Thursday, September 9, 2010

e-commerce Tourism in Uganda

What is e-tourism about?
Electronic (e)-tourism is the use of technology in managing and marketing tourism. It’s not just about having websites or taking occasional e-mails from potential clients but it’s about using technology to manage and sell your business. You attract visitors to your business not just through your website but other social media like; Facebook, Twitter and YouTube videos and photos on flicker and through online travel reviews. It also involves being able to take a booking and payments in real time completely online without any human interaction. This is the way most tourism is being sold around the world.
Why should the industry players adopt e-tourism as opposed to business as usual tourism?
Half of all the tourism marketing globally is being done online from point of research to point of sale. In some of those critical markets like the United States or Western Europe, that goes up to 70 per cent. So the challenge for Africa and most emerging markets is the little tourism that we are selling. Uganda sells less than 2 per cent of its tourism online. Compare that to 50 per cent global average or 70 per cent in the US. What we (E-tourism Frontiers) do to our advantage is try and change that by educating people in emerging markets about e-marketing and how to increase the use of technology so that they can get payments online and increase their sales online.
In monetary terms, how big is the e-tourism industry globally?
Globally, it’s about $130 billion (Shs286 trillion) in sales. It’s the number one selling commodity, trading more than music downloads books and other commodities. For instance, in the US last year, the number one online spend was travel at 40 per cent and was followed by electronics at 11 per cent of all money spent online.
What would be the cost implication of adopting e-tourism for players in Uganda’s tourism industry?
The cost of marketing is a lot cheaper than conventional marketing. If you think about the cost that goes into printing a brochure, getting photographs taken, text written, get the printing done, and post those to markets it can be incredibly expensive whereas if you update your Facebook page, it costs almost nothing. If your clients are taking videos and photos of your products and sharing them with their friends on Facebook or YouTube and you are linking to that, there’s content of much more value there. So, there’s a huge cost saving.
So, how can Ugandan tourism companies take advantage of the e-tourism opportunity?
Well some are already doing it to some degree. People are starting to use websites and critically looking at social media because just about everyone is on Facebook now. It is a great example of how powerful social media can be. But there’s a long way to go. One of the critical problems we face in this region is the lack of e-commerce. And even if you do everything right to get somebody to come to your website, they want to book and pay but they cannot do it. Luckily, we have a conference coming up in Nairobi and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) will be launching, for the first time, products for tourism businesses. This will cater for reservations that would allow tourists to make online bookings and make payments directly to KCB accounts. That’s huge for the tourism industry but that’s probably the most important thing they need to do. The financial sector needs to recognise that this is probably the strongest source of foreign exchange in any country. They need to create supporting solutions like KCB has done.
Which players in the industry do you recommend for fast-tracking the transition to e-tourism?
The hotel industry is the most obvious because if you look at the distribution of the industry globally, it’s almost entirely online. It takes them out of that commission relationship they used to have with agents and tour operators and they start direct selling and it’s so easy for them to start selling and making reservations. Tour operators and agents can be cut out of business and so they must think of how they can make themselves relevant and valuable. And that value can be in providing local content about the tourism industry.
The internet is a critical factor in e-commerce but in this region, reliability remains a major challenge. Isn’t that a limiting factor?
Yes it is a challenge but we have no option and you cannot use that as an excuse. It’s an issue but we have to find solutions. When you are in business saying there’s no electricity is not going help you. If you have clients abroad there are certain expectations they have. So, it’s about having backup systems in place. It’s about building websites and offering content that can respond to low broadband speeds. But speeds are becoming less of an excuse because we have fibre optic cables like SEACOM and TEAMS here. And increasingly, there’s need for less bandwidth to upload content on websites.

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