using their preferred digital services throughout their visit. Destination websites are of little importance when Chinese visitors search for information using their favourite mobile apps.

Already from last July, Chinese visitors have been able to find out more about the Finnish capital through local recommendations included in the mini program. The service is based on the content and user interface of the City of Helsinki’s MyHelsinki.fi website and open API and the Whim application and API. The MyHelsinki mini program is Helsinki in small scale – in the pocket of millions of Chinese.

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MyHelsinki – your local guide to Helsinki

The local community is at the core of the urban life in Helsinki. MyHelsinki concept is one of the Helsinki brand spearheads: all content is based on genuine recommendations. In keeping with the website’s service promise, “Your local guide to Helsinki”, the MyHelsinki mini program’s content has been compiled by locals. Apart from coupons to local shops, no paid brand endorsements, partnerships or sponsored content are allowed. The locals are the best marketers for their own city. It’s their opinion that we trust.

As of February 2019, Chinese visitors will be able to use the familiar mini program to plan with Whim service how they get about in Helsinki and pay for purchases using WeChat Pay in Chinese language. This will enable Chinese visitors to purchase all the travel tickets and services they need – from restaurants, shops, sightseeing tours to sauna visits and guided nature excursions – using a single app. The digital service has been developed especially to fit the needs of Chinese tourists exploring Helsinki.

In example, upon arrival to Helsinki, Chinese travellers can plan the most convenient method to get from the airport to their hotel, review locally recommended services, get from their hotel to the restaurant of their choice, and pay for both transportation and their restaurant bill using the same app.

Our focus was on the entire city as an experience. It’s like having a personal guide in a digital format – in Helsinki you can be sure that everything will go smoothly and that you will enjoy your stay like a local.Tia HallanoroDirector, Brand Communications & Digital Development, Helsinki Marketing
  • Discover

  • Travel

  • Pay

As MyHelsinki mini program is designed for occasional users, convenience and efficiency are leading motivating factors. Therefore the interface was kept as clutter free as possible and focused on the task at hand. The first few seconds of entering a mini program are crucial to understand its functionalities and how to interact with it.

It goes without saying, but when offering a mini program geared towards O2O interaction, the core elements are not depending on a network after the first load. The mini program is cached on the user’s phone and will open instantly on next use.

Whim - Travel smarter

By collaborating with Whim, Helsinki has been able to develop a unique and innovative user-based service that is the first of its kind in the world. Whim is a service of MaaS Global, a fast growing pioneer MaaS operator based in Helsinki. As the world’s first MaaS (Mobility as a Service) operator, MaaS Global is revolutionising the way we move. Every journey is covered within one application – whether it’s taxi, public transport, a car service or a bike share.

As a seamless part of the MyHelsinki mini program, the Whim feature will help to ensure that visitors not only have easy access to information, but also gain easy access to the best experiences the city has to offer. The digital service has been developed to respond especially to the needs of independent Chinese travellers. When all available modes of transport and the most reliable service providers can be reviewed and paid for in native language using a single app, there is no more need for separate tickets, apps and payment methods.

Simply getting about in an unfamiliar city is one of the key factors that can hamper enjoying the full experience.Kaj PyyhtiäCo-Founder and Chief Customer Experience Officer, Whim

Whim will enable Chinese visitors to plan their routes intelligently and access all the leading local services for different modes of transport, including HSL public transport, city bikes, Taxi Helsinki, Lähitaksi, Sixt, Hertz and Toyota Rent. For Whim, working together with Helsinki Marketing and a pioneering internet service giant like Tencent is an exciting new opportunity to a new target audience. Whim has already launched independently at several foreign destinations, and the aim is to operate in dozens of cities within the next few years.

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Comprehensive service offerings enabled by the City of Helsinki’s open data

Helsinki is a global pioneer in providing access to public data and utilising it. Cities continuously collect and produce large quantities of data which are utilised in the planning, production and decision-making processes. It is also utilised in the evaluation of municipal activities. Traditionally, this data has only been in the city’s internal use but since 2011 Helsinki metropolitan cities have been opening the data to be freely distributed and used. Open data can be seen as a facilitator for creating new services and business opportunities, as well as supporting research and development. Helsinki Marketing has been focusing the possibilities that open data offers for businesses and commercial digital services.

The mini program that has been developed together with Tencent utilises MyHelsinki Open API an interface of three databases maintained by Helsinki Marketing. It offers up-to-date information about locations, events and activities in and around Helsinki to be used for commercial purposes or software development. Open data enables more in-depth, AI-fueled recommendations and tailored services to be offered to Chinese visitors.

