In the rapidly evolving landscape of the travel industry, adventure tour operators face the challenge of adapting to the digital era.
“The adventure travel community is, on average, a little less advanced in integrating digital technologies compared to sub sectors such as accommodation, transport, etc.,” said Andre du Toit, SATSA Adventure Chapter Chair.
Du Toit’s observation stems from the fact that most adventure travel operators are small to medium-sized enterprises and are owner-managed businesses.
“This means they don’t have the luxury to invest time into researching and implementing digital technology. Combined with the fact that such systems are expensive (compared with retaining all revenue), and that Internet access is slow or non-existent in the more rural areas, means that uptake has been slow. Initial booking platforms also did not cater specifically for adventure tourism's nuances,” he told Tourism Update.
Thrive in the digital space
To help businesses navigate this transition and thrive in the digital space, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) has partnered with WeTravel to create an OnlineEDU course.
The course, titled ‘Growing Your Business in the Digital Era: A Course on Using Technology for Adventure Travel Tour Operators’ will be led by industry experts Fernando Diez and Peter Syme.
“This course promises a transformative journey for adventure tourism businesses, equipping them with the strategies and tools to harness the power of technology and artificial intelligence,” ATTA said in a statement.
Du Toit said SATSA would share further information and encourage members to complete the course, after it had conducted a survey to ensure alignment with its members' interests.
He added that SATSA had designated 2024 as a significant year to strengthen its collaboration with ATTA to provide more value to its members.
Click here to learn more about ATTA’s OnlineEDU course.
Bridging the digital divide
Du Toit pointed out that SATSA helped adventure tour operators to become more digital by staying up to date with trends and innovations, and by constantly sharing international best practice with its members.
“This is achieved through webinars, training sessions, newsletters, SATSA Chapter meetings, and at our annual conference, where we involve thought leaders in the discussion.
“Sharing information and providing members with tools and skills are vitally important, and we leverage webinars, online education, and skills development led by digital marketing experts, along with virtual familiarisation trips to achieve this. We have launched safety and security apps, connected members with booking platforms, and showcased e-commerce, to mention just a few initiatives,” he said.
Du Toit further revealed that SATSA had recently entered a partnership with online learning platform, atingi, to roll out a Bridging the Digital Divide project that will upskill existing staff members and new entrants into the tourism industry.
Additionally, during 2023, SATSA, in partnership with Meta Boost and Digify Africa, trained 445 businesses free of charge on the following topics:
- Using WhatsApp to Grow Your Tourism Business, Establish Your Presence on Facebook and Instagram.
- Using Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness.
- Reach your audience with personalised Ads.
- Ad Captions and Call to Actions.
Du Toit noted that digital transformation could often enhance customer experiences, streamline operations, and amplify marketing efforts and reach.
He highlighted the following key opportunities to help the adventure travel sector become more digital:
- Online booking platforms.
- Mobile apps for security and travel information.
- Data analytics across all fields. “We are committed to creating a safer adventure operating environment, so analysing data related to incidents and near misses would be invaluable,” Du Toit said.
- E-commerce integration and the use of payment portals can be more widely adopted.
- Digital marketing strategies and tactics – including social media and influencer marketing – provide opportunities that should all be leveraged.
- Customer Relationship Management systems are continually evolving and do not have to be complex to effectively manage client bases.
- Video and online training can be embraced by more from both a trainer's learner's perspective. It offers quick, flexible study times and is more cost-effective for remote teams.
- Virtual reality is touted as a new experience but is not currently favoured by an industry and country that can offer authentic and immersive experiences.
Du Toit did, however, caution that there were many digital challenges in the adventure travel sector.
- Connectivity (stability and remoteness): In remote adventure travel locations, inconsistent or absent Internet connectivity poses a significant hurdle to adopting digital tools and platforms, impacting the ability to offer real-time services and information.
- Reluctance to change: Some stakeholders in the adventure travel trade are hesitant to embrace digital transformation, preferring traditional methods over new, technology-driven approaches. This could which can slow digitalisation progress across the sector.
- Data security and privacy concerns: With increasing reliance on digital platforms, there's a heightened risk of data breaches and privacy violations, making businesses wary of fully committing to digital adoption without robust security measures in place.
- Costs of digital transformation: The financial investment required for digital tools, training, and infrastructure can be substantial, especially for smaller operators, making it a significant barrier to digital integration.
- Staff skills gaps: A lack of digital literacy and technical skills among staff members can hinder the effective implementation and utilisation of digital technologies in adventure travel businesses.
- Integration of different systems: The challenge of ensuring new digital systems work seamlessly with existing legacy systems and across various functions within an organisation can complicate digital transformation efforts.
- Trend to unplug when onsite: Many adventure travellers seek to disconnect from digital devices during their experiences, challenging operators to find the right balance between offering digital enhancements and preserving the authenticity of the adventure.
- Keeping up, tech moves fast: The rapid pace of technological advancement means that once a new system is adopted, it may quickly become outdated, requiring continuous investment and adaptation to stay current.
Regardless of the challenges, Du Toit believes the benefits “certainly outweigh any negativity surrounding digital transformation”.
He said a greater focus should be placed on enhancing pre-activity customer experiences, because once on-site, tourists prefer to unplug and immerse themselves in the experience.
Advantages to digital transformation include:
- Improved customer experience in the booking process.
- Enhanced marketing collateral and branding.
- Expanded reach into new markets.
- Increased process efficiency.
- Enhanced data quality.
- Real-time engagement with customers.
- Increased safety and security measures.
- Enhanced sustainability measures.