The submarine cable connecting East Africa to the rest of the world is expected to revolutionise broadband speeds and substantially lower Internet costs, but analysts wonder whether the tourism sector is ready to use the facility.
The tourism sector has long been the backbone of Kenya’s economy, however, the sector has been struggling with the effects of the post election violence in early 2008 and now the global financial crisis.
For many tourism players, marketing is essential. However, it is often equated to producing and distributing glossy brochures, using print and TV advertising and attending overseas travel fairs.
In May and June, the Kenya-based initiative, E-Tourism Africa, with the support of title sponsor Safaricom, along with lead sponsors Visa, Microsoft and Coca-Cola, held an East African Road Show to illustrate to the tourism sector how important and easy it is to make the shift to online marketing.
The road show ran in six different tourism centres — Kampala, Kigali, Nairobi, Arusha, Zanzibar and Mombasa — and consisted of two-day training seminars in each venue for tourism professionals and destination managers both in the private and public sector.
According to E-Tourism Africa CEO Damian Cook, one of the most common responses from delegates at the road show was surprise at how accessible, cost-effective and relatively simple some of the online solutions demonstrated were.
“The notion that getting online requires major investment and intense technological knowhow still runs deep. It has been great to be able to demonstrate the ease of online reservation systems, working with online travel agencies — and how a website with a simple content management system can be easily and effectively run,” he noted.
“The same was true for search engine optimisation techniques, e-mail campaign management and use of multimedia and social media tools,” he said.
Already a large number of delegates have set up accounts on Twitter and Facebook to market their companies.
But while the road show saw a lot of enthusiasm for change, the organisers also saw many common challenges.
Challenges across East Africa included finding professional web designers who can provide more than a basic static website for business applications and the lack of local e-marketing professionals or agencies offering new media services, said Cook.
Budgets were still an issue. “Companies need to consider their websites to be capital investments and to reallocate their marketing budgets into online.”