Arnold February, area manager at Business Partners Limited.PHOTO: Supplied

CAPE TOWN - Technology is rapidly changing the landscape of the travel and tourism industry and creating new opportunities for South African small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

This is according to Arnold February, area manager at Business Partners Limited, a  finance company that provides customised financial solutions, sectoral knowledge, mentorship, business premises and other value-added services for formal small and medium enterprises in South Africa and selected African countries.

February was speaking in light of tourism month, an annual initiative in South Africa aimed at highlighting the importance of the industry and the opportunities that it offers.

“This year, the theme for tourism month is Tourism and Digital Transformation, outlining the need for increased investment in digital technologies to bolster innovation and entrepreneurship in tourism,” he said.

He said the travel and tourism industry is already a large contributor to both employment and gross domestic product (GDP) in South Africa.

“A report by the World Travel and Tourism Council revealed that in 2017, the total contribution of travel and tourism to employment including jobs indirectly supported by the industry was 9.5 percent of total employment of 1,530,500 jobs. This is expected to rise by 3.3 percent in 2018 to 1,580,500 jobs, after which an annual increase of 2.8 percent is expected, increasing the number of jobs in the sector to 2,082,000 in 2028  (11.1 percent of total).”

According to February, a reason for this upward trajectory is that technology is creating a lot more job opportunities via the evolution of new and indirect jobs that now play an integral part of the travel and tourism industry.

“This is due to the rise of online tourism businesses such as Trip Advisor and NightsBridge, which have paved the way for the introduction of jobs that didn’t previously exist, but have now become essential to the sector, such as website designers and developers,” he said.

“Bloggers and social media managers also play a crucial role in the industry today, as social media is now considered to be one of the best ways to market and advertise a business. Another reason why social media managers are important is because of online marketing and customer reviews that can either make or break the popularity of a business. As such, all queries need to be responded to in a professional and timeous manner.”

February further pointed out that technology has also played a part in streamlining how businesses operate in this sector and is minimising some of the challenges that they typically experience.

“As Trip Advisor and NightsBridge assists with global exposure for accommodation businesses, it also assists with increasing the occupancy rate and, in turn, minimises the risk of seasonality. Along with this, the sites’ backend reporting systems for occupancy can help in measuring the seasonality so that business owners can plan ahead and offer off-season discounts for example,” he explained.

As accommodation businesses have also traditionally been quite expensive to start up, February explained that Airbnb has played a major role in disrupting the industry as it has essentially introduced a more cost-effective way for people across the country to start small accommodation businesses.

Airbnb is a global online home-sharing platform which allows people to start small accommodation businesses.

“These days, tourists don’t necessarily want to be staying in the CBD as it is often associated with a lot of congestion, noise and high prices. Instead, there has been a trend of tourists favouring rural areas for their authenticity.

“The travel and tourism industry remains a key player in contributing to the South African economy and as the digital age continues to evolve, so will this sector. As such, it offers great opportunities for SMEs to take advantage of whether they are starting out or growing their reach, whilst contributing to job creation in the country,” concluded February.

- African News Agency (ANA)