How to transform travel, tourism via mobile commerce


Tourists take photographs of a lion at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The travel and tourism industry is steadily recovering albeit with some degree of apprehension as we approach the general elections next month.

The industry has performed reasonably well under challenging circumstances over the last decade or so with punctuated set-backs related to security issues or perception thereof associated with electioneering, terror attacks and the perennial terror-linked travel advisories. It has been a stop-start affair that has truly tested a weary but remarkably resilient industry.

The priority for most destinations worldwide is to recover and restore confidence in key source markets. The Ministry of Tourism recently launched the new Kenya Tourism Strategy 2021/2025 in May 2022 as a response to recent challenges in the global marketplace.

Despite its rich and attractive natural and cultural resources, sub-Saharan Africa’s travel and tourism performance metrics currently don’t compare favourably with the rest of the world.

This could be attributed to that fact that tourism in Africa is at an early stage of development. The continent still has to contend with longstanding development challenges.

Key among these are infrastructure, air connectivity and security. On a positive note, sub-Saharan Africa continues to outpace the global average in international tourism arrivals and receipts growth. Sub Saharan Africa is the second-fastest growing tourism region in the world, with a growth of 5.6 percent in 2018 after Asia Pacific and against a 3.9 percent global average growth rate.

In 2018, the continent received 67 million international tourist arrivals (+7 percent increase), as compared to 63 million in 2017. This may partly explain why Kenya broke the two million international visitor arrivals mark for the first time ever as captured in the tourism sector performance report of 2019, just before the outbreak of Covid-19.

Unlike the financial sector, the travel and tourism sector hasn’t fully capitalised on digital technology.

The phenomenal success on the mobile money services front is a strong indicator that travel and tourism equally has a glaring opportunity to replicate the same success story by introducing mobile commerce to facilitate seamless access to tourism products.

The distribution channels in the travel industry have barely changed for a long time. These channels worked well in the past but are now ineffectual in an intensely competitive global industry on a recovery mode and constantly evolving and adopting new technologies.

Digital platforms enable businesses to track the metrics and analyse the data generated through digital marketing. These data-based insights help businesses understand their customers better and recommend better buying options.

Effective and high-speed ICT infrastructure and software applications are crucial for the development and transformation of this sector through mobile commerce.

The improvement of connectivity and the use of mobile phones make destination attractions more accessible to tourists. Businesses are able to strengthen their market presence by

making their products available online 24/7, and brands can sell services and products to customers around the clock from anywhere and anytime. The mobile phone has become essential for a variety of day-to-day transactions in the country.

Intense competition in the mobile phone market has seen manufacturers reduce prices to improve sales making this device affordable to more Kenyans. The sector statistics report by the Communications Authority of Kenya covering the first quarter of 2021/2022 financial year indicates that as at September 2021, the number of mobile phone devices accessing mobile networks stood at 59.0 million, out of which 33.0 million were feature phones and 26.0 million smartphones.

According to Datareportal, there were 23.35 million internet users in Kenya in January 2022, and the current internet penetration rate stood at 42.0 percent of the total population at the start of 2022. This demonstrates the scale of opportunity on digital platforms for travel distributors.

And with 97 percent of all internet users in Kenya accessing the internet on mobile phones, it’s evident that mobile penetration in the country is ready for the adoption of mobile commerce in the travel and tourism sector.

The success of mobile money platforms has established a formidable digital culture, an established foundation to plug into. Kenya’s leading source markets are from the West. Tourists from these destinations are already familiar with online booking and other digital platforms.

They would therefore highly welcome digital solutions that avail deeper authentic experiences in Kenya. This also applies to local travel enthusiasts who are similarly well-exposed to digital platforms.

So we have an opportunity to develop and introduce new digital platforms and integrated omni-channel experiences that offer comprehensive digital access to the full depth and diversity of local travel experiences for all targeted travelers from the domestic, regional and international market segments.

Pre-packaged holiday deals may no longer hold the allure and appeal of yesteryear for an emerging breed of relatively young hyper-connected, tech savvy travelers aged roughly between 24 and 40 years old.

This segment of travelers is more likely to search for travel inspiration via mobile devices including; smartphones, tablets, iPads, desktop computers, social media and internet-based technologies.

The tourism industry of the future will be technology-driven. Embedding a digital culture shall inevitably support innovation in the industry. This will enable travel suppliers acquire skills to anticipate customer’s behavior, adapt to their needs and subsequently attract more bookings which will create jobs and increase incomes in the industry.

It is now seemingly imperative that the local travel trade should increasingly engage more technology in their business models in order to remain competitive both in the domestic and international markets. This will increase the competitiveness and sustainability of the Magical Kenya brand.

The relevant Ministries and respective agencies in partnership with the travel trade should therefore maintain close collaboration for strategic adoption of ICTs to maximize the potential of this sector.

Author: Joseph Sanna

Email: [email protected] (This is a .co not .com) email address

Director: Wasafiri Destinations and Travel Consultant