African specialists prepared for social media

African specialists prepared for social media

Social media could destroy the mystery of Africa, but specialists will thrive as a result, according to a panel of senior African tourism businesses at the latest World Travel Market Meridian Club Think Tank, which took place Tuesday, July 10.

Senior buyers with responsibility for Africa met in central London this week under Chatham House rules, ensuring that all guests’ comments were unattributed. Tour operators, agents, sports tourism, and online businesses were represented.

A recurring point was that technology is playing a disruptive role in the African inbound market with more suppliers considering direct sales. Travelers have access to a wealth of information, putting pressure on specialist tour operators and agents to offer truly personalized service and product, at a competitive price.

One up-market operator explained that the vast majority of new business referrals for its business were sourced online, with a big investment in natural and paid search marketing delivering top-end clients.

The full impact of social media will come in two or three years, it was said. The “mystery of Africa” is under threat but the specialists insisted that this would work in their favor as experience of the product was vital in converting leads.

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Opinions were divided over the commoditization of Africa, based on the possible impact of new low-cost carriers. Travelers would find it easier to dynamically package a trip to Africa with a better domestic network, while the luxury operators were looking forward to moving their high-paying guests around more efficiently.

Elsewhere, concerns were expressed over a reduction in the number of direct flights between the UK and Africa. Airlines’ marketing and PR of their African destinations has a direct benefit to the entire region and its brand.

UK airlines could lose out as Gulf-based carriers add capacity to Africa. Some guests noted that they are marketing stopovers at their hubs to create packages to Africa.

Reed Travel Exhibitions Chairman World Travel Market Fiona Jeffery, said: “The first Think Tank dedicated to Africa gave us an even deeper insight into the needs of buyers and suppliers.

“The specifics of Africa as an inbound destination are many, and we will ensure that WTM 2012’s Africa program reflects global and local trends.”

Independent analysis of exhibitors in the Africa region at WTM 2011 found that contracts signed on site or resulting from follow-up meetings accounted for business worth £152m.