Throw back a few decades to the 60s and 70s or even the early 80s when technology was not this far advanced. Travelling was still a great exercise but more stressful and challenging to organize.
Travelling entails several little facets such as hotel bookings, flight bookings, car rentals, tourist destinations, access to healthcare and financial services, good food, etc. In the past, to get all these little bits sorted out in order to have a successful travel experience, one had to go through many hustles and even end up spending more money.
Think about a domestic trip from Accra to Tamale in the 70s when mobile phones, laptops and the internet weren’t widespread in Ghana. You may have had to travel to Tamale not knowing where you were going to stay, what you would eat or even how you were going to move about in the city. Even if the destination was close by, you may have had to do double trips just to reserve a room, book tables in the restaurant, rent a car for your travel dates or even get a bus ticket.
Fast forward to late 90s, through the millennium and all the way to the present day. Technology has evolved so much that smartphones, tablets, laptops and the internet have provided an amazing yet effective way of cutting all the stress and saving more money. Travel has become both comfortable and memorable with a service delivery medium known as online travel agencies (OTA) working tirelessly to provide seamless online travel solutions for its customers.
The primary roles of these online businesses are to help travellers to book flight tickets, holiday packages, hotel rooms, etc., online using a smartphone or a computer. The experience has to be stress free, convenient, safe and fast for it to be deemed successful. Jumia Travel, Africa’s leading online travel website looks at the sorts of impacts such OTAs have on tourism and hospitality in Ghana.
First of all, let’s remind ourselves that OTAs come at a fee and their services are not free. However, their value and the benefits that they bring are endless. The impact is mostly felt by hoteliers and customers who form the core of our hospitality industry but the tourism industry is also greatly impacted by these OTAs. The operations of OTAs influence customer choices. Many travellers outside Ghana who may be used to certain hotels alone may want a new experience. Some may even want other options because of bad experiences in previous hotels or even the need for lesser rates. Online travel agencies provide such options for customers with just a few clicks of a mouse. Due to the ability of OTAs to discount rates on their portals, customers tend to prefer booking with them. The attractiveness of the rates and the visibility of hotel rooms and facilities push customers to travel.
If, for instance, my whole budget for a trip to Ghana from Argentina is 1000 USD and i can get a flight for $50 less and hotel reservation for $55 less than what i would have paid for by booking directly, I would be eager to book and travel quickly. Once travel is made affordable and the guest travels down, tourism derives maximum benefits as the guest would love to see a few things and experience the beautiful stories he/she may have heard about the city or town. These days, some OTAs even go the extra mile of promoting tourist destinations and educating tourists about best places to visit as well as give them travel tips. When these tourists land in Ghana, restaurants, car rental services as well as tourist sites benefit a lot from them. Foreign exchange is on the high and their recommendations to friends and family to visit Ghana keeps the tourism and hospitality industries booming.
Secondly, increased revenue by these OTAs also means increased revenue for the hotels and their partners. Since these enterprises pay tourism and hospitality levies to the appropriate authorities, there is always enough funds readily available for developmental projects, maintenance and building of infrastructure to improve the country. Also, OTAs have a great tendency of always bringing new travellers into the country because of extended marketing and the kind of reach they have with online processes and advertisements. Because they are always online, countries who may never have been heard of appear on the map and are seen by many. These days, we even have tourists from Malta and Moldova visiting Ghana. This is great news for Ghana’s tourism and hospitality. Another important thing that OTAs bring to our travel and tourism is employment. With increased flight and hotel bookings comes the need for more employees in hotels, restaurants and tourist sites to be able to cater for the numbers. This opens the way for more unemployed people to be absorbed into the tourism and hospitality sectors.
The benefits of OTAs go way beyond the above listed and their impact on tourism as well as hospitality is great. However, a perfect balance has to be struck between all partners and stakeholders involved for an effective and successful outcome. When all systems work well, everyone benefits.
Credit: Bennet Otoo, Jumia Travel