Alipay and Italian Museums in China

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Various museums in Italy have turned to the Shanghai mobile and payments platform Alipay to enhance their interactions with this summer’s influx of Chinese tourists; even though no actual tourists are expected to arrive.

A total of nine Italian museums, palaces and galleries will be working with the digital open platform this season to ensure that visitors from China receive as comprehensive an experience as possible.

Appropriately, the arrival of the service coincides with this year’s International Museum Day, which falls on Wednesday 18 May.

Prior to the pandemic of 2020, the number of Chinese tourists going to Italy topped the 5.355 million mark, and the country was the fifth most popular tourist destination for visitors from China with numbers climbing every year.

A UNESCO report, which was published in May 2020, showed the global museum industry had been severely impacted by Covid-19 with nearly 90 per cent of museums worldwide closing their doors.

With the pressing challenges brought by the pandemic, the process of going digital accelerated with more museums leveraging digital platforms and solutions to offer online exhibitions, digital tours, and even live streaming and blockchain technology powered digital collectables.

However, less than 20 per cent of museum collections were available online, according to a July 2020 report by the Network of European Museum Organisations.

Italy’s attractions, including its museums, restaurants and hotels, initially responded to a tentative reopening of the industry with an imposed green health pass scheme, which presented proof that both national and international visitors were completely vaccinated; however, the legislation was eventually abolished on 1 May of this year.

The nine museums signing up with Alipay are clearly ready to bring their collections back to life through any means possible. Alipay will leverage its platform’s digital tools, including its lifestyle account which helps brands reach and interact with their customers through posted content.

The project is called ‘Italian Museums in China (MITICI)’ and has been shown significant support by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Participants include the Royal Museums of Turin, the Royal Palace of Genoa and the Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Rome; which is the city’s fourth most visited attraction, counting 721,574 visitors pre-pandemic.

The Bargello Museums in Florence, the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Rome, the Archaeological Park of Ostia Antica, the Royal Palace of Caserta, the Archaeological Park of Paestum and Velia and the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto have also signed on to the deal.

Pietro Candela, head of business development in Europe at AlipayPietro Candela

“The Alipay platform is committed to supporting institutions and brands to further enhance their connection and engagement with consumers through digital operation,” said says Pietro Candela, head of business development in Europe at Alipay.

“We are delighted to see Italian museums, which are at the forefront of innovation among cultural institutions, leveraging mobile tools to build and enhance their relationship with Chinese consumers.”

Distribution and dilemma 

Digital to Asia, an Italian digital marketing agency, is leading the distribution of the project and is utilising its strong past experience with Asian markets and especially Chinese customers to do so.

The project plans to overcome China’s strict grip on international travel by bringing complete museum collections to Chinese nationals through the digital means of Alipay.

A statement delivered by the Chinese National Immigration Administration this week said that it was in the process of reviewing how frequently it issues travel documents such as passports.

On 12 May, Chinese authorities imposed a de facto international travel ban across the nation, which has essentially banned all of its citizens from engaging in any kind of international travel for ‘non-essential” reasons, as the government steps up its efforts to enforce its zero-Covid policy.

“We appreciate the efforts provided by Digital to Asia to raise the awareness about the importance of the mobile and global value proposition, as well as their innovative approach to supporting Italian museums as they go digital,” continued Candela.

As of May 2022, over 2,000 museums are leveraging at least one of the digital tools and services available on Alipay, such as mini-programmes, lifestyle accounts, and blockchain-powered digital collectables, however, in light of the current situation, museums, including these nine in Italy, may have to wait for the physical arrival of Chinese tourists for some time longer.

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