Technology will help drive economic recovery
by Lebo Madiba. Big data and cloud technology offer a chance to accelerate the revival of critical sectors.
by Lebo Madiba. Big data and cloud technology offer a chance to build a modern, customised offering and accelerate the revival of critical sectors. Tourism, for example. Our battling tourist sector needs to recover as quickly as possible for our economic health.
Tourism played a significant role in the South African economy, pre-pandemic. Inbound tourism generated R82,5 billion in direct foreign expenditure – the equivalent of 9,2% of total national exports. The sector was indirectly responsible for 8,6% of South African GDP, recovery is therefore a national economic priority. With the pandemic having propelled digitilisation, the sector is looking to technology to offer prime solutions, tapping into big data to provide valuable insights that can drive sector policies and customise offerings – a key industry trend.
The potential of hyper-personalisation from big data means that the more we know about the people who visit our country, the more effectively we can cater for them and create the kind of tourism infrastructure they prefer. Time is of the essence. As the sector prepares for, two of the four peak booking months for international travel (August and September), it faces the prospect of either poor bookings; or an overwhelming surge as vaccinated foreigners feel more comfortable with travelling.
The look-to-technology approach is part of the SA Tourism recovery plan that focuses on three strategic themes:
- Re-igniting demand.
- Rejuvenating supply.
- Strengthening enabling capability.
All three legs of this strategy are crucial, and there is an exciting possibility to strengthen the industry’s enabling capacity by repurposing an existing technology, already deployed in South Africa. Cloud technology that South Africa’s State IT Agency (SITA) invested in during 2018, originally aimed at bringing government services to more citizens; for which the South African government partnered with Huawei to implement OpenStack, a private cloud service. The platform already collects data around international visitors to South Africa and puts the government in a prime position to boost international tourism recovery.
With resources stretched, tourist trends are unpredictable at best. The government’s public-service technology provides an opportunity to use data – and the cloud platforms that host it – to optimise our tourism offerings.
Making tourism data available to developers will mean smartphone applications can be developed that target clients for tourism activities that appeal to them. Customising the tourism offering to every individual client or family can operate just as effectively for domestic and international travellers. Did the visitor enjoy bungee jumping at Bloukrans gorge? Then perhaps they’ll enjoy shark-diving in Gansbaai. A nature lover? Then a glamping vacation in the Cederberg might appeal. For visitors with a wellness bent, push notifications can steer them to a thermal springs resort, a meditation weekend, or the health spa at their City Bowl hotel.
This kind of personalised, real-time marketing is what turns a holiday into a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it can only be done through data and analysis. This is achieved by providing open access to the gathered intelligence so developers can build applications that promote niche services for micro-operators, as well as marketing and reach tools for larger providers. Government has already expressed its strong focus on technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), launching a 4IR presidential commission and looking to “build a Big Data economy”. In this context, OpenStack cloud capabilities are the perfect enabling technology to relaunch our beleaguered tourism industry using big data.
The cloud is a dynamic solution to a dynamic problem. The service is scalable, which means that it will always work, no matter how many businesses use the data. As data changes in the cloud, it is updated in applications. If, for example, tourist habits begin to change, those using the service can adjust their strategy, and their offerings, in real time. Government’s Tourism Sector Recovery Plan already anticipates using application and technology-led monitoring to help the industry self-regulate around COVID 19 response as tourists begin to return.
This functionality can be extended further to provide technology support for the recovery effort, build an inclusive sector, and to help South Africa reclaim our place as a destination of choice for international tourists; and a source of joy and pride for domestic travellers. According to a UNWTO panel of experts, the recovery of international tourism is expected to start in Q3 of 2021. By 2024, the global tourism sector, including European tourism, is expected to be back to a level comparable to the years before the crisis. South Africa’s tourism industry cannot wait that long, but if we tap into our existing cloud technologies, we may boost the recovery of our vital tourism industry and surprise the pundits.
Lebo Madiba is Managing Director of PR Powerhouse, a brand builder, a content maven, and a technology enthusiast.
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