Economic boost from e-tourism

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iol bus 16 dec ca e-tourism pic


Tourism sectors prospects have never looked better as South Africa adopts international trends. Photo: Ross Jansen

Cape Town - E-tourism is set to become one of the strongest players in the South African tourism economy and its impact on growth and job creation should not be underestimated, says an online site chief executive.

Matthew Swart, chief executive and founder of SafariNow, a major online accommodation booking site in Africa, said of South Africa’s tourism industry: “It’s simply starting to take on a different form. In fact, when it comes to the online space, the sector’s prospects have never looked better.” Swart said the move towards online booking was the next evolutionary step for local travellers and strongly reflected trends already seen in the US, Europe and Asia.

“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 African travel industry.”

Swart added that 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, with the average booking estimated at about R2 300. “We’ve seen significant growth in domestic holiday bookings, particularly in destinations within easy driving distance of the major centres. Our data also suggests a growing demand for less traditional and lower-budget accommodation options.”

Swart said social media will become an increasingly essential tool through which organic word-of-mouth marketing is generated.

“While we have seen direct sales leads from channels like Facebook and Google+ increasing steadily, the social influence of peer recommendations is ultimately more significant. Research shows that consumers are increasingly likely to make purchases based on the buying behaviour of their contemporaries, and as a result we’re working to integrate our social channels more seamlessly into our site, with the aim being to make the booking experience easily shareable.”

He said while the majority of South African e-travellers continue to make holiday bookings online through desktop devices, mobile and tablet bookings are increasing rapidly with nearly 20 percent of users now accessing the SafariNow site via cellphones.

“Desktop devices remain the booking platform of choice for most of our users, but mobile traffic is growing at more than 100 percent year-on-year, clearly indicating a shift in local travel purchase patterns. We expect this to continue growing at a rapid rate and given the social potential of mobile devices, this remains a key consideration for us going into 2014.”

Meanwhile, Deborah Francis, spokeswoman for Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) at Cape Town International Airport, said the airport is ready for the influx of passengers during the festive season. She said during the peak season Acsa sees visitors stream into the Western Cape domestically and from abroad and in October, the customary increase in seasonal flights was sparked by several airlines resuming their direct flights.

These included Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Condor, Lufthansa, Edelweiss Airlines and British Airways.

“Measures have been put in place to make sure that there is a smooth transition through our airport and it is our business to ensure passengers reach their destination without any difficulties.” Francis added that the airport urges passengers to arrive early for the check-in process and also take advantage of the online check-in offered by their airline.

“Passengers who’ve used the online-check-in service are asked to allow for enough time to drop off their luggage with their airlines and go through security screening points before boarding.” She added that this peak season appears to be promising with seasonal airlines coming back on line and in many cases extending their route to Cape Town.

“We are looking forward to an increase in passenger numbers and, together with our partners, we will continue to present a world-class destination to visitors in ensuring continuous growth and sustainability.”

Cape Argus

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