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Using Technology to Boost Tourism Numbers in Africa

05 August, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

Kihara Kimachia:

It is innovative disruption when every so often, someone comes up with a piece of technology or way of doing business that totally upsets the status quo. Disruption is mostly good because it often leads to more efficient ways of doing things and in the case of goods and services, the end user derives more utility at a cheaper price.

The global tourism industry is an example where a disruptive technology is literally uprooting and changing the way business is conducted. Companies like Airbnb have made it possible, via web and mobile apps, for people to rent out their spare bedrooms to total strangers visiting from any part in the world. In case you aren't familiar with this kind of business, the way it works is quite simple. Do you have a spare bedroom, a second home, some other lodging? Maybe you simply want to rent out your home and live at a cheaper place? Go to Airbnb.com, VRBO.com, sleepout.com and host of similar services. Register, create a profile and upload the details and terms of your property listing. Then, sit back and wait for rental enquiries from around the world.

Some of benefits of such a service are immediately apparent. For one, it offers a quick and easy way allows for people with excess space to make a quick buck on the side. The lodging fees can be significantly higher because the potential market is global. Short-term rentals also encourage tourism because many potential tourists are put off by high hotel fees. From a cultural tourist's point of view, rentals of this nature are the best way to authentically experience a culture while travelling. It isn't possible to do this in Africa where ninety percent of hotels are located in cities and other exclusive zones far off from the local community. Living with someone in the community offers the best way to totally immerse in a foreign culture.

The response from the big boys in the tourism industry the world over has been the usual knee jerk reaction whenever big business is confronted by a disruptive innovation. In capitals around the world, major hotel chains are up arms and are lobbying for the enactment or enforcement of laws that prohibit individual citizens from turning their homes into hotels. Established players are crying foul and demanding government intervention (read protection). They justify the same by claiming that the hotel industry will collapse and jobs lost in the process. But, short-term rental companies argue, and quite rightly so, that they are merely facilitating a peer-to-peer “sharing economy.” After all, it would be ridiculous to pass laws that prevent an individual from allowing a boarder into his home, which is what some of these proposals suggest. Not to mention, such laws would be extremely difficult to implement.

In Africa, short-term rentals via web and mobile services have the potential to stimulate the tourism industry. Conventional hotels do not have sufficient geographic coverage and they fail to provide adequate opportunities for cultural tourists. Short-term rentals offer a huge income earning potential for millions of people in African cities and villages.


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