The tourism industry needs to fast-track its adoption of new technology to ensure a quicker post-COVID-19 recovery.
This was highlighted by tourism industry leaders during a webinar hosted by South African Tourism today (April 14) as part of the tourism body’s ongoing engagement as it collaborates to develop a tourism recovery plan post the COVID-19 pandemic.
The webinar was mediated by SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, and Founder and CEO of AviaDev, Jon Howell, with panellists discussing the technological changes the tourism industry would have to make following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Howell asked CEO of Travelstart, Stephan Ekbergh, if the tourism industry, and small businesses in particular, should be looking toward more virtual and online experiences.
Ekbergh responded, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic would act as a catalyst for technological development in business, and that technological developments the tourism industry would typically expect to see over the next five years would be necessary over the next five months.
“Digitise what you can,” he advised, noting that businesses should apply digital solutions to as much of their practice as possible. “For the smaller businesses who can’t afford that, think about what it is that I can do that technology cannot,” said Ekbergh, emphasising that smaller companies should focus on the value they could add beyond technological intervention.
Ekbergh pointed to the Zoom Meetings platform used to host the webinar as an example of a technological solution to what would have previously been a costly conference had guests attended this in person rather than virtually.
He recalled how people’s behaviour changed and adapted in response to the Aids pandemic in the1980s saying that people had to change their social habits. Likening it to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ekbergh said: “People are not going to travel as much, and the way in which they travel will change.”
He added that retention of jobs should be a primary concern of the industry and in that aspect the industry needed to be encouraged to launch new products.
Sub-Saharan Africa Country Manager of Airbnb, Velma Corcoran, agreed that technology often developed on the back of a crisis, highlighting that Airbnb itself was born out of the 2008 global economic crisis as people were looking at innovative ways to supplement their income.
According to Corcoran, Airbnb also had to revise its approach during the pandemic. Having suspended all its traditional ‘experience’ offerings, Airbnb was now offering virtual experiences. This could include a coffee masterclass, a virtual tango class or a local magic show.