Helsinki aims to be a global trendsetter in the digital revolution, and we believe strongly in the possibilities presented by AI and API economy.Tia HallanoroDirector, Brand Communications & Digital Development, Helsinki Marketing
  • Places

  • Events

  • Activities

The up-to-date and standardized data of MyHelsinki Open API, edited by Helsinki Marketing’s content experts, ensures consistency in communicating Helsinki’s services both in Finland and abroad. MyHelsinki Open API flexibly filters the data for different needs, be it coordinates, opening hours, description texts or photos of different places, events or activities. Data can be found in four languages, Finnish, English, Swedish and Chinese, and filtered based on categories or distance for example. The API is designed for flexible extraction of the specific sets of data that fit your needs including text attributes and a wide variety of photo material. Open data also enables local businesses in Helsinki to gain visibility in international sales and marketing channels.

The importance of genuine local recommendations in city marketing will continue to grow in the future. Our MyHelsinki Open API represents a unique opportunity to share Helsinki’s destination information and recommendations through as many channels as possible for use by airlines and travel agencies, for example.Tia HallanoroDirector, Brand Communications & Digital Development, Helsinki Marketing

In addition, Whim smart mobility service utilizes open data provided by Helsinki Regional Transport Authority HSL OpenMaaS API, after translating and customizing the data to meet Chinese visitors’ needs. HSL is one of the pioneers of open data, strategically opening up their service portfolio to provide customized offering to various passenger groups. As a result, the city is more functional for everyone, and even the Chinese can be satisfied customers using HSL public transportation. HSL considers it of great importance that public transport is easy to use and accessible for all. By hopping onboard a train, tram, metro, bus or Suomenlinna ferry, travellers can conveniently and inexpensively explore interesting places and experience genuine Helsinki like one of the locals.

‘Best journeys are made together’ describes not only something essential about public transport, but also the power of collaboration.Mari FlinkDirector of HSL’s Customer Experience and Sales Department

Results

The Mini Program has been launched as a beta version in several stages during 2018 and January 2019. So far the feedback from user validations with Chinese visitors has been overwhelmingly positive. Users have appreciated the ability to find interesting activities and get there easily within the app they are already using. - WeChat

Future vision for 2019

In 2019, Finnish airline Finnair offers 42 direct flights a week from 7 major cities in Greater China to Helsinki. As the fastest route to Europe, Helsinki’s excellent accessibility has given the Finnish capital a head start in the Chinese tourism market, and next the same step will be taken digitally. A great potential is among the travellers that have a layover at Helsinki airport before transferring to the final destination or when returning home. During 2019, in co-operation with Finnair, MyHelsinki mini program will next feature the possibility to book flights and a relaxing stayover enjoying Helsinki.

So far China’s tech giants have been known for their to individual respective strengths: Tencent has claimed gaming and social networking, while Alibaba has made ecommerce its crown jewel. But as Tencent aims for growth in payments and offline services within WeChat, the company is strongly venturing into retail. WeChat mini programs are providing shops with new ways of selling products, such as group-buying deals that are facilitated through chat groups.

A great potential is among the travellers that have a layover at Helsinki airport before transferring to the final destination or when returning home. During 2019 Finnair will co-operate with Tencent and MyHelsinki mini program in order to create an OTA channel and possibility to book flights and a relaxing stayover enjoying Helsinki.Mikko KiviniemiDesign Director, Finnair

In order to make the service more in-depth, Helsinki will break down new core functions into multiple dedicated mini programs: they can be favorited individually, and serve different target audiences and contexts of use (O2O, direct purchases, etc.). This benefits the growth of the Finnish travel ecosystem as a whole: in the future, MyHelsinki and Finnair-operated mini programs can be integrated to other mini programs, such as Lapland’s or Lakeland’s, if the regions decide to develop their own services.

In the digital era, MyHelsinki mini program is an example of the city as a platform. The shift from ego to ecosystems has begun – the possibilities of API economy are endless, benefiting both the end users and the collaborating organizations.


Participating companies

Client, Product Strategy: Helsinki Marketing

Client, Design, Development: Tencent

Design: Idean

Whim design: MaaS Global

MyHelsinki Open API: Helsinki Marketing & Futurice

MaaS Open API: HSL

  • Download the MyHelsinki WeChat mini program. Please note, that you will need to have WeChat first.