‘The Role of Technology in the Changing Face of Travel in Africa,’ was the theme of the panel discussion at the African Ministerial Session that kicked off tourism trade show Indaba this year in Durban.
Deputy Minister of Tourism, Elizabeth Thabethe, opened the event by saying: “Technology is an enabler for better tourism products.” She added that because tourism contributes more than 30% of the GDP to many African countries, technology presents an opportunity to enhance and grow the sector.
The panel agreed Africa has incredible potential to grow its travel and tourism offerings exponentially, but this growth must be local, inclusive and transformational. Angelica Mkok, Head of Social Responsibility at Amadeus IT Group, who represented Amadeus on the panel emphasised that technology can enable transformational growth in the region. She explained that because of its growth potential and capacity to reach and involve the local communities, the travel and tourism industry can be an engine to accelerate that transformational growth.
The panel also discussed how new consumer trends and technologies are disrupting traditional travel norms, the value of working more closely with government and policy-makers on regulation for the new technologies, and the importance of a more inclusive approach.
Tech companies explained that it is difficult to regulate innovation because this often comes after a new technology has been introduced or created for the market. Stephan Ekbergh, CEO and Founder of Travelstart, said: “If innovators would ask for permission first, nothing would ever happen.”
Industry bodies and government representatives, on the other hand, stressed that no company is exempt from the law and that those involved in hospitality and travel would still need to adhere to health and safety regulations, taxes, and licensing.
“Technology has revolutionised the way travel is done,” said FEDHASA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa. “Gone are the days when the end user had little input in the organising or booking process. Travel agents, too, have embraced technological advances, often using a myriad software and platforms that allow for efficiency and convenience. The question now is how we balance human resources so that we don’t lose valuable human resources as the world becomes more data driven and automated.”
Both groups, however, agreed on one thing: more collaboration is needed between the public and private sectors.
The panel session ended on a very positive note, with Ekbergh saying, “Our best days are yet ahead of us.
Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa thanked the panelists for a ‘very interactive’ session. She said it was critical for the private and public sector to look at partnerships that would allow the country to grow its tourism offering. “We can’t fight each other. We need each other. We need to come together as role-players to benefit the tourism industry.”