Information communication technology (ICT) and tourism promotion in Africa

Authored by: Julian K. Ayeh

Routledge Handbook of Tourism in Africa

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138496088
eBook ISBN: 9781351022545
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781351022545-5

 

Abstract

The transformative power of information and communication technology (ICT) is ubiquitous in every sector and region of the world. Though Africa has traditionally been a laggard in technology adoption, the continent has not been left untouched by the digital revolution. Notwithstanding, many African countries are yet to fully exploit ICT potential to maximise tourism gains while the continent continues to remain at the heart of the “digital divide”. Yet the literature on the ICT and Tourism nexus reveals inadequate focus on African countries. Giving the contribution of tourism to economic development and the potential of technology in offering competitive advantage and in accelerating sustainable tourism benefits, examining ICT role in tourism from developing countries’ perspective is even more crucial. This chapter discusses ways in which technology could be harnessed to strategically market Africa’s tourism potentials within the framework of the extended marketing mix paradigm and examines the critical issues challenging the adoption of ICT in Africa’s tourism sector. After laying out the challenges that need to be addressed, the chapter highlights key areas requiring research attention. The chapter concludes with optimism for the future in view of the significant gains made by the continent over the last two decades and the boundless opportunities offered by new and emerging technologies that could empower African destinations and tourism businesses to overcome age-old challenges and maximise sustainable gains from tourism.

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Information communication technology (ICT) and tourism promotion in Africa

Introduction

Unquestionably, technology has revolutionised travel and tourism industries around the globe. From the humble beginnings of jet planes and SABRE CRS in the 20th century to the present use of smart technologies and the application of artificial intelligence in offering robotic services in hotels, restaurants and airports, to an anticipated future of windowless airplanes, the evolution and transformative impact of technology are evident in every area of the tourism sector. The World Travel and Tourism Council ([WTTC] 2018a) estimates that in every 24-hour cycle, there are 11.2 million air passengers, 15 million Uber rides, over 2 billion transactions on global distribution systems (GDS), over a billion credit card transactions, over 5 billion travel-related searches on Google, 15.2 million visits to TripAdvisor, 22.5 million visitors on Expedia, 14 million hotel bookings, 100,000 flights and 22.7 million people passing through airports around the world.

Though many African countries have traditionally been laggards in technology adoption, the continent has not been left untouched by the increasing digitisation and transformation generated by information and communication technologies (ICTs) revolution. ICTs broadly refer to multiple communication technologies, ranging from simple to complex applications including Cell Phone applications (SMS), Digital Cameras, Internet, Wireless (Wi-Fi and WiMAN), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Global Positioning System (GPS), Geographic Information System (GIS), Convergence (data, voice, media), Digital radio, and other emerging technologies (Shanker 2008). Technology has broken new frontiers on the continent with some African countries at the forefront of certain genres of innovation adoption. Nonetheless, a lot of unexplored grounds remain, and ICT is still underutilised in many of the continent’s geographic regions and subsectors. Africa has been at the core of the “digital divide” – i.e. “the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access ICTs and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities” (OECD 2001, 4). Nonetheless, limited attention has been given to the implications of the digital divide for the tourism sector (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010). Besides, the literature on the ICT and Tourism nexus reveals inadequate focus on countries in the global south and particularly in Africa. Yet examining ICT role in tourism from developing countries’ perspective is even more crucial in view of the contribution of tourism to economic development and the potential of technology in providing competitive advantage and in accelerating tourism benefits. This chapter discusses how the continent could harness ICT to competitively market its tourism potentials and the critical issues demanding attention.

ICT and tourism nexus

The impact of ICT on various industries within the tourism sector cannot be overemphasised as ICTs have transformed the structure and organisation of the tourism system (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; Sheldon 1997). Information technology offers a wide range of opportunities for numerous sub-sectors including transportation, lodging, food service, travel agencies, tour operators, attractions and entertainment services in a globalised milieu (Buhalis and Law 2008; Tichaawa, Mhlanga and Sicwebu 2017). Several scholars have underscored how ICTs have led to a new paradigm shift, altered the structure of tourism industries and generated a vast range of opportunities (Buhalis 2003; Buhalis and Kaldis 2008; Buhalis and Law 2008; Rihova et al. 2018; Sheldon 1997; Sigala 2003; Werthner and Klein 1999a).

