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Tourism is now ‘the top selling online industry’

With annual global sales skyrocketing to over US$150 billion, and robust growth that has shaken off the recession, tourism is the ‘top selling commodity online’, according to Damian Cook, Founder of E Tourism Frontiers.

This is good news for South African Tourism, the organisation responsible for increasing tourism to South Africa, which is staging this year’s 3rd annual E-Tourism Africa Summit.

The two-day Online Tourism Conference and Travel Technology Exhibition will be taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Center on the 25th and 26th of October 2010.

The trend towards online travel booking is confirmed by South African travel site, Travelstart, which posted 30% transaction growth in the first seven months of 2010, a year in which the travel and tourism industry both at home and abroad was reeling from the effects of the global economic crisis, the outbreak of the H1N1 virus and lower overall travel numbers.

“[The growth] is evidence of what we’ve known for quite some time,” says founder and CEO of Travelstart, Stephan Ekbergh. “The research and buying habits of South African travellers is moving online in a significant way.”

Travelstart’s 30% growth in online transactions thus far in 2010 comes on the back of 70% growth in transactions in 2009, a year in which the global industry suffered a four percent decline according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

“Clearly,” says Ekbergh, “people are finding benefits in booking travel and accommodation online. The internet has fuelled a demand for an uncomplicated, reliable, and accessible commercial marketplace where consumers may easily compare prices and services and make informed choices about where, exactly, to spend their money.”

He went on to say that “People want to take charge of their travel arrangements and itineraries. This need is well served by a one-stop service that offers broad comparison of flights, accommodation, car hire and all-inclusive travel packages both domestically and to destinations abroad.”

Damian Cook, CEO of E-Tourism Frontiers believes that “the role of social media in the decision making process for holidays and travel has become even more important. The upcoming summit in Cape Town will have very focused sessions on how tourism companies can leverage Twitter and Facebook for increased sales”.

Online travel booking is emerging as the norm rather than the exception, and Ekbergh is extremely optimistic about the future of companies like Travelstart and the broader online commercial environment for travel and tourism.

Independent research says internet accessibility is growing at the rate of about 15% per annum in South Africa and 11-million adult South Africans will be online by 2015.

44% of all adult internet users bought airline tickets online last year, for reasons of convenience, user-friendliness and competitive pricing.

“This is the future of the travel and tourism sector, not only abroad but also here at home, too,” says Ekbergh. “However, no matter how much online travel planning and buying grows, people will continue to demand reliable and efficient service and strong brands they can trust.”