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The E-Tourism East Africa Conference – Day 1 Recap

The E-Tourism East Africa Conference – Day 1 Recap

Please forgive the late publishing – I have had a clients work which I had put on hold to attend the conference, to finish and meetings all week long. I have not put any links but I will once work eases off. This is only the first days recap. Second Day’s recap is for another day. Regards.

The E-Tourism East Africa conference finally happened this past Thursday and Friday. The conference lived up to its billing. The attendance was superb, the speakers were excellent and the networking opportunities were plenty. For those of you who for whatever reason could not make it there, I was taking notes. If you were there, this is a recap.

I got here when @DamianCook was speaking. He was talking about

Thanks to the Nairobi Traffic, I got there late and found Damian Cook just wrapping up his session. He was talking about travelling the whole wired world (nice word play there). When I started paying attention, Damian was showing this Augmented Reality video of where we are headed in this wired world. His presentation was a wake-up call of sorts to the delegates on where the world is moving and the role technology is playing in it. He set the stage for the remainder of the presentations.

Next on Stage was Maria Schwarz, the strategic consultant of Seismonaut, a Dutch company. She spoke on e-Marketing for tourism.

She had a pretty good presentation on how technology is changing the tourism industry the world over. The biggest take-away from her presentation was a series of images where the company websites of various hotels had these beautiful sparkling shots that most hotels tend to have and beside them were less flattering images of the same hotels that people had published online to counter the illusion the these hotels were presenting. She made a very good case that the travel and tourism industry is now contingent on more than what you have to say for yourself. What other people have to say about you is more important and that is what you need to be listening to.

Find her presentation here…

Next on stage was Jerome Touze, the Co-founder of WAYN. WAYN is the largest social network for travel with over 16 million active members online. Jerome is a pretty good speaker. He communicates very well and with great ease, and he’s a funny guy. I hope I don’t get him into trouble with the French once more but while introducing himself, he said that he was French for all his troubles. That got us laughing.

The story behind the founding of WAYN is a familiar one since all the great tech companies seem to share those modest beginnings like working from the bedroom or garage with little or no funding not to mention the unsavory remarks aimed at killing ideas at their infancy to get you them to get jobs like normal people. After hearing out how WAYN came to be, Jerome got us going with other interesting insight.

Apparently, WAYN which is an acronym for Where Are You Now actually means Where in Arabic which was pure coincidence.

WAYN was initially to target the travelers market purely but like every other startup, how people start using these platforms dictate how they mould and what they eventually turn out to be.

Jerome told us how they bid for adwords on Google and how this helped them immensely in getting users. He informed us on how they moved from 45,000 users to 1 million in six months – orgasmic, isn’t it. They now stand at 16 million users.

On their revenue model, Jerome said that the market changed when everything became free. They were initially getting revenues from using a subscription model but they had to shift from this when the market changed. He mentioned that even ads were changing such that today, it is how you are interacting with community which is important.

Jerome then took us through the work they were doing with the S.A Tourism Board… It is pretty interesting what can be done through WAYN by the tourism industry. Read up on the South African case study here. Let

Air Asia – allows people to book via their profiles on WAYN. When people comment that they want to go somewhere, they get redirected to the profile page of someone working with AIR Asia. They get convinced to

Newzealand dude and WAYN usage –

Then Jerome gave what was probably the best advice of his presentation. When talking of campaigns, he said that destinations are today based not on where you want to go but rather what you want to do – and that is how campaigns should be designed. If people are looking to sky dive, swim with sharks, bird watch – what destination will they chose? If you are doing your job is done right, it is you that people will find because again, their search for destinations is based on the activities they plan to do.

On running tourism campaigns like the one they did with the S.A Tourism Board, he advised that each campaign should have the following fundamental features;

  • Relevance
  • Purpose
  • Realistic Timescales
  • Does the competition engage and inspire audience
  • Are the entry instructions clear.

Finally, he mentioned one last bit of critical information which is users are really clever. People do not want to be flagged by what they do not want. Understand what users want and it will spread very easily. See the web as an opportunity.

KCB people were next on stage to talk about their rourism specific online payment solution and merchant services.

The KCB payment solution has been made possible through a partnership with Nightsbridge which now allows online bookings and payments in a simple and accessible way.

The gentleman from KCB who was presenting this was a little shy of the details because, as he confessed time and time again, he could not speak on the technical details which he left for the Nightsbridge people to do. He was a banker and spoke about this being the first tourism specific online payment solution and merchant service. A couple of people on Twitter disagreed with this because there are quite a number of online payment solutions in the country. They don’t have the clout KCB and Nightsbridge have but they are there, in their modest capacities.

He could not answer a number of questions asked because they had technical connotations to them.

