Tourism business in Africa goes digital

January 5, 2013

Mid last week, I received an email from a friend in Newcastle area of Melbourne currently planning a trip to East Africa. Her concern was that she couldn’t get relevant information about the places she is to visit. After surfing online the whole day with no success, she gave up and decided to seek help from a regular traveler to the region. That was when she contacted me. While scratching my head on who to contact in East Africa and get her desired information, I came across one of my Facebook friends news feed that had a travel agent link which contained lot of listed information about tourist attractions in East Africa.At that point, I realized how serious the travel agents across the region are viewing the Internet and social networking sites, as a marketing tool for their businesses. When I contacted the travel agent for details within an hour all information was availed.I commended them for using new media technologies to market their products and services and handed them the client directly.The economic recession that began in 2008 hit hard the major tourists markets for countries in sub Saharan Africa and since then most countries have been implementing marketing policies by focusing on digital marketing and social media to promote the positive image of their respective countries and foster the strength of the tourism industry.

One of the most successful stories has been Kenya that apart from recession, the country witnessed post election violence that battered the country’s image abroad. The Kenya Tourism Board has been at the forefront in marketing and promoting Kenya through the social media especially on Facebook and Twitter. In Uganda, digital media has allowed the Uganda Tourism Board to access more social networks and expand its bases globally, increasing loyalty to the “Pearl of Africa” brand. The UTB has been improving work procedures, creating databases, doing public relations via online communities and developing presentation techniques through new channels although more need to be done. Unlike few years back, most countries have developed world-class websites that are very interactive and user friendly. It has guaranteed convenience for tourists traveling to African countries and has created more marketing channels for tourism business operators. At the local levels, the travel agents have 21st Century offices of their own in the name of Facebook pages to promote local tourism. Amazingly, the travel agent that agreed to take over my friend trip deal that they opted for quick response codes for her to access information about tourist spots in each location she wanted to visit. The travel agent came up with a QR code for her to use smart phones to connect to a website that gives information about the major tourist attractions there through texts, maps, pictures and videos.

Most government funded agencies and travel operators are now using social media as another major channel to promote tourism and communicate with foreign tourists willing or planning to make trip to the lovely and beautiful continent of Africa. The new channels are now commonly used to provide tourism information and respond to tourists’ inquiries and opinions and allow fan page members to exchange information and viewpoints. Most organizations Facebook and Twitter pages I visited claim success in communicating with target groups through social media platforms. To maintain its leading role in digital marketing across and increase international reach, the organizations mandated to market their respective countries must come up with development plans and new channels to attract more user groups. Also not to be ignored should be marketing through mobile phone apps for tourists. Smartphone apps can be used by millions of people in and outside Africa to check updated tourism information while augmented reality system enables users to see symbols and information about tourism located in their vicinity. In southern and eastern parts of Africa, tourists booking through some selected agents can peruse interactive maps on their smart phones, search for information through the QR code-scanner system and share their travel experiences on Facebook. In my opinion, to sustain the current marketing platforms, African governments funded tourists marketing organizations and private players must embrace the use of different proactive marketing strategies that suit different markets which will lead to major increases in tourist arrivals and incomes for the continent.

Contador Harrison