China: Chinese search engine giant, Baidu is expanding its mapping service to provide its users with maps of outside China. A company spokesperson said that Baidu had launched the desktop and mobile mapping service in Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore. The decision came as a result of growing demand coming from the Chinese tourists travelling overseas. With the new service, Baidu is planning to lure the Chinese travellers that are using Google Maps outside China.
The company has timed the launch to coincide with Spring Festival which begins on Feb 8, one of the country's biggest tourist seasons, to help it gauge user reaction and use. "Those four countries are receiving more Chinese tourists every year, so it makes a lot of sense for us to expand our service there," the spokesperson said. That information will be analyzed quickly to improve the service, the spokesperson said.
Nearly 6 million Chinese are expected to travel overseas during Spring Festival, with the above four countries among their top 10 destinations, according to the country's largest online travel agency, Ctrip.com International Ltd. The expanded Baidu service will allow tourists to plan the most appropriate routes, and more services are expected to be added such as navigation and booking local restaurants.
Zhang Xu, an analyst from Beijing-based Internet consultancy Analysys International, is confident Baidu will manage to poach Chinese users from Google. "Most mainland tourists have been using Baidu Map for a while when they are at home. Once the service becomes available in foreign countries, it will become their top choice, as the Chinese-language version will hold great appeal to those who can't speak English," he said.
Baidu currently holds a 70 percent share of China's mapping service market, with 300 million monthly active users. "But it still has a lot of homework to do to compete with Google in the global market, especially in terms of the accuracy of its maps," Zhang said. Ma Ke, a 25-year-old travel enthusiast from Beijing, however, said she would not be using Baidu Map if the service fails to meet Google's quality.