How online marketing is changing the face of tourism in Uganda

Saturday July 13 2019

Kyahugye Islan

Kyahugye Island in Kabale District 

By Eric Ntalumbwa

A quick search for key words on Google such as ‘safaris in Uganda’ or ‘tours in Uganda’ ranks Prime Safaris, a local tour company on the first page. Unlike Prime Safaris, Kazinga tours, another Ugandan based tour business, appears in the top section as Google Ads (paid text ads) that relate to the keyword used to conduct the search.

Basing on Google statistics that 75 percent of internet users never scroll past the first page of search results, Travel blogger Pamela Amia says the quickest way to get on page one of Google for a particular keyword is to pay for an advertisement. “Once one signs up with Google, you select keywords you would like to target, then bid on how much you would like to pay every time your ad is clicked on. The higher you bid per click, the higher your ad will appear to the top of the page,” she explains.

Online management in this era of e-marketing is inevitable for a successful and sustainable tourism venture. As a result, many businesses invest sums of money to have an effective social media presence, user-friendly and high ranked website, and explore opportunities of other online marketing tools. The returns have been worthwhile for many, but risky for others.

Impact of Internet marketing
Online marketing has had far reaching implications on hospitality and tourism industry. Transportation and hoteliers were among the first ones to utilise internet marketing techniques in their practice to engage customers. Today, destination authorities, tourism organisations, tour and travel operators have jumped on the bandwagon to enhance destination reputation, consumer opinion, spread information and transact businesses.

The Association of Uganda Tour Operators(AUTO) re-echoes the value of internet marketing. “Tourism businesses and clients have significantly reduced communication and transactions costs, such as time and money. Our members use internet as a powerful marketing tool. Through online advertising, social media and websites, tourism operators offer clients an opportunity to book for their holidays online, in the shortest period,” explains Jonathan Ahabyoona, AUTO’s public relations officer. He is, however, quick to say that internet technology has created stiff competition particularly, the disruptive technologies like Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), quick taxis as well as emergence of fraudulent safari companies, which calls for stern regulations.

Reduced transactions costs
Specioza Kawarach, a digital content strategist at Marasa Africa, says they use a hotel management system called Micros Fidelio for their room reservations, revenue management and client relationship management. The system is supported by internet, without which their functionality can be halted. “Our clients are mainly social travellers who rely on the internet to search for vacation destinations, compare prices through the different OTAs, make purchases using their cards, and share feedback during or after their holiday, mainly on trip advisor. So go where our prospective clients are– online. This helps us keep tabs on competition, undertake market intelligence and envisage trends 24/7,” she says.

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Tourists share expensive
Kawarach adds that through social media, Marasa Africa is able to steer all the campaigns they are running. For instance, weekend getaway packages target domestic market, destination wedding venue packages, and honeymoon offers. Their guests share feedback and post stories of their memorable stay at their lodges, a thing that enhances customer interaction and increase referrals. “Given our location in the national parks, and the perishability of our products, we are remedied by last minute sales online to yield. We are present on Booking.com, Agoda, TravelClick, Jumia Travel, Hotelbeds.com and so many other OTAs, which means guests can still book with us, even when our central reservations office is closed. The internet has improved our processes and engagement with customers, suppliers other stakeholders.
Communication is now seamless. We are able to chat and share media files like room pictures or videos with guests outside our geographic scope directly, without always relying on intermediaries,” she explains.

Rich content
Similarly, Brian Mugume, the managing director of Adventure Consults, says he invests hugely in blogs and articles. “I produce large amounts of informative, key-word rich content about Uganda that attracts attention and establish our expertise as a business. For instance, 10 places to visit in Uganda, what to carry on your gorilla trip,” he explains. Mugume says that online marketing is cost effective and the results are positive.

Besides websites, social media is one of the most powerful online networking tools in the tourism business. It includes social networking sites, blogs, consumer review sites, wikis, among others. Tourism businesses and tourists connect socially, by integrating information and communication technology. Take A Break- a domestic tourism initiative, is steadily making returns. Lucky Agaba, the team leader and a social media influencer, says, the success of her initiative is hugely attributed to online marketing. “I use twitter and facebook and hope to effectively utilise the website. I have grown from 10 to 50 bookings and confirmations for my affordable domestic trips through online influence and referrals because our target market is tech-savvy,” she explains.

Statistics
According to World Travel and Tourism Corporation (WTTC), 70 per cent of potential tourists look up to 20 reviews in their holiday planning process. Thirty three per cent will change their choice based on reviews and 53 per cent of them will not book a hotel with no reviews at all. Global statistics as of 2019 indicate that internet has 4 billion users, 2.32 billion people use facebook, youtune has 1.3 billion and 76.5 million are users of WordPress blogs. Meanwhile, 63 per cent of all travels are now researched, booked, bought and sold online.
A total of 34,000 searches are conducted on Google every second, 75 per cent of internet users never scroll past the first page of search results. The United States internet users (a major source tourism market for Uganda) spends three times more on blogs and social networks than they do on email.

Choosing tourism keywords
In his 14-year experience of developing web-based business solutions and managing digital media, John B. Babirukamu, a trainer at Digital Marketing Centre, encourages tourism ventures to use appropriate keywords. “Stay away from complicated words because most users search using very plain vocabulary. If you have good content in the search, adopt the key words, “he says. He further urges stakeholders to make simple and relevant hashtags for their target audiences such as BeautifulAfrica, ThisisUganda, Tulambule and TakeABreak, among others.
Use of relevant hashtags
Fanny Martinez, a tourism social media expert, cautions tourism stakeholders against use of numerous hashtags on twitter and facebook. “Instagram allows you to use 30 hashtags per post, and the more you use them, the higher they rank you. Instagram is, however, not effective when you use similar hashtags, because it lowers your viewership,” she explains. She advises tourism businesses ought to use hashtags that have between 100,000 to 500,000 followers, because hashtags with a million followers make a post worthless. “Facebook does not value hashtags because they require users to pay for advertising. The more the hashtags, the lower they rank you,” adds Martinez.

Sustainable online business
According to United Nation World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), it has become inevitable to think about the promotion and distribution of tourism products without considering the new information distribution technologies, particularly the internet.

Patrick Kateregga says the trick of sustaining online tourism business is through maintaining a conversation between them and their clients. “You have to keep the conversation going on. Communicate, listen and read before clients respond because the industry is very fragile,” says the former UTB online marketing officer. He encourages tourism operators to use trip advisor reviews. The TripAdvisor platform enables millions of consumers to share reviews for restaurants, accommodation facilities and sites. It is one way to rise to the top and gain visibility, which increases traffic and more bookings for their services.

Web optimisation
John Babirukamu of Digital Marketing Centre says tourism businesses should do web optimisation, have a website with adequate booking facilities and create packages. “Many tour companies simply make sites available, yet with a thousand dollars, I want to read a package and conclude by making a purchase,” he suggests. He adds that if the target market is local, the users should be given a mobile money option. If it is international, give clients an option to use visa cards.

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