East Africa turns to e-commerce for travel

The tourism industry in East Africa is set to benefit from faster online speeds and the rise of social networking websites to further develop growth in the travel and tourism industry. Governments are also urging players to invest in modern technology and use the internet to grow their business and boost tourism revenues.

Damian Cook, the chief executive officer of E-Tourism Frontiers said: “Online sales have experienced major growth in the past year. Travel is now the number one selling commodity online and is generating over US $110 billion annually in sales. We must get more African tourism products available to the online travel shopper, especially following the massive interest in Africa after the World Cup.”

Africa Forecast Internet Subscribers

Source: Euromonitor International.

Inhibitive legislation and costs

Electronic commerce has been booming in the developed world, but its usage in Africa has been slow as result of few local financial institutions implementing online payments solutions, partly due to legislation and initial costs. According to recent studies by the International Telecommunications Union, only 10.9%of Africa’s population uses the Internet.

But despite enormous investment, the government has made in improving the technical infrastructure in East Africa, it looks like the travel and tourism industry, and supporting institutions like banks, are not taking up technology. Therefore, the government is urging tour companies and marketing businesses to use networks and channels such as Facebook and Twitter to create online platforms where tourists can share their African experiences.

Tourism world’s largest consumer of e-commerce

According to online industry experts there are an estimated 1.2 billion internet users globally, and current forecast suggest that 1.5 billion will have access to internet by 2011.

Half of the world’s travel is distributed and booked online, and overall travellers are increasingly computer literate and IT-aware, 7 out of 10 travellers currently use the internet as their primary source of travel information. According to industry statistics, online tourist sales experienced a major growth in the past year, with travel now being the number one selling commodity online and currently generating over US$110 billion in sales annually, making it crucial for the tourism sector across Africa to invest in online marketing and management.

Africa Travel Category Performance: Online vs Offline

Source: Euromonitor International.

Online conference agenda

Following the success of conferences held in 2009 in South Africa and East Africa, E-Tourism Frontiers held a two-day conference in Nairobi in September in 2010 where East African Community members also attended to promote EAC as a tourism destination.

The conference was addressed by some of the world’s leading experts on online tourism, including Trip Advisor, Expedia, WAYN.com and Google to cover how East Africa tourism can exploit the potential of the web such as website development, e-commerce, online reservations and booking, e-marketing, multimedia, Web 2.0 marketing, user generated content, social networks and mobile marketing.

Many companies, especially from small and medium entrepreneurs, have already experienced major benefits as a result of switching to online marketing and investing in the web after attending previous events. For example, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) placed its Mountain Gorillas on Facebook last year through the Friend a Gorilla program. Expedia also expanded into East Africa as a result of the conference in Nairobi in 2008, whilst Wildlife Direct created a blogging platform and social network for conservation projects.

Kenya launches online payment system

Most importantly, the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) in partnership with South Africa’s Nights Bridge, online payment service provider, has launched Kenya’s first online payment platform targeting the travel and tourism industry, providing connectivity to worldwide hotels, travel websites and agents.

This will enable electronic tourism take hold in East Africa as most businesses lose millions as they are currently unable to use these facilities and services. The online payment service will allow both online transactions and real-time reservations.

It is vital that travel companies in East Africa become aware and take full advantage of online marketing opportunities. According to Tourism minister, Najib Balala, investment in Information Technology and online marketing are the best way to ensure growth and future sustainability of the country’s tourism.