Why Online Tourism?
E-Tourism Frontiers was created from many years of experience of working in online consultation with both public and private sector Tourism bodies in Africa at first- and then with the creation of E-Tourism Africa we began working to develop the online sector.
Following the establishment of our highly successful annual African events- we began working in other emerging markets with the same model of affordable, accessible and locally appropriate events and training.
While there is in many of these markets a growing awareness of the need to utilize ICT in tourism marketing, and to some extent sales, investment, development, generally progress has been very limited.
The global domination of online sales has created
over US$100 Billion in annual sales. Data clearly shows that the crossover
point between rising online sales and descending offline sales is upon us, as
Europe and Asia follow the trends that have revolutionized the US Travel trade.
A recent poll of UK travellers shows a remarkable 89% preference for online
reservations- and with a global average of over 50% of all travel now
distributed online- it has become the predominant channel for sales.
Yet many emerging markets are excluded almost entirely from this business. A survey of many most emerging tourism economies shows that actual online conversion of sales, either directly of via intermediaries is virtually non-existent. In Africa for example, less than 2% of all travel is sold online.
This is a clear example of Larry Irving's "Digital Divide" theory, by which technology widens the poverty gap between technologically able business communities in the developed world and a new generation of "information have-nots" in the developing world. In some countries, e-commerce is illegal, and banks cannot (and in some cases are not willing to) accept online payments. This is a major block to the basic ability to carry out ICT sales- and must be overcome.
While some tourism economies have invested in large scale, information rich,
destination sites which have achieved high search rankings and visibility, very
little has been done to move them beyond information only status. There has
been little investment in targeted contextual marketing, and only limited
attempts to develop public- private sector partnerships for conversion of
traffic to sales through portals. This is matched at a private sector level by
a lack of investment in inventory management, online reservations systems or
CRM technology, or even in use of dynamic. This also presents a threat of
developing inequitable sales models, by which inventory in form of package
sales are commoditized and sold on by foreign based operators.
Social Networking, blogging and consumer generated media trends that have become vital tools in the promotion of travel generate a great deal of discussion and media on Africa, but without proper management and encouragement of user generated content or conversion models this does little to generate any direct business.
Yet there are relatively simple ways to reverse these trends. Online tourism has become a booming business, and the digital divide represents a vast potential for commerce, investment and infrastructural development. For travel intermediaries, technology firms and marketing media, this is a rich new frontier. But this needs to be regulated, sustainable and equitable, to prevent the predominance (through lack of educated decision making processes and strategic planning) of inappropriate or exploitative business models. Equally, there is a need for a level online playing field to be sure that SMEs and community based and eco tourism ventures are not left behind and find solutions for representation in portals and regional partnerships, and e-commerce solutions to allow equitable distribution.
There is a clear need for extensive public-private sector partnerships and shared resources and initiatives.
We have seen numerous success stories emerge from our
events (LINK) - and will see many more as we bring these markets online.
By bringing together key players to be educated, informed and inspired at E-Tourism specific conferences, and including international intermediaries, technology and service providers, we can create a shift in local business cultures and practices, encourage strategic investment and planning and generate business.