How tour operators will benefit from digitalised tourism activities

Fintech supports tour operators to track inquiries, bookings and account registration. PHOTO | COURTSEY

What you need to know:

  • Integrating financial technology in the tourism industry helps tour operators to package their products, sell them online, accept bookings, receive payments, optimise their business processes and give clients an exciting transaction experience.

Before innovations in the tourism sector, tour operators had more than enough work on their hands while operating on limited resources. Majority run on low budgets, especially private tour agencies, which had to do their own packaging, marketing, transactions and site building for better returns.

The Covid-19 pandemic made many quit business. While some never made it back, a good number got up but are yet to pick up. Taking away a load of work means less spending, as business operations are realigned to be managed online with ease.

Lwere Shakur started Mabamba Tours in Entebbe but the lockdown and travel restrictions greatly affected his clientele, but he managed to bounce back. “I had to compile packages, itineraries, inclusions, exclusions by myself, which was overwhelming,” says Lwere who does daily trips for Entebbe tourists.

Hilda Namara, who runs Rohimo Tours and Safaris, has been in the business for four years and sees improvement when she looks back. “I did not have a website and I did not know what strategies to use to market my services. Tripesa developed a website for my tour business, which I can update anytime,” says Namara.

Role of fintech in the tourism sector

Tripesa- a financial content management system has helped tour operators such as Lwere and Namara to carry that burden and increase sales for businesses in the tourism sector.

In a country where tourism is one of fastest growing sectors, there is a need to streamline products and services to meet the growing demands. More tour companies are springing up every other day, as the number of tourists also grows.

Such growth is projected to rake in over $260Bn annually by 2030 with over 130 million arrivals and creating 32 million jobs, calling for a massive campaign on digitalising of tourism businesses operations.

One of the most effective ways of achieving that is integrating financial technology into the tourism industry to help operators access more resources, optimise their businesses on  top of giving clients an  exciting transaction experience.

A “Round Bob” experience

Until Round Bob- a travel booking platform working with small tour companies came up in 2013, there were no innovations to ease business processes in the tourism industry.

The birth of Tripesa has now empowered tour operators to streamline processes, cut down costs and track business performance online.  “We want to give everyone their own ‘Round Bob’. Tour operator can now own tools to package their product, distribute it and make money as individuals instead of waiting for a bigger company to lead,” explains Tripesa co-founder and managing director David Gonahasa.

Their scope stretches from hotels, events, car hires and other facets of tourism. According to Gonahasa, small companies in the tourism cycle are an integral part, despite lacking tools and services.

“Many can hardly package what they have on offer or even market them. Distribution is another hurdle because they have no interactive websites or customer-relationship systems. All these limit businesses from blossoming,” he adds.

A year later, Tripesa has supported small travel, tourism providers in Uganda and Kenya to package products, sell them online, accept bookings and receive payments in different currencies and in installments.

“Most tour companies are not doing enough to educate people on how to experience it online,” says Job Soyekwo from Mulima Adventures, a local tour operator, who has benefited from product packaging, itinerary management, digital payments, data collection and distribution.

How does it work?

Tripesa focuses on no-code website building and payments, in addition to leveraging a decentralised approach to digitalisation. This ensures the product owner has full rights to their customers, payments and data.

“I focused on functionality and the handling of visual aspect in terms of improving the design,” says Kennedy Akora, the user interface designer.

The brains behind this innovation say it is a user-friendly platform which users can easily navigate to access different services. The team is also made up of people with a deep understanding of the needs of a tourism business.

 Jafar Ajena, the country director, previously worked as the digital marketing officer at the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and had a hand in maintaining the growth of Uganda’s destination brand throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the best ways of growing a brand is by getting hold of old clients while attracting new ones at the same.

Tracking  inquiries and bookings

With the help of a customer relationship management system that enables a tour operator to track inquiries, bookings, account registrations that happen on the customer site and track customer details, chances are a tour operator can only get more clients as they are aware of the market demands and trends. Another exciting feature is the content management system, built to support the tour operator to thrive. 

“We have built a customised content management system that suits the needs of a tour operator to make money off packages. With the Tripesa dashboard, they are able to create events and list them and receive payments from abroad. We have integrated payments within the Tripesa website and transfer to accounts, while one can also receive payment through mobile money” Ajena expounds.

 For tourists who book packages in installments, the tour operator monitors and tracks transactions online.

Tour operators are also able to get their packages marketed. Loy Namata of Vamos Tours and Travel, has been in the business for seven years and has been recording more bookings using the marketing and content creation tools.

While there is room for growth, Tripesa is still challenged by a number of factors. Even with more than 250 tourism business subscribers in Uganda and Kenya on its platform, many tour operators out there unaware of its benefits. “Not all tour businesses are doing business online. Some are upcountry as far as Karamoja, Kabale, Kisoro and Rukungi, which makes it difficult to access them,’’ the founders of Tripesa say.

Queries on authenticity

Many of the biggest investors still shy away from investing in tourism, despite it being a proven cashcow that also creates employment. Online establishments such as Tripesa, have a huge task of winning the trust of many people.

There is a population out there that does not believe online transactions are authentic. This requires training and massive sensitisation, which come at cost.

As financial technology continues to extend its horizons in the local market, the next step is tapping into more countries in the region such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.

However, the current regulatory standards in the different markets makes it hard to do business.  The long term goal remains becoming a payments solution for Africa’s travel and tourism industry, while facilitating its growth.