Digital transformation has solemnly grasped the tourism industry, increasingly altering operations and customer relations in a sector that contributed 3.7% to Kenya’s GDP in 2017 and forecast to rise by 5.2% in 2018.
The industry is experiencing a great deal of innovative disruption, with trends such as Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and mobile bookings and payments taking center stage. Expectations from tourists have been set high, and relevant stakeholders continue to adopt to the technological changes in a bid to provide pertinent solutions suitable for the new digital environment.
In a statement released by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it has stressed the importance of tourism and technology, providing opportunities for innovation and creating the jobs of the future. Speaking during the 63rd European Commission meeting held in Prague-Czech Republic earlier in June this year, Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili affirmed the organization’s aim to make innovation part of the solution to the challenge of marrying continued growth with a more sustainable and responsible tourism sector.
“Together we can set a vision that considers tourism as a policy priority, a knowledge creator and innovator, and a sector of maximum value for all”, said Mr. Pololikashvili, making clear his vision to create an ecosystem of government policies, funds and strategic projects that nurture disruptive ideas and entrepreneurship.
What is the traveler looking for?
In a world of digital interaction, today’s traveler has shifted focus on the sources of travel and tourism data and information, highly dependent on mobile applications and the digital space for their travel purchases. From flight to hotel bookings, the services are easily accessible online, making it convenient and user friendly. Service providers, in a bid to drive sales, revenue and operational efficiency, are upping their efforts to give top-notch customer experience by embracing the digital transformation.
For instance, Amadeus, a travel software and technology solutions provider, notes that service providers should expect the traveler to leverage more on mobile, such as location awareness and directly rebooking on the device. He wants to remain connected in the digital, mobile, and virtual marketplace; thus, expects seamless integration across standalone apps such as those that encourage social login.
Therefore, the main question is whether hotels and travel agents have been able to deliver on these significant traveler demands and what benefits they have recorded. Speed, relevance, and accuracy of the digital experience are vital when a hotel is seeking to grow conversion rates. The AccorHotels App for instance, allows customers to experience a total immersion with virtual reality using their smartphones. Besides, it provides over 2,000 tourism destinations and 4,200 addresses to affirm the importance of the location awareness application. Other useful features include exclusive presales and room upgrades to reward customer loyalty.
On the other hand, travel agents have not been left behind in relation to innovation and digitalization. Such is Jumia Travel, a leading OTA in Africa which uses an Extranet App both on Android and Web; in its strategy to use top-notch technology to further empower its hotel partners across all markets. The tool allows hotel managers to confirm and view their incoming reservations, change their rates and update availability at their own comfort.
By integrating multiple channel managers, the company gives its customers and hotels control over their bookings, reducing the standard check-in time and consequently increasing efficiency and cost savings in an industry ecosystem that is highly characterized by a "mobile-first" adaptation.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”