Tourists are much more likely to research and book their trips online than they are to consult with a physical travel agent – which means the travel industry needs to move quickly to stay relevant and leverage new trends for improving business opportunities.

While the emerging market relies upon tourists from the developed world, these destination countries often fail to communicate with their customers in a way that makes sense to them.
While tourists are using the Internet and social media to plan and book trips, emerging markets are often behind the curve in using these media to promote themselves effectively.
These are some of the warnings from Damian Cook, CEO and founder of E-tourism Frontiers, who last week addressed South African travel agents and tour operators on how they can leverage the online world to improve business.
The good news for South African travel companies is that this country is well served with Internet infrastructure and payment gateways – something that is either missing or new in many other African countries. SA Tourism and various provincial bodies have done a good job of ensuring the local industry is present in the online space, while last year’s World Cup spurred a lot of development that is still paying off, he says.
However, the new wave of social media is the current challenge for the industry, and Cook warns local businesses to factor this medium into their business plans or risk being left behind.
Globally, he says, trip advisors and peer reviews are becoming the most important influence when tourists plan their trips – but only 4% of hotels manage their profiles in these environments.
“Travel organisations needs to be looking at how they manage social media, and especially how they can manage user-generated content,” he says.
In today’s connected world, Cook offers travel businesses five tips for how to stay relevant:
* Ensure that your business in online and bookable online, with realtime access to inventory;
* Ensure you have a good strong online profile with lots of content – not just text, but pictures and video as well – that is accurate and up-to-date;
* Start to operate in the social media space and leverage it as a marketing tool;
* Start looking at how mobility is going to revolutionise travel, especially in light of the fact the people are now travelling with the mobile devices and have access to a wealth of apps; and
* Things change so quickly and there are many false leads in the technology world – make sure yo9u stay on the ball and know what’s coming down the line, plus what is relevant and what’s a flash in the pan.
Cook cites an example of how social media has boosted tourism to Uganda, with authorities creating online presences for the individual gorillas in a troop and updating them daily so interested people can keep in touch with the troop online.
He adds that social media allows niche operators to reach their specific target audiences quickly and relatively inexpensively.