Kenya to Host Regional Tourism Conference

The natural beauty of East Africa

Tourism stakeholders from the East African region are set to converge in Nairobi in March to discuss ways of tapping into the growing online travel sales, organisers said.

E-Tourism Frontiers CEO Damian Cook told journalists in Nairobi that some of the world’s leading experts on online tourism will assist players in the region to make better use of the internet and social media in order to market and manage their destinations and businesses.

“The conference will assist the region to shift from reliance on traditional travel agents to online bookings by using technology to build growth in this emerging sector,” Cook said late on Tuesday.

Over 200 delegates from the region are expected to attend the two-day conference in order to increase their understanding and investment into the online sector. The conference will focus strongly on the use of social media to leverage online bookings. “If the region can tap into technology, they can reduce reliance on generic brand statements and organize unique travel packages to suit individual tastes,” he said. “With online tourism sales set to double to over 300 billion US dollars globally by the end of 2012, it is critical that tourism players in the sector switch to this lucrative sector,” he said. “It is clear that online is now the arena of choice for travel sales, however only a small number of players in East Africa are really accessing and using these tools to their full potential,” he said.

He pointed out that the East African region has continued to lag behind other regions due to poor infrastructure. “In the past few years, East Africa has increased investments in information technology sector but the lack of an accessible payment gateway is hindering efforts for players to adapt modern marketing techniques,” Cook said.

“While over 50 per cent of travel sales in developed countries are conducted online, the figure is between five to ten per cent in the region,” he said. Cook said that as online penetration growth in the more matures US and European markets slow, travel companies are looking to the emerging markets as the next pot of gold. He added that the traditional method of travel agents in the west selling mass bookings to destination in Africa is an obsolete method of doing the business.

“As a region, the number of tourists’ arrivals should not be the benchmark but the yield per tourist. Technology is the perfect tool that can be used to match the high value tourist to a premium destination,” he said. Visa East Africa Country Manager Victor Ndlovu said that secure online payments are critical if the region will be able to tap into online travel bookings. “Most of the source markets for tourists such as the USA and Europe have developed secure online payments but these systems are not fully developed in the East Africa,” he said.

Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) Head of Card Business Wilfred Michoma said that his financial institution is among the few in Kenya that have developed an affordable E-Commerce solution in order facilitate the growth of online tourism sales.