The intricate relationship between ICT and tourism is likewise conspicuous on the African continent. The tourism sector in Africa has experienced critical changes stemming from ICT generated innovations. Emerging technologies continue to transform tourism-related industries and the entire process of tourism service development, delivery, management and marketing (Opara and Onyije 2013; Tichaawa, Mhlanga and Sicwebu 2017). For African countries, ICT could represent a powerful tool for generating boundless gains in promoting and strengthening the strategy and operations of the tourism sector as a whole (Tichaawa, Mhlanga and Sicwebu 2017, 2). It also represents a critical instrument in determining the capabilities of African destinations and tourism organisations for survival and competitiveness in our highly digitised and globalised economy (Parsons and Oja 2013). Notwithstanding, most African countries are yet to fully tap into the potential of ICT to maximise tourism gains.

ICT potential for Africa’s tourism promotion

At the global stage, African countries have often received the least share in tourism benefits. In 2017, for instance, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO 2018) reports that Africa earned merely 5% (63 million) of the global share in international tourist arrivals. In contrast, the shares of Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Americas’ were 51% (672 million), 24% (323 million) and 15% (211 million), respectively. The situation is even more worrying with regards to the economic revenues from tourism. Out of a total US$ 1.3 trillion global earnings in tourism, Africa’s share was a meagre 3% (US$37 billion), in contrast to Europe’s 39% (US$519 billion), Asia and the Pacific’s 29% (US$390 billion) and America’s 24% (US$326 billion) of international tourism receipts. A closer look at the distribution of Africa’s share reveals another disturbing picture: the greater share of international tourist arrivals and receipts is concentrated on a few countries (e.g. South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Tunisia, Tanzania) with the majority of the 54 African countries receiving very little in tourism earnings. Giving the significant role of tourism in cultural preservation, environmental protection, job creation, peace and security, and economic growth and development, it goes without saying that the African continent is in dire need of tourism promotion. There are several political, social and economic factors that account for this poor performance. Nevertheless, information and communication technologies offer immense potential for addressing some of these setbacks, as well as in offering opportunities for bridging the gap and maximising tourism gains for the continent. With ICTs, African tourism destinations have more opportunities and possibilities than ever before.

In the framework of the extended marketing mix paradigm (Booms and Bitner 1981; McCarthy 1964), ways in which technology could be harnessed to market Africa’s tourism potential are discussed below. The marketing mix paradigm represents one of the core concepts of marketing theory. The extended marketing mix embodies a combination of elements (i.e. product, price, place, promotion, people, process and physical evidence) that could be employed by tourism destinations and businesses to meet the needs and expectations of both existing and potential tourists (Figure 3.1).

Extended marketing mix

Figure 3.1   Extended marketing mix

Source: Adaption of Booms and Bitner, 1981; McCarthy 1964.

Product: Most African countries have traditionally relied on their raw natural and cultural heritage assets as tourism products. Not only do emerging technologies offer opportunities to enhance the existing stock of tourism products but also the chance to develop new and competitive tourism offerings and to provide more diversified products. The Internet, Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence among others now offer unimaginable opportunities to ascertain tourists’ needs and to develop the right products to meet those needs. ICT further offers opportunities for value co-creation of tourism experiences (Cabiddu, Lui and Piccoli 2013; Campos et al. 2018; Rihova et al. 2018) in response to the growing demand for more participative and interactive experiences (Scott, Laws and Boksberger 2009). Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are now used for identifying tourist sites and destinations. GIS, GPS, drones and other emerging technologies further help to monitor and manage tourist sites to ensure sustainability. Museums and other heritage sites are utilising audio guide, electronic multi-media guide, GPS tours, automatically triggered devices, virtual-reality tour, mobile apps and cell phone tours to enhance interpretation and tour guiding. Others are experimenting with emerging technologies like iBeacon and augmented reality to improve product features and add value to existing attractions.

From the tourist point of view, ICT helps to minimise the uncertainties associated with the tourism product. The Internet, social media/consumer-generated media and new technologies like augmented reality facilitate the ‘tangibilization’ of tourism offerings and address several uncertainties and concerns concomitant with the intangible tourism service.

Price: ICTs make it easier to determine how much tourists are willing to pay for travel products and services. ICT can also be employed for cost reduction and consequently price decreases. At present, many African countries are perceived as expensive destinations. Air travel fares to and within the continent are among the most expensive compared to other regions of the world. Hotel services are overpriced in some destinations and often the cost of doing business is high due to limited ICT infrastructure, perceived risks, unfair trade policies and political situations among others; thus, making it difficult for African destinations to compete favourably at the global stage. Advance use of ICT could help bring costs down and enable tourism businesses on the continent to offer more competitive prices to international tourists. ICT does so by minimising the cost of production. Technology makes it possible to produce, transmit, access and share knowledge at the least cost. Mobile payments, for instance, has the advantage of lower processing fees compared with traditional alternatives. This decrease in transactional costs also comes along with reduction in inefficiencies and price offerings. On the demand side, the Internet empowers consumers to compare alternatives regarding product attributes and prices and to build customised itineraries that fit their financial situations (Buhalis 2003; Rihova et al. 2018).

