E Tourism Africa Summit demonstrates growing importance of online marketing

The South African tourism industry left the fourth E Tourism Africa Summit better equipped on how to engage with - and listen to - potential customers in a world where over 95% of travel research, more than half of all travel purchases, and the majority of travel conversation is happening online.

For South Africa to be a truly successful destination, tourism product owners and providers need to engage potential customers and meet their needs in a way that exceeds their expectations says South African Tourism (SAT). “This point of need is increasingly online, across a variety of important platforms, particularly social media sites.”

The growing importance of online marketing for the tourism industry was underlined at the two-day summit, aimed at developing online tourism with a focus on e-marketing, travel distribution and sales, social networking, and new media. The summit took place in Cape Town last week.

SAT lauds the conference as an “excellent opportunity to provide small and medium-sized businesses in the tourism industry with the knowledge and skills to convert awareness about the destination into visits to the country”. Apart from co-sponsoring the conference itself, SAT sponsored 100 small - and medium-sized tourism businesses to attend the conference.

“South African Tourism’s role is to create demand internationally for destination South Africa, but this demand is meaningless if we do not have a strong relationship with an industry that has the ability to convert demand and awareness into sales,” says William Price, e-marketing global manager at SAT.

“That is why this E Tourism Africa Summit has been so important; it has equipped small and medium-sized businesses in the travel space with the knowledge and tools to engage with clients better through electronic channels, which is where the vast majority of this conversion is happening globally today,” he explained.

Summit founder and CEO, Damian Cook, told the delegates that e-tourism is “communicating the right content across a variety of channels to the best value clients, who you are going to convert to a sale and keep them coming back”.

Participants were briefed by market leaders, including Trip Advisor, Google and Expedia, about how consumers are changing, how and where they make their travel decisions and how they go about sharing those travel experiences.

Social media proved a phenomenon that the travel industry cannot ignore, with research showing that 90% of consumers pay attention to what they learn about destinations from their friends and networks on social media sites while only 14% listen to what advertisers tell them.

“The most fundamental important innovation in tourism marketing is the ability to communicate with customers instantly, relevantly and in a personalised way. The web and social media have become one of our most important tools, particularly as developing countries and destinations,” said Mariette Du Toit Helmbold, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, co-sponsor of the event.

With information on the Internet doubling every 11 hours it is also crucial that, as a destination, South Africa better organises what it has to offer. The National Tourism Database launched last year and available on www.southafrica.net aims to have every South African tourism product registered on it.

“While it is good to see that product owners are using this tool it is crucial that the content that is being uploaded on the database inspires users to get on a plane to come here. We have created a shell, but it is up to the industry to create content that informs and inspires, that shows users experiences that become extraordinary because they happen in South Africa,” says Price.

Participants at the conference were given a textbook to take away with them entitled “A Practical Guide for Tourism in Emerging Markets. How to get online, sell online and succeed online”, which will also be made available on the SAT website.


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