We are at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). As players and stakeholders in the tourism industry, it is our responsibility to look at the impact of 4IR and ask ourselves: are we going to let it pass us by?

Little is known about where 4IR will take us and what its full impact will be. What we do know, however, is that it has the potential to uplift and propel South Africa’s rural tourism into a successful future.

Tourism was one of the first sectors to digitalise business processes on a global scale, according to research from UNWTO. The tourism industry brought flight and hotel bookings online, and the sector thereby became a digital pioneer. As information and communications technology became a global phenomenon, tourism has always been a consistent early adopter of new technologies and platforms.

However, a lot more can still be done.

Young consumers between 16 and 25 years old spend on average 34 hours a week online. This is double the amount of time compared to a decade ago. The use of technology is not restricted only to young people either – even the oldest generations are rapidly adopting technology.

As Rudeon Snell, Director of Intelligent Solutions SAP said recently: “Today’s consumers are more informed than ever about their purchasing decisions. They are constantly connected, constantly searching for information, constantly sharing their brand experiences on social media and constantly demanding that their needs are instantly gratified.”

When it comes to travel, consumers turn to technology not only as a source of information but also as a source of inspiration. By giving smaller, hidden, tourism attractions in rural areas a platform to be seen, they will be able to compete on a more global scale and attract the attention of consumers around the world.

It is important, however, to ensure that technology only acts as a source of inspiration and an enabler for travellers to find unique and authentic experiences. Technology should become an integral part of the tourism experience.

The World Economic Forum shows us that as the forces of the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerate, consumers are enjoying the benefits of rapid innovation but they are also struggling to maintain a sense of connection.

In that context, experiences, especially transformative ones, are growing in popularity. In fact, authentic, offline experiences have become key to personal fulfilment, with 78% of millennials saying they would choose to spend money on a desirable experience over something material.

“As we continue to invest in the experience economy, our greatest challenge may be ensuring access and inclusivity while maintaining personalisation and uniqueness,” the World Economic Forum states.

The fact that 4IR is giving rise to the experience economy is great for the tourism sector. At Jurni, our focus is to be at the forefront, and influence the direction and the impact 4IR can have when it comes to improving the lives of South Africans.

The Jurni Platform will bring tourism providers and consumers together in a win-win arrangement. The experience for the visitor (traveller, tourist) is going to be phenomenal, and tourism providers will not only have a platform to promote their business, they will also benefit from the data that is generated by visitors logging in online. The 4IR canvas is set and Jurni is painting it for the tourism sector.