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Digital Transformation in the Tourism Industry Sector

Strategic Dialogue

Programming Sponsor: Google


  • David Goodger opened the Strategic Dialogue with a presentation on how data and digital platforms can drive recovery in the tourism industry, with a focus on South Africa. He highlighted the importance of digital interactions in leading this recovery and argued that destinations need to adopt digital platforms, make better use of analytics, and collaborate with the public and private sectors to drive engagement and recovery. In particular, Goodger recommended that destinations build a consistent brand message, leverage digital platforms to connect with future travelers, and adapt messaging to address traveler concerns in the COVID-19 era. The public sector can take the lead in driving and delivering changes by leading the development of digital skills and training, ensuring that funding is in place for tourism activity, and improving infrastructure to meet the needs of travelers, particularly in rural areas. If these activities take place, South Africa may see an additional $1.5 billion in spending over the next five years, leading to new job creation by 2025.
  • Bukky Akomolafe highlighted the importance of understanding COVID-19 restrictions in the source market as well as the destination. Due to the fact that every country has its own set of restrictions, travelers today are choosing their destinations based on COVID-19 restrictions such as quarantines and self-isolation. As a result, the more restrictive the regulations, the less likely a customer will be to fulfill the requirements for entry to a destination.
  • Yolanda Mlonzi stressed the role of digital content in restoring traveler confidence in the COVID-19 era. Data shows that while many countries in Africa and around the globe are in lockdown, travelers are still looking for inspiration and virtual experiences. Mlonzi therefore argued that it is critical for ministers of tourism to ensure that content is easily accessible to travelers at home. Digital content should focus on providing travelers with inspiration and reassurance that it is safe to travel. Restoring traveler confidence in a destination’s safety is key to driving recovery and attracting travelers once lockdowns are lifted.

“People are looking for inspiration and reassurance that it’s safe to travel. What we’ve seen is that as countries move into the transition stage, where lockdowns are lifted and travel is opening up, travelers want to be reassured. You can do that by constantly uploading content that can restore that confidence,” Yolanda Mlonzi

  • Geoffrey Manyara emphasized the importance of ICT in promoting domestic tourism. In Kenya, digital platforms such as social media have played a critical role in the recovery of domestic tourism. Spikes in the number of views and visitors can be seen as young people travel to local sites, take pictures, and actively share and promote them. Manyara also highlighted the importance of leveraging platforms such as AirBnB, which make travel more affordable and accessible to a large audience of people.
  • Folorunsho Coker argued that in order to truly drive a digital transformation of the tourism sector, we must reimagine life post-COVID. In order for tourism to thrive, fundamental issues and laws must be changed to facilitate transformation. Addressing underlying problems in governmental policy, human capital, and infrastructure will drive recovery in an exponential manner, and Africa may be able to see between 10% and 15% of all travel worldwide due to its comparatively low rate of COVID-19. 
  • Naledi Khabo highlighted the importance of the government and the private sector in supporting small businesses during the digital transformation. While governments can provide financial support to keep businesses afloat, the private sector plays a key role in developing infrastructure and foundational digital skills. Strategic engagement, the execution of training skills programs, and collaboration will be critical to moving forward in the next 3 to 12 months. Khabo also stressed the importance of digital skills training for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), noting that those businesses that do not successfully engage in online conversations will be left behind. 

“If you have a product that fits, how do you come up in the search result? Make sure your website is up to date and has appealing digital assets. If you’re on Instagram, make sure you have strong call-to-actions. These are critical digital 101 skills. There’s a checklist: website, social media, search,” Naledi Khabo

  • Small businesses have a key role to play in driving the recovery of the tourism industry, at large, according to Mlonzi. However, because small businesses often lack the digital skills needed, Google has launched a comprehensive campaign that will train 500,000 small businesses across South Africa, and is partnering with the Ministry of Tourism to offer virtual experiences to travelers from the comfort of their own homes. 
  • Akomolafe and Goodger argued that in restoring traveler confidence, you cannot overshare enough. Akomolafe stressed the need to provide as much accurate information as possible about a destination by writing blogs and instilling a sense of safety. Similarly, Goodger added that destinations should leverage information posted by other travelers on social media. By creating content that shows that a location is safe, confidence will be restored.

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Digital platforms play a key role in driving the recovery of the tourism industry in Africa. Collaboration between SMEs, governments, and the public and private sectors is critical to achieving this recovery. 
  • SMEs must craft a brand identity and constantly engage with online platforms in order to drive tourism activity post-COVID. 
  • Destinations should consider crafting messaging and marketing material that addresses travelers’ hesitations, and that paint a location in a safe and favorable light.


Session Speakers