“Real-time availability is a no-brainer – we have to go that way,” says Ian Taylor, Revenue and Reservations Manager at MORE Hotels. “A 24-hour delay in this day and age will not work. People want to be able to see the space and book it.”
But is Taylor’s sentiment shared by operators in the safari industry?
Francis Antrobus, the Chief Information Officer for Wilderness Safaris, thinks so. “Real-time availability is becoming more expected in the safari industry. As a tour operator, you want to be as efficient as possible. Getting hold of six or seven suppliers on the phone is a waste of time when technology can help you to improve your efficiency and, therefore, your client satisfaction and number of sales. Lodges that don’t get on board with real-time availability are going to lose out.”
Monika Iuel, Private Safaris CEO for Southern Africa, agrees. “Often a safari experience is the anchor of a trip, without which the booking wouldn’t occur. As a result, tour operators have been keen to have a live database available. Live availability makes sense in the safari industry because the experience occurs in remote areas, where there are fewer offerings and bookings are often snapped up quickly by foreign travellers. So, in order to be competitive, tour operators need to be able to see what is available in real-time and make reservations timeously.”
While Dieter Holle, Tourvest Destination Management's Chief Information Officer, agrees that real-time availability is the way forward, he says: “There will always be certain niche accommodation, with regard to stand-alone game lodges, where live-availability will remain challenging. The reality is that there are still connectivity challenges for these lodges, and solutions can be quite pricey. However, it is rapidly changing and opening up.”
Iuel points out that a technology trend in South Africa over the last five years “has allowed us to see the live availability of small accommodation through applications such as NightsBridge and SiteMinder”.
However, some parts of the industry are still lagging, as Andrew Iles, Managing Director of Ashtons Tours, Safaris & Shuttles indicates. “At times the industry seems to be somewhat split regarding real-time availability. We find that, despite providing agents and operators with the login details required to access our live availability, a number of individuals will still call in, despite the fact that live access would streamline their operations.”