File image: IOL.
CAPE TOWN – Technology is revolutionising travel. To keep growing its tourism industry, South Africa must continuously invest in new technologies to deliver the right experiences to discerning travellers.

It is widely recognised that tourism has the potential to help South Africa and other African countries grow their economies and create jobs.

Tourism is contributing around 9 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product, a growth to the economy of R412.5billion in 2017, which translates into 1.5million jobs or 9.5percent of total employment.

By 2028, it is estimated that almost 2.1million South African jobs will depend on tourism.

Similar scenarios are playing out across many other African economies.

However, ensuring a growing tourism sector will mean constantly assessing fast-moving technological developments that have the potential to change expectations and create new opportunities - or might not come to fruition.

In time, it's possible that driving itself will be outdated, and faces and fingerprints will replace passports altogether.

Today, however, we are still journeying to that future world. The next few years will be an exciting time for travel technology as advancements made in the past decade begin to scale up and make network-wide impacts.

Here are some advancements and new experiences travellers should expect to add to their adventures, and that tourism operators should be considering.

While nobody can yet say with confidence how autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be deployed at scale and within open context, it is certain that AVs can work in dedicated areas to transform carefully chosen tourist activities in an environment-friendly way.

Heathrow Airport in London has the proof. Its self-driving shuttles have been running on dedicated roadways since 2011. Airport officials told the BBC in 2014 that they replace an estimated 70000 bus journeys each year.

The pods also complete their journey faster than buses while reducing carbon emissions by 50percent as compared with typical airport shuttle buses, and by 70percent as compared with individuals in cars.

Here in South Africa, the potential for AVs to improve certain tourist experiences is very much on the radar. The non-profit Mobility Centre for Africa was set to run South Africa's first public AV trials. This will begin showing the many ways in which these vehicles could be used to transform tourism. Examples include linking the Sandton Gautrain station with other local destinations, running along Durban's famous beach front, or connecting Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront with the convention centre and CBD.

Getting through airports is consistently ranked as one of the top stressors for travellers, along with money and safety.

Thankfully, biometric security technology is having the rare effect of making airports more secure while also making airport processes more convenient.

South Africa is set to automate its border-control processes for citizens using fingerprints stored in the Home Affairs National Identification System, or Hanis.

A joint project by the Airports Company of South Africa and the Department of Home Affairs will see biometric scanning introduced at Cape Town International in March 2019, with OR Tambo and King Shaka airports following suit thereafter.

A programme for international travellers, Trusted Traveller, will also be developed in time. Believe it or not, rental car companies may soon offer travellers the easiest access to the latest travel technology. In the US, they’re the largest buyers of new cars, replacing the vast majority of their fleets - millions of cars - each year with newer, more connected models. This trend is likely to affect many markets in which car hire is widely used.

Today, travellers can at least expect Bluetooth connectivity, even in budget options, but rental companies are quickly expanding their connected service offerings.

Inter-city subways and flying cars are on the horizon, but travel and mobility won't change all that drastically for several more years.

In the meantime, the tourism industry in South Africa and Africa must lead the way in pioneering travel technologies that make sense for their markets - and travellers should enjoy the journey and join in the live testing of technologies that empower personal mobility and keep us all safe on our way.

Sherry Zameer is a senior vice-president, Internet of Things Solutions for the CISMEA region at Gemalto.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.