Ant Financial buys stake in HK restaurant database OpenRice

January 18, 2018 12:54
Ant Financial, an online financial services affiliate of Jack Ma's Alibaba Group, has taken a 20 percent stake in OpenRice, Hong Kong's most popular online restaurant database and review service. Photo: Bloomberg/OpenRice

Ant Financial, an affiliate of Jack Ma's Alibaba Group, has announced a strategic partnership with OpenRice, Hong Kong's most popular online restaurant database and review service.

With the partnership, Ant Financial will become a minority shareholder of OpenRice holding 20 percent of the company’s shares. How much Ant Financial is investing in the private company was not disclosed.

Eric Jing, chief executive of the online financial services giant, believes the partnership would support the further growth of Hong Kong’s dining industry.

Jing said the partnership aims to expand the use of Alipay's mobile wallet and payment service in the city, with Alipay becoming a payment option within OpenRice’s mobile application. Leveraging on OpenRice’s platform, more local restaurants are expected to accept Alipay as a payment option soon, especially those catering for mainland tourists.

Founded in 1999 by Ray Chung Wai-ming, a former financial journalist, OpenRice seeks to be an all-inclusive online food and restaurant guide with user-written reviews. The website provides information and reviews covering more than 24,000 restaurants, with over 5 million downloads for its mobile application.

In 2007, Chung sold the company to Hong Kong’s JDB Holdings, which also owns job search website

OpenRice has expanded to other Asian markets, including mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and India.

In recent years, the site has faced criticisms that tend to erode its credibility, such as allegations that it is spreading "fake reviews" planted by the featured restaurants themselves.

Its dominant position in the market is also being challenged by other dining guides on social media, especially on Facebook and Instagram.

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