Place: Perhaps, among the most significant transformation brought by ICT into the tourism sector regards how tourism products are distributed to consumers. Unlike traditional products where products are transported to where the consumer is, with tourism, it is the other way around – the tourist has to move spatially to where the product is. As a result, decision making and consumption are separated in time and space (Werthner and Klein 1999a). This makes the distribution of tourism particularly disadvantageous to African destinations which are often plagued with negative media publicity about political turmoil and issues that raise safety concerns. As a result, the continent is frequently perceived by many potential tourists as exotic and unsafe. ICT could help address these challenges through innovative applications of the Internet and mobile apps, smart technologies and emerging technologies like augmented reality. The Internet and the convergence among informatics, communication and multimedia offer destinations, tourism businesses as well as tourists with new channels through which to augment their communication process while minimising distribution costs and search (Buhalis and Law 2008; Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; Werthner and Klein 1999b).

Compared with traditional channels, the Internet is especially noted for enriching and easing the search for destinations, hospitality and tourism services. It makes it possible to bypass both external online and offline intermediaries and enhances opportunities for building direct relationships between consumers and suppliers (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; Werthner and Klein 1999b).

Usually tourist destinations in Africa are considered to be in the peripherals or in less developed regions. These destinations are often less accessible from the main tourist generating regions, both physically and electronically (Hall and Page 2006; Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; Nash and Martin 2003). Nonetheless, as Minghetti and Buhalis (2010, 267) observed:

the evolution of tourism demand, the emergence of a more skilled and demanding traveller who wishes to explore new destinations and live new experiences, supported by transport developments (low-cost carriers, fast trains, and the proliferation of private cars) and the Internet, make all these destinations close to their potential markets.

The Internet, e-commerce, global distributions systems, e-businesses (e.g. online travel agencies), and other technological applications make it possible to overcome the constraints of distance and geography by connecting across geographic boundaries of nation states. Service providers and potential tourists can share information, specifications and service processes globally. In other words, ICT facilitates multichannel distribution and provides opportunities for tourism businesses to promote and sell services on a global market, enabling direct rapport with prospective consumers, and bypassing intermediaries (Buhalis 2003; Minghetti and Buhalis 2010).

For instance, a study by Tichaawa’s, Mhlanga and Sicwebu (2017) found ICT in the hotel sector to be most influential in increasing market share. This is often realised through successful implementation of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software solutions that improve business relationships and interactions with both existing and potential customers. Internet and social media further make it possible to reach market segments that were previously inaccessible due to geographic or financial constraints. As Shanker (2008) observed, the capacity to reach a global audience, acquire instant market information and carry out electronic business transactions have increased efficiency and opened markets for tourism products and services from the developing world.

Promotion: ICT has presented tremendous opportunities for informing and persuading potential visitors from across the globe to book and visit destinations. ICT tools could provide African destination marketing organisations (DMOs) and service providers with incredible opportunities for communicating offerings, improving market visibility and augmenting competitiveness (Gretzel, Yuan and Fesenmaier 2000). Online survey tools, big data analytics (e.g. Google search trends) and other Internet applications allow for the collection of consumer metrics for effective market segmentation, targeting, advertisement and other promotional activities.

Information is regarded as the “lifeblood” of tourism (Buhalis 2003; Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; Sheldon 1997). A vital gain from ICTs is the upsurge in the supply of information. Since travel decision making and consumption are separated by time and space, the tourism product is largely based on confidence – as opposed to uncertainty – and hence information and communication (Werthner and Klein 1999a). Internet applications facilitate the sharing and dissemination of information to larger audiences/markets that weren’t previously possible. It could offer African tourism destinations and businesses cheaper but far-reaching communication channels and a degree of control over content. Though more effective in reaching global audience, it is usually less expensive and offers an equitable platform to compete.