Q. What are the costs?

He did answer this by saying that it will cost you 50 USD to have this payment gateway installed on your website. But he prompted more questions because that was not a sustainable revenue model. We were hoping to hear a transactional based revenue model but he was lost once more on the details and referred us to Nightsbridge.

Q. What about MPESA?

He said not yet. People can only pay through VISA and Credits cards but not MPESA.

I honestly believe, like most delegates there, that an integration with MPESA might be the one thing to spur local online booking because our comfort levels with MPESA is way beyond what it can ever be with VISA and credit cards.

Next up was Theresa Emerick, the Co-founder and C.E.O of NightsBridge.

The idea with nightsbridge is bringing bookings to your world. Emerick mentioned that travel research was the one constant even as the world dipped into recession. Her presentation showed how online travel research is increasing even with the downturn in the economy that happened. Given this reality, Nightsbridge are addressing the problems facing many tourism destinations and these are availability visibility, and bookability.

Availability

We found you on the internet but we do not know whether you have an availability? Today, people need to tell from your site whether there is availability in your hotel. Having people email you to check whether there are any rooms available simply doesn’t cut it anymore. Emails have too many problems including timing of response to emails where you may respond too late to an email or at least after your competitor already has. Difficulty in checking availability and booking may not only cost you a booking in your hotel but as you may as lose out as a destination.

Visibility

People cannot find you. One thing the tourism industry in Kenya need to realize is that people do not enter your hotel names when they search for you online. They put industry terms that should get them hotel listings like Malindi Hotels. Even in my line of work, people do not search for my company names but rather for social media or online reputation management in Kenya or even social media strategy in Kenya but not my company name. As a business then, we need to ensure that we rank very high for these terms and that is what nightsbridge offer with their package.

Bookability

Never let your ads write checks that your website can’t cash. When people get to your website, how do they book with you? Do they have to travel first and book with you in person? Is the process of booking accommodation with you easy and convenient? Having availability online means you get the booking there and then, before the competition.

Nightsbridge through their software provides the following solutions for businesses:

Front office – booking software with invoicing and excel reports. You can integrate Nightsbridge with your existing booking platforms if you already have one.

People allocate rooms to nightsbridge and allow nightsbridge to allocate the rooms instead of giving these rooms to various tours and travel agencies. You only pay for the rooms that have been allocated to Nightsbridge.

As things stand, most hotels have to sign up with multiple accounts and post their booking information across many platforms and this has many disadvantages one being having to sign in to multiple accounts and updating them all. Nightsbridge allows you update all accounts from one account which is not only efficient but also effective in that there are few or no mistakes made in updating info.

There is also the Paybridge Gateway which has been developed in conjunction with KCB. You can check out this payment gateway in action on the Khweza Hotel website.

Nightsbridge sent the info to all their marketing sites that the room is booked.

The nightsbridge usually check whether the credit card number to see whether it is real. You do not have to cancel a booking just because of an error with expiry date or something of the sort.

Benefits of Nightsbridge include

  • Increased internet exposure
  • Market access to many different distribution channels
  • Integration to online merchants
  • Only one system to update.

The nightsbridge software offers you?

  • Easy booking entries on the calendar.
  • Add client details and special requests.
  • Reserve rooms and release automatically after a set time.
  • Search on dates or names.
  • Copy and paste details for repeat customers.
  • Make a booking with multiple rooms.
  • Change rates and room descriptions.
  • Add specials and minimum stays.
  • Allocate guests to different rooms and dates.

In the Q & A, the following questions were asked:

Q. Do they work with tour operators?

Activity bridge will work for anything that is not accommodation like the Safaris and Complete booking systems. This will be cross selling platforms. The check out form for accomodation will prompt activity or accomodation provers whether they would like to offers the each of the other. It will be simple but it will be integrated in the future.

Q. How does it work with the finance department?

Owners log-in in the system. You can print reports to see outstanding payments. Nightsbridge does not take any commissions and therefore not interfere with finance. They have a monthly flat rate charges based on the number of rooms they have. Bookings on your own website are not charged.

They also have a master Dashboard online if the computer you installed the nightsbridge software is down or stolen.

Q. If the booking is canceled, who repays, how is this handled?

If it was an online transaction, there is an online option that you can charge the card back. But where there are transactional risks with regard to online payment, remember that Nightsbridge is a terminal, period. You are taking the risks yourself. They have all the safeguards to prevent fraud but they cannot be liable for general online transaction risks.

Expedia – Diego LoFuendo, the Regional Manager, Eastern Med & Africa at Expedia was next on stage.

LoFuendo is a funny dude. He had a strong accent and given his personality and how he talks, his presentation beyond being informative was really funny.

