Cape Town - More and more so-called millennials are seeking value for money in the SA tourism industry thanks to the devaluation of the rand, according to Dean Bibb, Sabre Travel Network's vice-president for the Middle East and Africa.
The millennial market is effectively anyone born between 1980 and 2000 - therefore, someone below 35 years of age.
"South Africa, partly thanks to the devaluation of the rand, has become a popular destination for travellers from Europe and across Africa. This is especially true of value-for-money seeking millennials," said Bibb.
In his view, key current trends in the travel industry include a growing demand for personalisation and customisation of the travel experience as well as the so-called "appification" of travel. There also seems to be a blurring of the lines between business and leisure travel.
"We’re seeing a trend for the lines between business and leisure travel to blur: where business travellers include leisure excursions during their trips. This opens opportunities for travel operators to offer relevant leisure opportunities to business travellers," said Bibb.
At the same time complex visa requirements, safety and security concerns and political instability threaten travel sector growth in many areas of Africa.
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"But outbound travel has still a lot of potential, especially with the African Union’s goal to introduce an African passport and abolish visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018," added Bibb.
Some areas of South Africa and rest of Africa are also challenged by a lack of communications infrastructure and reliable bandwidth, which slows local industry efforts to support travellers with the sort of advanced solutions often found in Europe and the US.
"Tech-savvy younger travellers in particular are demanding more from travel service providers, so travel agencies, airlines and hotels need to start delivering. Today’s traveller wants a convenient end-to-end service in which travel pain points are removed or proactively managed," explained Bibb.
The industry is, therefore, having to adopt a different mindset to understand today’s traveller and meet new expectations. Technology such as mobile devices and even smart watches has become integral to the travel experience. Many travel service providers are moving to big data analytics to better understand trends, customer segmentation and even individual customer preferences. They and are also coming to market with their own mobile apps to differentiate themselves and deliver a better customer experience.
Bibb added that tough global and local economic conditions will naturally dilute leisure travel, but at the same time present opportunities for innovative travel operators to boost business by better customising travel specials and packages for their customers.
"In South Africa, the devaluation of the rand is slowing outbound travel, but on other hand, we’re seeing real growth in inbound tourism from around the world," he said.
South Africa and Africa as a whole have been top destinations for global travellers for some time, in his view.
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"For South Africa, intra-African travel presents particularly good growth potential, thanks to a fast-growing middle class across the continent. There are significant opportunities for the industry to harness technology such as big data analytics and mobile applications to encourage local travel and intra-African travel, by presenting customers with better offers and more customised packages," he suggested.
Apps on mobile devices and wearables are set to change the way people travel, and the way the travel industry engages with travellers, he pointed out.
"In the same way that Uber revolutionised taxi transport, we are starting to see applications emerging that will allow airlines, travel agents and hotels to give travellers personal information relevant to them at the time they need it," said Bibb.
In the near future, for example, you might be stuck in traffic en route to the airport and receive a notification from a service provider telling you that you needn’t panic, your flight has been delayed and the traffic should clear up ahead soon, giving you 20 minutes to make your flight. Or you might disembark from your regular flight and receive an alert from your favourite coffee shop in the airport, telling you your latte is waiting for you.
"Modern travellers, particularly Millennials, are expecting more of this highly personalised, interactive content and service, and technology providers are fast coming to market with apps and software tools that enable this," said Bibb.
"Large travel agents are becoming software development houses as they seek to better understand their customers, package more relevant personalised services and information for them, and even proactively push offers to them based on their travel preferences."
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