The Internet, Web 2.0 and social media have utterly transformed the marketing field. To an extent, ICT levels the playing field. Even smaller and less-resourced service providers, with the requisite skills, could employ affordable and simple solutions, and a variety of distribution solutions to partake in the emerging marketplace (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; Paraskevas and Buhalis 2002). The misrepresentation of Africa continues to hurt the economies of African countries (WTTC 2018b). By providing a certain degree of control over content, ICT empowers African destinations to take charge of their own narratives and offers effective communication channels for addressing stereotypes, prejudices, fears and concerns about safety, etc. Giving the growing use of smartphones and social media, African destinations and service providers could as well tap into the power of viral videos and user-generated content in general to promote destinations and services (Osei, Mensah and Amenumey 2018). The success of innovative promotional strategies could as well be amplified by ICT, as evidenced in successful Australia’s “Best Job in the World” youth campaign (Tourism Australia 2019).

People: The critical role of the people who make contact with tourists in delivering tourism services cannot be overemphasised. Since services are inseparable from those who deliver it, human resource is a defining factor in the service delivery process. Therefore, service training for staff is of the utmost priority for hospitality and tourism service organisations and ICT facilitates more effective and efficient delivery of this.

E-learning makes it possible for many Africans in remote regions to receive state-of-the-art training in hospitality and tourism management from some of world’s best training institutions. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anybody to enrol. MOOCs could offer service personnel in Africa affordable and flexible ways to learn new skills and advance careers in hospitality and tourism. Hospitality and tourism businesses on the continent could also leverage online courses to educate and train their workforce. A list of the MOOCs in Tourism and Hospitality is available at the website of the International Federation for IT and Travel and Tourism (IFITT) [https://www.ifitt.org/hospitality-and-tourismmoocs/]. Most exciting is that many MOOCs are free and easily accessible.

Training institutions could also apply AR/VR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality) technologies, including the use of virtual hotels and restaurants (using Second Life [https://secondlife.com] for example) to augment practical training for hospitality and tourism students. Content Management Systems, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIPs) applications and other emerging communication technologies offer opportunities for hospitality and tourism institutions on the continent to collaborate with the world’s best in delivering effective and efficient education and training to improve the skills and knowledge of the tourism workforce (Ayeh 2008a).

Process: ICTs have served to transform the systems and processes that deliver products to the customer. In the tourism sector, this has led to the generation of new systems and processes, including the use of global distribution systems (GDS), e-commerce (including online bookings and digital payment systems), personal digital assistants (PDAs), Point of Sale (POS) systems, mobile apps and smart applications among others. For instance, some restaurants and cafeterias are now using tablets (iPads) and smartphones to take orders from customers instead of the traditional menu cards. Travellers are using mobile apps to book and to digitally pay for transportation, accommodation, food and other travel-related services. The swipe-to-book action of mobile payments for example simplifies the payment process. Others are employing mobile devices to obtain electronic boarding pass, access in-flight entertainment and unlock hotel rooms among others (WTTC 2019).

Biometric technology – which offers the ability to identify a person on the basis of unique personal characteristics like eyes (iris), fingerprints, face, etc. – is still evolving. Nonetheless, it is transforming service processes in travel, hospitality and tourism sectors at an extraordinary speed (WTTC 2018c). For instance, by eliminating various forms of documentation. Some airports are employing biometric technology to identify travellers and speed up passenger journeys through e-Gates. Hotels (e.g. Marriot Hotels) are testing facial recognition for check-in. Facial recognition is also reported to have decreased processing time for disembarking cruise passengers by 40% (SecureIDNews 2017). In many ways, biometric technology can help African businesses to manage and track staff, ensure safety and security, as well as manage customers’ preferences or personalisation. For example, staff in several hotels and restaurants are now clocking into work using biometric fingerprint terminals, keys are being replaced with biometric readers, and webcams are being used to assess travellers’ responses to stimuli like images and sounds to determine their travel preferences, among others.

In essence, ICT leads to more efficient and effective product delivery. By digitising the service process, ICT could help African tourism businesses to improve their service delivery processes. It facilitates greater transparency in service delivery. Networking and information sharing ensure more openness and transparency.

Physical evidence: In no small ways, technology is reshaping elements of the physical environment within which consumers experience tourism. Giving that tourism services and experiences are essentially intangible in nature, ICT empowers destination marketers and service providers to integrate tangible elements into their offerings to augment tourists’ experiences. For example, interactive tools, gaming applications and other visual technologies are been utilised in the lobbies of hotels, restaurants, airports, tourist sites, etc. to engage clients, and help them to relax while they await their turn for services. Likewise, African tourism service providers can employ various ICT applications to offer tangible and unique experiences to guests/ customers. ICT also facilitates virtual ways to experience the tourism product. Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies can be employed to enhance the visual effects of tourist sites and facilities. 3D-Modelling technology is helping in resurrecting the past and recreating extinct or ruined heritage resources that tourists can interact with.