The facts and figures he had were quite interesting:

  • $26 billion sold in travel.
  • 75 million people visit Expedia per month.
  • 75% of people searching for holidays online, they pass through one of the Expedia related sites.
  • 2 rooms sold every second on Expedia
  • 14 million searches made on Expedia every day.

He then talked about Promotion and Distribution via Expedia

Content Management

Content is king, price is queen. The geographical boundary of an online consumer is really relative. Therefore, when offering content, he LoFuendo advised that businesses should show content that justifies the price.

Provide excellent service

Word of mouth is now on steroids with the internet. It is the same thing we have been saying with regard to social media. With everybody today being a publisher, if your service falls short of what you promised, people will publish that for the world to see either through the various social networks and review systems. At Expedia, they have rating systems of a scale of 1-5.

Inventory and Rate Management

Mr. LoFuendo then went into really deep analysis with regard to inventory and rate management. He asked where East Africa is today on the online map and he then through went through the following points as he explored where we lie.

  • External and Internal Factors?
  • Long and Strong tour operator foot point in the market (E)
  • External package culture versus FIT Internet needs (E)
  • Low internet culture in the country
  • Poor revenue channel management understanding
  • Poor understanding of the customer and his needs…

When is the last time you read reviews on your competitor? Or replied to comments made about you.

You must read this guy’s presentation because the data in there will jolt you especially the hotel room nights and air tickets sold, for instance, flights and hotels booked through Expedia in Africa both stood at over $100,000,000 in 2009 and is expected to be just about $120,000,000 in revenues in 2010.

When asked to look at the dynamic in Africa when compared to the rest of the world with regard to the role that tour operators play. The gentleman asking the question said matter-of-factly that tour operators have a stronghold in Kenya that Expedia has no immediate solution to. LoFuendo was still adamant that the role of these operators is diminishing. He said that the same challenges that are currently in Kenya are those that were there years ago in Cancun and other now established destinations 6 years.

Next on Stage was Rory Montgomery of eRes HTI who talked Central Reservation Solutions.

HTI systems are Africa’s largest provider of large scale central reservations systems for groups, tour operators, airlines and online travel portal. He was discussing the growth and distribution channels across the region. His presentation focused on the convergence between central reservations and Internet. He talked of web based reservation systems where the human aspect of the call centre is now removed.

The only problem with his presentation was that he assumed we were all acquainted with his Jargon as his presentation was filled with many acronyms that left many delegates looking at each other with question marks on their faces. Occasionally, you could tell how important and crucial it will be to integrate their system into your business but you would soon get lost in the acronyms and jargon.

That said, what I got from his presentation is that their reservation system is so comprehensive it allows for the following: Quality Guaranteed Booking, Online Distribution – more shelves 24/7, Channels Management and Relationships, Rates Management, Create Calendar and overlay with events, Build good baseline rate structures, Link other Rates to Baseline, and manage Rate Integrity and Discipline.

LIVE Inventory and Rates

This system also allows for changing rates across multiple platforms even if it is 25 times a day as is the nature of the tourism business. There can never be standard rates the whole season. And because money never sleeps while people do, their booking system can automate varying rates easily without constant human input.

LIVE distribution will also give you minute to minute occupancy therefore allowing you to change rates as you see fit. For instance, if you have 90% percent occupancy, you can afford to offer high rates. If occupancy level is too low prior to a set date, give special rates. At low demands, encourage occupancy or special rates but not discounting.

Basically, this systems enables you to monitor Scarcity vs. Perishability, to balance diminishing inventory and potential revenue, to guarantee bookings, High Demand vs. Low Demand – Revenue balancing and Automated Rules.

Automated responses can be set for web bookings, tour operators, loyalty, OTA/ID’s ( I have not friggin idea what that means but it was in the presentation), Corporate Rates, Early Bird, and Last Minute. Their CRM can also incentivise the bookers such that they can continue booking. Bookers does not mean the people travelling if they are not the ones doing the actual booking but rather the people who are actually booking. They get the rewards.

From the little bit that I got from this presentation, I can assure you that it is worth the investment. It makes a lot of economic sense.

If you need more info, the Kenyan contact for this is bernard@hti-systems.co.za.

Andrew Ardington from Smart Guide was the last speaker of the day

Smart Guide has been mapping accommodation points from South Africa to Kenya. He impressed me. For me, their map beats Google by a mile. It is simply awesome. If you are a Kenyan Hotel or Tourist destination, get yourself on there.

The smartest thing he said is that you first sell the destination, then the location in that destination, then your hotel. If you lose out as a destination, you have already lost out as a location and a hotel. So sell Kenya as a destination first, then sell Nakuru or South Coast as allocation, then sell Lake Nakuru Lodge or Diani as a Hotel. Simple logic really, just very well said.

Just check out the Smart Guide Map and tell me what you think.

  • Marvin Tumbo,
  • September 7, 2010