Rebranding of Alibaba's travel site stirs controversy

The logo of Alibaba's rebranded travel site. Its new name Fei Zhu means ''Flying Pig''.
The logo of Alibaba's rebranded travel site. Its new name Fei Zhu means ''Flying Pig''. PHOTO: WWW.ALITRIP.COM

BEIJING • Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has drawn ire for renaming its popular travel site from Alitrip to Fei Zhu, which means "Flying Pig".

Its English name is Fliggy. The new logo? A cartoon-like image of a pig.

The rebranding exercise was reportedly carried out in a bid to expand the travel site's appeal among Chinese millennials.

But it came under scrutiny for the wrong reasons, after a Uighur businessman called on Alibaba to reconsider the new name and logo.

Mr Adil Memettur, the founder of popular confectionery brand Princess Nut Cake, said he used to be a fan of the travel site, but has now had to uninstall the app.

"Maybe all Muslims will do the same because pigs are taboo for us," he wrote on his microblog Weibo where he has hundreds of thousands of followers. "Alibaba is an international corporation, could it take Muslim taboos into consideration?" he asked on Friday.

He said the app is popular among minorities as it lets people with unusually-spelt names make bookings, reported BBC News.

His post, however, was quickly ridiculed by other Chinese online, with some asking if this meant China had to drop all references to pigs in popular culture and literature.

Weibo user Jiang Kun wrote: "Does this mean we should also remove the pig from the Chinese zodiac, as well as one of the protagonists from the Chinese classic Journey To The West? I think we should respect one another's lifestyles instead of focusing too much on labels."

The businessman quickly took down the post and on Sunday night he posted an apology.

Uighurs are a mainly Muslim minority group from Xinjiang in north-western China. Their names often require an interpunct, or a dot in the middle, which can present challenges when registering for official services or making travel bookings.

But Alitrip accommodates nonstandard Chinese names, making it a user-friendly experience for minorities such as Uighurs, according to Sixth Tone news website.

Mr Peng Gaocheng, a retired ethnic studies expert in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone the raised concerns are reasonable. "I think Alibaba should be more cautious about changing its name in case some Muslims might feel hurt emotionally."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'Rebranding of Alibaba's travel site stirs controversy'. Print Edition | Subscribe