Critical issues facing the adoption of ICT in the tourism sector

Laying out the challenge

Despite the immense potential of ICT for the promotion of Africa’s tourism, significant disparities still exist in access, skills, use of the Internet and other ICT services (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010). Africa needs to overcome many infrastructural and knowledge barriers to support the wide usage of ICT. Others may have access but are not able to use it effectively due to varied factors including lack of knowledge, trust, literacy, language skills and content availability, credit card and low bandwidth (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010).

Though significant gains have been made over the last decade, the continent still lags considerably behind the rest of the world when it comes to Internet penetration. There are over 465 million Internet users in Africa, constituting 11% of global Internet users (Internet World Stats 2018a). While this represents the third largest in the world (after Asia and Europe), when it comes to Internet penetration (% of population with Internet access), the continent has the least penetration rate (36.1%), compared with the world’s average of 55.1% or North America’s 95%, Europe’s 85.2%, Oceania/Australia’s 68.9%, Latin America/Caribbean’s 67.2% and Asia’s 49% (see Figure 3.2 below). There is however a promising future outlook in this area. Since 2000, the African continent has experienced the world’s fastest growth rate (10.199%) in Internet users.

Figure 3.2   World Internet users and 2018 population stats by region

Source: Data culled from Internet World Stats, 2018a.

Table 3.1 summarises international tourism statistics and key Internet indicators of African countries. Among the countries with the highest number of Internet users are Nigeria (98.4 m), Egypt (49.2 m), Kenya (43.3 m) South Africa (30.8 m), Tanzania (23 m), Morocco (22.6 m), Uganda (19 m), Algeria (18), Ethiopia (16.4 m), Mali (12.5 m), Sudan (11.8 m) and Ghana (10.1 m). The highest Internet penetration rates can be found in Kenya (85.0%), Seychelles (70.5%), Tunisia (67.7%), Mali (65.3%), Mauritius (63.4%), Morocco (62.4%), Senegal (59.8%), Libya (58.7%) and South Africa (53.7%). Sadly, more than half of the population in each of the remaining 45 countries have no Internet access with countries such as Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Somalia and Western Sahara recording penetration levels of less than 10%. The use of social media mirrors a similar trend with most users in Egypt (35 m), Algeria (19 m), Nigeria (17 m), South Africa (16 m), Morocco (15 m) Kenya (7 m), Tunisia (6.4 m), Tanzania (6.1 m), Ghana (4.9 m) and Ethiopia (4.5 m).

Critical to the problem of access is the issue of cost and affordability. The challenge is that though the continent is somewhat perceived as poor, Internet access is quite expensive compared to other regions of the world. Internet services in some parts of the continent are also the slowest and least efficient due to bandwidth limitations. Much of the opportunities offered by ICT in e-Learning, e-Marketing and e-Tourism cannot be appropriately realised if Internet infrastructure on the continent is not extensively improved.

By its very nature, tourism is a highly information-rich sector and hence the availability of Internet resources offers the sector opportunities to provide wider, deeper and more customised and competitive offerings. This implies that limited Internet resources in certain African countries represent a huge setback to tourism promotion in such countries. Hardly, would a contemporary tourist book a trip without looking up the destination on the Internet, checking out the online reviews for the hotels and other service providers or exploring the possible tourist activities online. Others may want to share their experiences in cyberspace using social media and consumer-generated review websites like TripAdvisor, Virtual Tourist, and WAYN among others.

Table 3.1   International tourism flows and Internet users statistics for Africa

International tourist arrivals (1,000)

International tourist receipts (US$ million)

Countries

2010

2017

2010

2017

Internet users (31-Dec-2017)

Penetration (% population)

Internet growth (% 2000–2017)

Facebook subscribers (31-Dec-2017)

Algeria

2,070

2,451

220

18,580,000

44.2

37,060

19,000,000

Angola

425

719

5,951,453

19.3

19,738

3,800,000

Benin

199

149

–.

3,801,758

33.1

25,245

920,000

Botswana

1,973

510

704

923,528

39.6

6,057

830,000

Burkina Faso

274

143

72

3,704,265

18.8

36,942

840,000

Burundi

142

2

617,116

5.5

20,470

450,000

Cabo Verde

336

668

278

436

265,972

48.1

3,225

240,000

Cameroon

569

159

6,128,422

24.8

30,542

2,700,000

Central African Rep.

