SA tourism industry 'not so bad'

Cape Town - South Africa's tourism industry is alive and well, it is simply starting to take on a different form, according to Matthew Swart, CEO of SafariNow, an online booking site.

He responded to the findings of the recent TBCSA FNB Tourism Business Index which implied there could be possible worry for the industry.

"In fact, when it comes to the online space, the sector’s prospects have never looked better," said Swart.
“We have more than 750 000 unique visitors to our site per month, and although we did see a slight drop in the total booking value of bookings between Q1 and Q2 of this year, overall growth is up by 46% compared to the same period in 2012. From what we’re seeing, it will only continue to grow."
He believes that the report may have had different results had it included a larger sample of respondents, as well as non-traditional sectors such as online travel.

Swart predicts that e-tourism is set to become one of the strongest players in the South African tourism economy, and that its impact on growth and job creation should not be underestimated.
“The move towards online booking is happening now in the local travel market, and strongly reflects trends already seen in the US, Europe and Asia,” explained Swart.

“A few years ago, naysayers predicted the fall of the music industry simply because consumers had stopped buying CDs. The reality was that they were making the natural move into the digital space, something that we’re now starting to see in the South Africa travel industry.”
A steep upward year-on-year booking trend indicates that South Africans are by no means putting paid to their travel plans. However, given the recent fluctuations in the exchange rate and soaring fuel prices, local travellers are becoming more conscious about how they spend their holiday rands.
“We’ve seen significant growth in domestic holiday bookings, particularly in destinations within easy driving distance of the major centres,” said Swart.

“Our data also suggests a growing demand for less traditional accommodation options, including B&B’s, self-catering establishments and boutique hotels.
Unlike corporate hotel chains, the majority of booking volumes at these types of establishments is taking place on websites which do not share their data freely.

As a result, the enormous impact that these smaller establishments have on a changing travel industry is not always taken into account. 
Swart believes that it’s these types of establishments that are deriving the most benefit from listing their properties via online accommodation booking sites.
“We’re adding about 30 establishments every day, which shows that owners are starting to see the potential of the untapped online travel market, which might not necessarily be reached effectively through more traditional marketing efforts,” explains Swart.

“Many of these establishments are small operators, and don’t necessarily have the budget for extensive marketing, but by tapping into an existing online booking infrastructure, they’re reaping the benefits with minimal investment.”
SafariNow is also concerned that the report’s findings with respect to the sector’s ‘bleak’ employment prospects for the next quarter may be somewhat alarmist.
“Like the travel sector itself, employment opportunities are simply becoming more prevalent in the online space, with the nature of work in the industry changing as a result,” said Swart.
“We have more than tripled our employment count in the last three years, and we’ve recently hired our 100th employee.

"But instead of hiring travel agents, we’re looking for call centre agents, customer care teams, software developers and digital marketing gurus.

"As the industry changes, so too do the types of available jobs, and we expect to see an even greater demand for such positions as the online sector continues to strengthen.”
SafariNow’s predictions for online travel booking in South Africa:

Technology is changing the market:

Consumer technology will continue to change traveller behaviour and expectations. Those in the industry who are ready for that will flourish;

Experiential travel is becoming more popular:

Consumers want out of the ordinary, unique and personalised experiences. They’re time-constrained, price-sensitive and they want choices.

Travellers are becoming more social:

Consumers engaging with social media sites are more likely to convert to bookings and they will become far more interested in finding the opinions and reviews of their fellow travellers. Social will also amplify consumer complaints, and the industry needs to be prepared for that.

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