SMEs in the travel and tourism are among the most sluggish when it comes to the adoption of technology, despite a growing acknowledgement that those who fail to digitise risk being left behind. What is fuelling this apprehension – and are there simple ways that small businesses can get started on their technology journey?
These were some of the questions tackled in a webinar during Africa Travel Week Virtual, hosted by the SEEZA Tourism SME Network on the topic “Digitalisation: A growth imperative for tourism SMEs”.
Kicking off the discussion, Septi Bukula, Director of SEEZA Tourism SME Network, pointed out that while pandemic has accelerated the role of technology in tourism, a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the accommodation sector was among those listed as the slowest to integrate technology into their businesses.
This inertia stems from a fear of change, explains Arthi Tibrewalla, Chief Operating Officer of tripDarwin, based in India. “Some may not have access to technology, while others may have worked for decades in a certain way and there is fear and apprehension around change. They are asking whether technology is evil and whether it is going to take something away from a role they have performed with so much of their own personality,” she adds.
Tshepo Matlou, Head of Marketing and Communications for Jurni, which has been tasked with implementing the National Visitor Information System – a project by South Africa’s National Department of Tourism – says this hesitancy to digitise is also rooted in the background role SMEs have traditionally played in the past when it comes to technology. He says SMEs have seen big organisations spending loads of money on huge platforms, and they are largely unaware that there are solutions already available to them they don’t require capital outlay. For example, Jurni is developing a property management system which can be provided to SMEs free of charge if they don’t already have one in place.
Samora Nqweniso, Transformation Manager for Tourism KwaZulu Natal, agrees that misconceptions around the cost of access is a big factor in slow adoption of technology by SMEs. He points out that many are under the impression that as a business you have to have a website, but this simply isn’t the case. “As an SME, it is far more cost-effective to join an existing platform that already has economy of scale,” he adds. But, he says, we need to look at how we can make this process simple for them – for example, when issues around commissions and subscription fees creep in, we need to look at other options we can utilise to generate value from what they offer as an SME.
Looking towards solutions, the South African government – both national and provincial – is aware of the vital role it plays in assisting tourism SMEs to bring their businesses online, explains Nqweniso. Regrettably though, due the lengthy processes that are involved in any form of public sector procurement, government hasn’t been quick enough to when it comes to setting up key partnerships with platforms and technology providers who are skilled at digital transformation. However, developments are now underway, and several new partnerships have been established in recent months that will start speeding up this process.