54

11

256,432

5.4

16,995

96,000

Chad

71

768,274

5.0

76,727

260,000

Comoros

15

28

35

130,578

15.7

8,605

120,000

Congo

194

27

650,000

12.0

129,900

600,000

Congo, Dem. Rep.

81

5,137,271

6.1

1,027,354

2,100,000

Cote d’Ivoire

252

1800

201

6,318,355

26.3

16,246

3,800,000

Djibouti

51

18

180,000

18.5

12,757

180,000

Egypt

14,051

8,157

12,528

1,775

49,231,493

49.5

10,840

35,000,000

Equatorial Guinea

312,704

23.8

62,441

67,000

Eritrea

84

71,000

1.4

1,320

63,000

Ethiopia

468

522

434

16,437,811

15.3

164,278

4,500,000

Gabon

985,492

47.7

6,470

620,000

Gambia

91

74

392,277

18.1

9,707

310,000

Ghana

931

620

850

10,110,000

34.3

33,600

4,900,000

Guinea

12

2

1,602,485

12.3

19,931

1,500,000

Guinea-Bissau

22

13

120,000

6.3

7,900

110,000

Kenya

1,470

1,364

800

926

43,329,434

85.0

21,564

7,000,000

Lesotho

414

23

23

627,860

27.7

15,596

310,000

Liberia

12

395,063

8.1

78,912

330,000

Libya

60

3,800,000

58.7

37,900

3,500,000

Madagascar

196

255

309

1,900,000

7.2

6,233

1,700,000

Malawi

746

31

31

1,828,503

9.5

12,090

720,000

Mali

169

193

205

12,480,176

65.3

66,283

1,500,000

Mauritania

23

810,000

17.8

16,100

770,000

Mauritius

935

1,342

1,282

1,748

803,896

63.4

824

700,000

Mayotte (FR)

107,940

41.6

n/a

71,000

Mozambique

1,718

108

151

5,279,135

17.3

17,497

1,800,000

Namibia

984

438

188

797,027

30.8

2,557

570,000

Niger

74

105

951,548

4.3

18,931

440,000

Nigeria

1,555

576

2,549

98,391,456

50.2

49,096

17,000,000

Reunion (FR)

421

508

392

401

480,000

54.3

269

420,000

Rwanda

504

932

202

438

3,724,678

29.8

74,393

490,000

Saint Helena (UK)

2,200

54.3

n/a

1,700

Sao Tome & Principe

8

11

66

57,875

27.7

790

52,000

Senegal

900

453

9,749,527

59.8

24,274

2,900,000

Seychelles

175

350

343

483

67,119

70.5

1,018

61,000

Sierra Leone

39

26

902,462

11.7

17,949

450,000

Somalia

1,200,000

7.9

599,900

1,100,000

South Africa

8,074

10,285

9,070

8,818

30,815,634

53.7

1,184

16,000,000

South Sudan

2,229,963

17.3

n/a

180,000

Sudan

495

94

1,029

11,816,570

28.5

39,288

2,600,000

Swaziland

868

921

51

446,051

32.1

4,360

170,000

Tanzania

754

1,255

2,339

23,000,000

38.9

19,900

6,100,000

Togo

202

496

66

899,956

11.3

800

560,000

Tunisia

7,828

7,052

2,645

1,299

7,898,534

67.7

7,798

6,400,000

Uganda

946

784

918

19,000,000

42.9

47,400

2,600,000

Western Sahara

28,000

5.0

n/a

24,000

Zambia

815

492

653

7,248,773

41.2

36,144

1,600,000

Zimbabwe

2,239

2,423

634

6,796,314

40.2

13,492

880,000

Total Africa

50,400

62,700

37,300

453,329,534

35.2

9,942

177,005,700

Rest of World

901,600

1,263,300

1,302,700

3,703,602,606

58.4

89.1

1,942,054,452

World total

952,000

1,326,000

1,340,000

4,156,932,140

54.4

100.0

2,119,060,152

Sources: UNWTO (2018); Internet World Stats (2018b).

Besides access, another challenge is knowledge and skills. Warschauser (2004) observed that the most critical issue about ICT is not so much of availability but instead people’s ability to make meaningful use of the technology. Currently, many travel agents on the continent still rely on the traditional approach to marketing, operations and management. Traditional offline intermediaries continue to play a prominent role in travel distribution in most African countries. Inadequate online information, low-tech interactions and necessity for offline transactions usually compels many tourism consumers to rely on online travel agencies (OTAs), tour operators and international travel agencies, thus making the planning process less attractive and more complex. However, as the information society advances and a new generation of high-tech tourists emerges, less developed destinations risk to be progressively excluded from the decision set of international tourists.

