Li Dongmin, general manager of Baidu Map. [Provided to China Daily]
The Beijing-based internet company said on Tuesday that it will launch Baidu Map in more than 150 countries and regions by the end 2016 with an initial plan to serve the navigation demand of China's more than 100 million outbound travelers.
"Then we will gradually launch mapping services in local languages and gain overseas users. The ultimate goal is to build Baidu Map into a truly globalized mapping service provider," said Li Dongmin, general manager of Baidu Map.
The internationalization plan puts Baidu Map, which has more than 300 million monthly active users in China, in direct competition with the top global mapping service provider, Google Map.
Baidu Map, which started to offer overseas services in 2014, has already expanded to 18 countries and regions, mostly in Asia Pacific, such as Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore.
Baidu said the surging demand from Chinese outbound travelers is the main reason for it to speed up the expansion plan.
"I have to say the requests for our mapping services are beyond our expectation," said Li, adding the company doesn't put a cap on the resources on its globalization plan.
Statistics from the China National Tourism Administration showed that Chinese travelers made 120 million outbound trips in 2015, the world's most. About 80 million of the trips were made by self-guided individual travelers, suggesting major demand for mobile mapping services.
Zhang Xu, who is in charge of transportation-related research at the internet consultancy Analysys International, said that it wouldn't be too difficult for Baidu to convert some of its existing Chinese users into users of its services overseas.
"With the number of Chinese outbound travelers keeps rising, an increasing number of them would want to use a mapping service they're already familiar with and comfortable to use in China," he said.
But whether or not Baidu Map can win the hearts of those who were born and raised outside China is still a question.
To compete with other mapping services in overseas markets, Baidu said it is working to integrate more local services, such as restaurant booking and ride hailing into the mapping service, just like it does in China.
But Zhang of Analysys International said people in other countries treat mapping services as a simple tool to help them navigate from A to B.
"The success of Baidu Map depends on how it educate overseas users," he said.