ITB 2011 part two: Key trends and learnings for Cape Town

Social media and new technology have once again taken centre stage, this time at the world’s largest trade show, ITB Berlin, between March 7 and 11, 2011.

The internet has become the predominant channel for consumers to search for and buy travel, with up to 95% of the world’s constantly connected generation of travellers and tourists searching for information online: 55% bought travel online in 2010 (up from 45% in 2009) and 65% were influenced by their online community.

Social media and mobile technology will continue to change the face of the tourism industry dramatically. Holiday tips from friends worldwide, interactive bookings and mobile travel guides at the destination will become the norm in years to come. Around the world, more and more travellers are using social media. In the USA, about 52% of 152-million adult leisure travellers – or some 79-million people – use social media in researching travel destinations and making travel decisions.

Smart phone and mobile application integration are becoming even more important in terms of both general business and customer trends, but they are even more relevant to the travel industry than to other sectors.

Travel takes consumers out of their homes and offices, away from their desktops and laptops, often to places where we don’t have access to Wi-Fi or wired internet connections. Mobile technology allows travellers to access information about itineraries or locations and allows them to communicate with social and business circles while in a destination. Mobile is an always-on, always-available communication channel that has significant benefits for travellers and offers new opportunities for travel providers and destinations in providing top-of-mind, live and interactive information about destinations.

Mobile is the next real platform in travel and a key area that the tourism industry needs to look to, especially if we plan to target new markets such as Asia. With over 450-million mobile internet subscribers in the Asia Pacific region, the business opportunities for destinations and travel products like hotels and attractions to leverage this platform are massive. India alone has 127-million mobile internet subscribers while China has 155-million. A Juniper Research report forecasted that the mobile payment market will be worth some US$630-billion by 2014 in terms of gross transaction values. Asia Pacific has the largest mobile subscriber base in the world with over 2.1-billion phone subscriptions in 2010, with a forecasted growth of 50% by 2020.

The dramatic success of smart phones such as the iPhone over the last few years opens up exciting new opportunities for the travel industry. As many as 40% of international travellers already own a smart phone with internet, email access and other functions, while 57% have a conventional mobile phone (2% still do not have a mobile phone), this year’s World Travel Monitor revealed. More than 40% of smart phone owners already use their devices to get destination information, and 34% of business travellers and 26% of leisure travellers use them to make booking changes during their trips.

Unsurprisingly, more and more travellers are also using social networks by mobile access during their trips. As many as 37% of international leisure travellers say they use mobile social networks according to the World Travel Monitor. This means that holiday photos and other content is being posted online on sites such as Flickr and Facebook while the traveller is still at the destination.

A powerful new tool for the tourism sector could be the combination of GPS (a global positioning system) with in-built cameras, assisting “augmented reality”. By viewing something through the smart phone camera, the user will get access to additional screen displays, of information or images, creating an interactive display of their immediate surroundings. Lonely Planet has already launched interactive city guides for smart phones featuring this technology.

Destinations are now starting to take advantage of augmented reality. The Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, for example, recently launched a smart phone app under the name “Holland Layar” using Layar, a free augmented reality technology. Consumers can download the app to their smart phone and then use the phone’s camera to call up location-based tourist information and get directions. Information is generated from the tourism board’s database covering 17 000 points of interest in the country.

With the onset of information overload, credibility and dependability are critical for users of social media. Experts agree that now, more than ever before, destinations and tourism products must establish trust with consumers.

Cape Town Tourism has made extensive use of e-marketing in the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Our more than 180 000 followers on the Facebook group I ♥ Cape Town, and regular blogs, Twitter feeds, Flickr competitions and web itineraries are all part of a communications solution that speaks to today’s traveller. The web and social media platforms have made it possible for challenger destinations like Cape Town to gain credibility as a result of user testimonials. Cape Town was recently rated one of twenty-five best destinations in the world by TripAdvisor users;  tangible credit to our authenticity.

Experts at ITB agreed: Destinations and products that rely on the same tried and tested marketing techniques will lose out to their more innovative rivals. To maintain the competitive edge, a city brand needs to be authentic, must appeal to locals first, have emotional pull and have real stories to tell. Storytelling is changing. Facebook has replaced holiday albums and Flickr is the new slide show. Research shows that people spend the most time in the planning and memory phase of their holidays and sharing their experiences now takes place on Facebook and Twitter.

Cape Town Tourism has been tweeting live from the ITB convention using the hashtag #ITBCT. We posted more than 300 up-to-date comments to the tourism and hospitality industry in Cape Town over the course of the three-day convention. You can see these tweets at www.capetown.travel/industry.

Cape Town Tourism will again be a co-sponsor of the annual E-Tourism Africa Summit, to be held in Cape Town in September 2011. In anticipation of this event, the quarterly Joint Association Members Meeting (JAMM) – of Cape Town Tourism, the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA) in the Cape, the South African Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) and the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) in the Western Cape – planned for March 15, 2011 will focus on e-tourism. The session will bring together over 200 delegates to hear about and discuss how the tourism industry needs to become future fit in order to benefit from advances in technology and changing global travel trends.

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