Sponsored: Leveraging technologies for tourism and hospitality industry recovery

The havoc Covid-19 wreaked on the tourism and hospitality industry when it hit in 2020 left it reeling.

01 April 2024

Lerato Motsoeneng, Managing Executive: Financial Services, Retail and Hospitality, Vodacom Business

The havoc Covid-19 wreaked on the tourism and hospitality industry when it hit in 2020 left it reeling. In its wake were hundreds of billions in losses related to tourist expenditure, which had a significant knockon effect on hoteliers, restaurants, transport services and more, with venue closures and financial arrangements having to be made with suppliers to enable establishments to tighten their belts enough to stay open until restrictions lifted.

There’s hope on the horizon, with tourist numbers improving month on month from 2021 to end 2023. According to Vodacom’s Lerato Motsoeneng, managing executive: Financial Services, Retail and Hospitality. The numbers available from Statistics South Africa demonstrate that in December 2023, 3.5 million travellers were recorded at South African ports of entry or exit, surpassing the figures for November 2023, which stood at 2.6 million. “This improvement appears to be in line with gradual improvement across the world,” says Motsoeneng.

“As we were coming out of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, the hospitality industry made local tourism more attractive with great specials across various affordability segments. International tourist numbers into South Africa were still lagging which negatively impacted local occupancy ratios. As a response to the subdued tourist economy, the local hospitality industry was offering great deals to the local tourist market. This was also coupled with the fact that outbound international travel was also subdued partly driven by the weakening of the rand against the dominate global currencies. This meant locals could get excellent value on deals in South Africa.”

“I think the hospitality industry, like all other industry (post Covid), was forced to rethink how technology should become a strategic pillar in transforming the industry to better serve customer needs. The hospitality industry realised that in order to survive, it needed to look at technology with a focus on three particular components: technology for an improved guest experience – both on- and off-line; use of technology to drive efficiency and continuous improvement within the day to day operations of the business, such as offering concierge services on digital platforms; and the use of technology for innovation, for curating personalised experiences”

New business models

Motsoeneng says technology has opened new opportunities and business models, such as Airbnb’s model, which has no physical accommodation infrastructure but has developed a marketplace for people who are looking for value on accommodation, matched with people who are willing to open their private spaces to tourists. He also says hoteliers are getting increasingly advanced with their technology offerings, such as enabling self-check-in/out channels and personalised experiences, like being able to personalise a room set-up prior to arriving at the destination via digital platforms.

“Hoteliers are also gathering data pertaining to their guests’ stays using machine learning and artificial intelligence to extract insights about their guest to improve the guest experience. These insights can also be used for, curating holiday packages, lead-generation, entrench loyalty and offer reward programmes.”

The challenges the hospitality industry faces are like challenges faced in other adjacent industries, says Motsoeneng, including the problem of customer data being housed in different platforms that do not talk to each other hence no single integrated view of guests across the tourism value chain. “This was a point that was raised at our recent CIO roundtable. There is an opportunity to create an integrated guest/tourist view across the various value chains in hospitality. We need to work towards consolidating guest details and having a holistic view of the services they use, for example, airline, hotel, car rental, and dining, regardless of platform, to ensure the experience is seamless and consistent.”

Technologies enabling Hospitality

Asked what trends the hospitality industry should be investigating and staying on top of, Motsoeneng says there are various uses for generative AI, but cautions that it is not a technology to be left on its own but used to enhance the customer experience. “AI can also help hoteliers to address seasonality requirements, enabling greater justin- time management with suppliers on catering and other resource requirements, also cutting down on waste. Virtual and augmented reality are also game-changing technologies. Augmented Reality means guests are able scan a room before making a booking and get an idea of the facilities before they arrive at their destination. Guests can immerse themselves into a venue and its facilities prior their arrival.” Sustainability is another way Motsoeneng says technology can help.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning around supporting establishments that are deliberate in adopting the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda. In the hospitality industry this can be achieved by the industry leveraging technologies like Internet of things (IOT), where sensors can transform hotels into smart hotels i.e., monitoring utilities consumption e.g., ensuring lighting in guest rooms are only on when the guest is present in the room. Using technology to demonstrate that the company is running eco-friendly buildings, is a differentiator to guests that pay attention to brands that care about our planet,” he concludes.