Travel Tech: A Call to Action

An unintended consequence of the coronavirus pandemic is the rapid transition to digital engagement tools like Zoom, GoogleMeet, etc. for webinars, conferencing and so on. Professional associations and organisations that focus on community building activities and engagements have jumped onto the webinar bandwagon. The Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria, hosted a webinar on technological disruptions in the tourism industry and our readiness for the fast-forward and reset. 

One thing that’s certain is the changing face of tourism and the ability of technology to fill the gaps. Yes, technology exists in travel and has done since the 2000s with the disintermediation of travel agents and the airlines, directly merchandising tickets and complementary services through partnerships. Aggregator travel platforms, offering turnkey travel packages, also exist. Travel and tour operators also use a variety of business applications to manage the property, guest experience and finance.

While travel has dominated by physical movement or transportation, the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for wellness through rest and recreation has opened up technological solutions that transmit travel experiences using augmented and virtual reality. In this era of the fourth industrial revolution, the range of digital technologies extend operational applications and encompass capturing and creating guest experiences. However, how prepared are Nigerian (and even African) actors? The IoD webinar stoked the fires of the conversation that I hope this piece will advance.  

The range of Travel tech solutions depends on an active supply-side including hardware manufacturers and software or experienced developers. At the webinar, one operator shared images of a mobile digital attendant (robot) that seem inexpensive; classifying the costs as capital and operational may provide a fresh perspective. The capital cost of equipment acquisition not only requires foreign exchange but also maintenance parts. On the software side, the mobile robot is a single-function because it serves only one purpose. What if one requires the robot for another activity? Who will reprogram the device to conduct other activities? 

Africa is not exempt from the tech startup revolution, however, the travel is not one of the more vibrant sectors attracting significant rounds of venture funding. Brief research of this industry sector presents few actors, but those in tourism rich Eastern and Southern Africa focusing on experiences and those in Western Africa on transaction sales and agency. 

On the webinar, a speaker itemised several scenarios regarding the travel experiences for anyone at Lagos infamous Murtala Mohammed Airport. One such example was the travel experience through the lens of an elderly traveller needing help and the multiple touchpoints from drop off to boarding. While this illustrates a nightmarish experience, each scenario presents unexplored technology opportunities that can transform the travel experience, replacing human labour with technology.

Hence, the question is why are we not exploring these opportunities? Why are we not building such solutions? My hypothesis is because of the lack of exploration of the nexus between technology and tourism. Exploration requires deliberate and intentional efforts to include technology actors into the fledging travel and tourism ecosystem. An example of jumpstarting such interactions is through hackathons or accelerator programmes. Hackathons are design sprints used to create ingenuity (ideate) in a collaborative space. Accelerators are longer programmes that provide startups access to developmental activities like mentoring and sometimes seed funding.

How much revenue is being let out? Creating a sustainable travel and tourism market requires demand or market. This Covid-19 era that limits long-distance travel presents significant opportunities for domestic tourism. Nigeria has spectacular sights that may remain hidden to the 200 million population if we don’t change the engagement strategy. How can a family in Kano experience climbing Olumo Rock or someone in Lagos, the showers of Erin Ijesha waterfalls? Even within Nigeria, inferior quality infrastructure, insecurity and social inequality mar the possibility of physical movement. However, 4D movie technology and virtual reality can create such experiences.

I want to conclude this piece with dialogue and crowdsource your feedback. My thesis is technology is in everything and yet not everywhere. Why? 

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