In early 2020, many countries in Africa would lock down their borders, force lockdowns, and limit travel within their borders, all to combat the growing threat of COVID-19. As a result, Africa suffered. Tourism within Africa took a substantial hit; airlines, hotels and businesses were forced to close and lay off employees. Restaurants were unable to serve customers. And even today, lockdowns persist in many parts of Africa as COVID continues to be a problem. In 2020 alone, Africa lost nearly US$55 billion in travel revenue.
COVID-19 exposed the weak points of Africa’s tourism industry. But before COVID, several regions in Africa were being looked at as major growth markets. And while the pandemic has paused such growth, that doesn't mean it's too late. A significant factor in whether or not Africa's tourism and hospitality industries will continue to grow is the inclusion and growth of several technologies.
Tourism is Africa’s prize industry. Without it, we lose the growth our continent has strived for over the past decade. What, then, can businesses and our government do to help these industries experience a boom again?
1. Virtual Tourism
Many people continue to feel unsafe about travelling. After all, the vaccine roll-out in Africa has been slow, too slow for its burgeoning travel industry. And while it’s difficult for foreigners and citizens alike to travel throughout the continent, one sector of tourism has boomed: virtual tourism.
What is virtual tourism? Simply put, virtual tourism can be described as the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets to simulate a location or experience. An excellent example of virtual tourism is Cape Town’s “We Are Worth Waiting For” campaign, where foreigners and citizens can experience Cape Town through a virtual lens. The entire point of the campaign is to encourage people to visit Cape Town once they can do so. And that is the point of virtual tourism: encouragement.
Encouraging people to visit Africa – motivating them to pack their bags as soon as possible – will help create an enormous boom in the tourism industry once other countries allow travel again.
2. The Internet of Things
There is no such thing as an industry that doesn’t benefit from the Internet of Things (IoT), a conglomerate populated with devices that can connect to the Internet. It’s important to note that when someone talks about the IoT, they often refer to appliances and everyday devices that connect to the Internet and improve their users' lives.
The Internet of Things has become a vital part of tourism and hospitality, not only in Africa but also worldwide.
In January 2020, Africa-based IoT provider, Eseye, mentioned its five-year plan for IoT growth in South Africa, a project recognised by various South African CIOs. So what would that include? When it comes to the tourism and hospitality industries, IoT can help improve energy use, saving businesses tons of money in the long run. IoT also enables more personal control for visitors. For example, a hotel can outfit each room with a tablet or control panel that allows visitors to adjust various features about their room from one place.
In 2015, Tokyo, Japan’s Henn’na Hotel officially replaced every human employee with machines. And it’s far from the only hotel in Tokyo, or even in all of Japan, that uses robots to serve guests.
Early on into the pandemic, Johannesburg welcomed Hotel Sky, a hotel whose roster includes three robots. These robots were designed to serve guests who showed mild symptoms of COVID-19, and healthy guests could choose to be served by the robot staff instead of their human counterparts.
The growth of robotics within Africa is a controversial topic due to current unemployment rates, but it’s impossible to deny that robotics can vastly improve the tourism industry.
4. e-Commerce and cashless transactions
e-Commerce is a growing market in South Africa but it still lags behind many other countries. Kenya, South Africa’s smaller neighbour, uses online shopping more than SA does. However, COVID helped start an e-Commerce boom in SA, and TFG Chief Executive, Anthony Thunstrom, said SA had advanced two to three years in one year of COVID when it came to e-Commerce.
MasterCard published its Economy 2021 report for Africa and the Middle East and found that 20-30% of COVID-related surges in e-commerce would become permanent. And in a report done by MasterCard in 2016, the financial corporation pointed out the importance of cashless payments and technologies in African economies and that hospitality providers would benefit significantly from cashless alternatives.
5. Faster Internet speeds
Much of Africa suffers from slow Internet speeds and, when it comes to global rankings, it’s common to see African countries near the end of the list. This is because much of Africa’s telecommunications infrastructure, while developing, pales in comparison to many other countries.
However, the COVID pandemic saw Internet speeds improve somewhat in a few regions of Africa. North Africa saw a considerable improvement, as documented by Ookla.
Consistent, fast Internet connections play an important role in garnering tourists and guests. So it is in Africa’s best interest to continue to improve telecommunications across the country, especially South Africa, which suffers from some of the slowest speeds on the continent.
Like all other countries, Africa has suffered due to the COVID pandemic, especially in its hospitality and tourism industries, significant industries for Africa. However, there are a few ways that Africa continues to improve technology-wise, and these improvements can help Africa gain back what it lost during COVID.