Giving what happened to some travel agencies in developed countries in the aftermath of the Internet revolution when online travel agencies transformed the then structure of intermediaries, African tourism intermediaries risk losing their existing market share if they don’t quickly adapt to emerging ICT and structural changes. Unlike their counterparts in developed countries, they have only been able to survive because the greater share of their domestic markets is still less reliant on the Internet or represents what Minghetti and Buhalis (2010) termed as low-digital-access tourists. But this is changing – a growing number of people in Africa (particularly the younger generation) now fall into the category of upper-digital-access tourists. It is not surprising many tech start-up ventures in Africa have become a resounding success.

Another key concern is inadequate online presence. Several destinations as well as service providers in Africa have limited, dysfunctional, and – in some cases – no websites. Furthermore, despite the wide and growing usage of mobile phones within and outside the continent (Dayour, Park and Kimbu 2019), the mobile version of various tourism-related websites in Africa still perform poorly.

Online presence of destinations is usually contingent upon the size, expertise, vision, resources, and structure of local tourism organisations and private operators like DMOs, information bureaus, and tourism SMEs (Buhalis 2003; Minghetti and Buhalis 2010). This implies that most small and medium sized tourism enterprises may struggle to compete at the global stage. Another challenge for African tourism businesses is that online presence frequently mirrors the degree of ICT deployment in their respective locations instead of the level of use anticipated by their prospective customers (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010). These potential clients or tourists usually operates in high-digital-access regions and

live in countries that are at the top of the “information society” (e.g., high Internet penetration and usage as well as high online transaction conversion rates), show a high acceptance of ICTs (motivational access), and a good level of digital skills and ICT use.

(Minghetti and Buhalis 2010, 275)

For instance, the Internet penetration rates for most of the world’s major traveller generating regions range from 85.2% to 95% (Internet World Stats 2018a). In addition, many African countries heavily rely on backpackers and students for inbound tourism. These groups often fall into the categories of high-digital-access tourists and upper-digital-access tourists.

Tourism businesses in Africa can no longer survive if they continue to rely on the traditional approach to marketing. As Buhalis and Kaldis (2008) warned, tourism businesses and DMOs that ignore ICT use are cut off from electronic distribution channels and e-commerce. African destinations and service providers cannot risk continuing to be invisible to this fast growing segment of the market that increasingly depends on the Internet for travel search, decision making and purchase. In addition to being cut off from a substantial set of potential tourists, many African destinations continue to tussle with access to expertise, capital, and technologies that could empower them to promote their products and cultivate the appropriate tools for appealing to new markets. As a result, numerous African destinations and businesses depend highly on external traditional intermediaries for putting their offerings forward to the marketplace (Bastakis, Buhalis and Butler 2004; Minghetti and Buhalis 2010). Sadly, this leads to economic leakages, limiting the multiplier effect of tourism revenues in the local economy.

Another concern is inadequate digital payment options in some African destinations. While this may be as a result of security concerns, regulatory setbacks and inertia among others, service providers and governments need to recognise that online and mobile payment options are now required by international as well as domestic travellers. Maximising opportunities from digital payment systems for African economies would require concerted efforts from both public and private stakeholders. Regulatory policies, interoperable systems and a commitment to address infrastructural challenges among other setbacks are crucial.

At the core of these issues is the absence of an effective digital strategy for many African destinations. Often NTOs/DMOs merely copy promotional activities from other destinations without any clear strategy driving such efforts. Besides, public and private stakeholders hardly work together to present a unified strategic approach to e-destination marketing. Yet scholars have cautioned that “a more inclusive approach that allows for successful strategy development is extremely important” (Mistilis, Buhalis and Gretzel 2014, 788). In this regard, leadership at every level (Spencer, Buhalis and Moital 2012) and an understanding of the smartness concept as a means for competitiveness in tourism destinations (Boes, Buhalis and Inversini 2016) are key. Evidently, a successful digital strategy is an unqualified necessity for the future of African tourism destinations.

