With the hype of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly, hosted jointly by Zimbabwe and Zambia in Victoria Falls, we look at how e-tourism can affect the industry.
Many tourists worldwide have regular access to the internet and Zimbabwean tourism stakeholders should tap into this.
E-tourism basically refers to the use of Information Communications Technology (ICT) in the tourism industry.
This includes the digitalisation of processes to increase efficiency. For tourism businesses, the internet offers the potential to make information and booking facilities available to large numbers of tourists at relatively low costs. It also provides a tool for communication between tourism suppliers, intermediaries, as well as end-consumers.
The internet has over the years changed the way people gain access to information on various issues, including those tourism-related. These include review sites, information on hotels and airlines as well as destination sites. Not only is the internet used to find information, but users are now able to transact online from the comfort of their homes or offices.
The introduction of internet-based electronic commerce brought along many opportunities for businesses to expand their customer base and enter new product markets. An increasing number of internet users are buying online and tourism has gradually been grabbing a share of the e-commerce use.
However, for tourism players in Africa, issues such as the high cost of bandwidth, the lack of integrated, real-time reservation systems and local online payment gateways stymied progress. Zimbabwe’s major obstacles are the lack of online payment platforms and bandwidth (whose cost is gradually decreasing).
Many people were forced to open accounts outside the country in order to access online payment systems. This is because many international travellers expected (and still do expect) to be able to book and pay online for accommodation in anything from a small lodge to a very large hotel chain.
Online travel agents such as Expedia, Travelocity, Lastminute.com and Bookings.com have now shifted focus to Africa, with some of them opening offices specifically to deal with bookings to African destinations. It is estimated that more than 50% of travel globally is facilitated online.
However, for online travel agents to do business with even the smallest lodge or tourist destination, they need to access an online reservation system that is available in real-time, otherwise they will not do business with them.
Another major thing that local tourism players need to have is the skills and ability to market online, using their websites and social media. More and more tourists now research on final destinations before making their choice and bookings online.
Review sites play a critical role in providing this information, as other tourists upload and publish their experiences. Sites such as Facebook, Tripadvisor and WAYN are providing platforms for travellers to hear from other travellers, as most do not want to hear just the hotel’s or destination’s version of their services.
Questions we need to ask ourselves are:
How many tourism players (hotels, restaurants, lodges, etc.) are connected to the internet?
How many have websites, and if they do, have they implemented e-commerce platforms to enable travellers to book and pay online, in real-time?
How many make use of social media to market themselves? Do they check online review sites for feedback on the services they offer?
These are all pertinent issues players in the tourism sector need to take into consideration if they are to tap into the global market.
Overall, the strongest online tourism destinations in Africa are probably South Africa and Morocco. Kenya and Tanzania are close behind and are investing even more in e-tourism as they see the potential.
With the euphoria of the just-ended UNWTO conference, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, together with its mother ministry of Tourism and Hospitality, should spearhead the drive for all stakeholders in Zimbabwe to embrace e-tourism.
This means going beyond just having an online presence, but investing in e-commerce platforms that enable potential visitors to Zimbabwe to check for information, make bookings and pay online. This can only bring more business and eventually contribute to the economy of our country.