Areas in need of research attention

Though the nexus between tourism and ICT has gained significant attention in the global context over the last couple of decades, research on this theme from an African perspective is nonetheless lamentably rare. The few studies in this regard tend to focus on technology adoption by the industry in relation to rudimentary ICT applications (e.g. Ayeh 2007, 2008b; Migiro, and Ocholla 2005; Mpofu and Watkins-Mathys 2011). Others have also explored the impact of ICT on tourism businesses in Africa (e.g. Tichaawa, Mhlanga and Sicwebu 2017; Uwamariya, Cremer and Loebbecke 2015). More recently, attention has been drawn to the use of social media (e.g. Osei, Mensah and Amenumey 2018); smartphones (e.g. Dayour, Park and Kimbu 2019), online destination marketing (e.g. Kotoua and Ilkan 2017) and Internet use for co-creation of tourist experiences (e.g. Berrada 2017) in African contexts.

The digital divide continues to raise concern globally and as a consequence, there has been an upsurge of the digital divide literature (Antonelli 2003; van Dijk 2005, 2006; Warschauser 2004). At the global level, extant literature indicates this is often caused by disparities in income, GDP, human capital and digital skills, ICT infrastructure, connectivity, policy and regulatory mechanisms as well as sociodemographic factors (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; van Dijk 2005, 2006). Nevertheless, it is critical for research to examine the current idiosyncrasies within Africa concerning this divide. Research is particularly vital for less technologically advanced countries in Africa if ICT usage is to be extended to facilitate the successful promotion of tourism offerings, effective interaction with consumers from the world’s major source markets and consequently, minimise the dependency on offline intermediaries (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010). Research could as well consider why some countries have so quickly bridged the gap within the last decade while the divide continues to widen and deepen for many other African countries.

The digitised world is advancing very fast and yet studies are lacking in many critical areas in the African context. Scholars may want to examine how African hospitality and tourism enterprises are responding to the opportunities offered by the platform economy, augmented and virtual reality technologies, robotics and automation, digital marketing and social media tools as well as gaming applications. Giving the current state of many African destination websites, it is imperative for scholars to study website design and evaluation, digital distribution and social selling, consumer behaviour in digital space as well as e-strategy and e-business models.

The role of ICT in tourism governance, sustainability and education cannot be overemphasised. The research could explore how ICT is being deployed on the continent for regional tourism development and sustainability, partnership and collaboration, e-learning, e-Governance and public policy. Recent concerns about data security also call for research on privacy and Internet security as well as on the legal and ethical aspects of ICT deployment within the tourism sector.

Emergent technologies necessitate tourism-related research into big data, data mining and analytics; artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning; sentiment analysis, emotions and personality-based systems; location-based services and context-aware systems; mobile services and wearable technologies; semantic web and tourism ontologies; Internet-of-Things; smart destinations; travel chatbots and blockchain among other emerging technologies.

Conclusion

It is indisputable that ICT has transformed the entire value of tourism production, marketing, distribution and consumption (Buhalis 1998). The challenge is that many African countries have failed to fully exploit the numerous opportunities offered by these technologies in the tourism sector. Internet penetration rate on the continent is the lowest of all the world’s regions and over 823 million people still lack access. The digital divide has not only led to both digital and social exclusion (Selwyn 2004) but also economic marginalisation in tourism earnings. Disparities in access, control, process, communication and distribution of information wield much stronger impact on tourism creation and consumption than in other sectors (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010).

Some scholars have argued that these disparities are fashioned by the availability of technological tools for the provision and broader distribution of accurate information as well as the ability to employ these tools effectively (Minghetti and Buhalis 2010; Warschauser 2004). For African destinations, this implies being unable to fully participate in the growing digital market and the gains arising from emerging opportunities. No wonder countries with high ICT infrastructure are among the leaders in tourism flows. Hence African countries that fail to keep up with the pace of new ICT developments in our ever-increasing digitised world may lag in tourism growth compared with those that have significant ICT infrastructure. This would require effective leadership (Spencer, Buhalis and Moital 2012) and tourism digital strategies that offer mechanisms for uniting disconnected key stakeholders into networks that augment the process of development and implementation (Mistilis, Buhalis and Gretzel 2014).

Notwithstanding, there is great optimism for the future as the continent has made significant gains over the last two decades – including recording the world’s fastest Internet growth rate. Increasing access to the Internet and the wide usage of mobile phone technology even in very remote regions in Africa present unique opportunities for Africa’s tourism sector. The WTTC (2018b) estimates that 30–45 million jobs can be created by 2028 in Africa’s travel and tourism sector. New and emerging technologies could further empower destinations and tourism businesses on the continent to overcome the age-old challenges and maximise economic, socio-cultural and environmental gains from tourism.

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