Baz Waiswa

Baz Waiswa

Technology Has Created New Consumer Behavior In Tourism Industry

Access to information has changed the way tourists globally make decisions to go to a particular destination, industry experts at the fifth edition of the quarterly Vodafone PowerTalks forum held at the Kampala Serena Hotel revealed. 

Speakers at the forum organised by telecom services provider acknowledged the role technology is playing in promoting tourism not only in Uganda but across the world, making it more competitive and requiring rigorous marketing and promotions especially on social media platforms using the internet. 

The theme of the forum was "Leveraging Technology in Tourism: Lessons for Uganda". The forum attracted about 250 SMEs in the tourism sector and related industries to share knowledge, experiences and best practices on how ICTs can be leveraged to grow their businesses.   

Rosette Chantal Rugamba, the Founder and Managing Director of Rwanda based Songa Africa Safaris revealed that technology has created a new consumer behavior in the tourism industry. She said travelers can now easily access information about their intended destination which influences their decision making. Rugamba said that technology and social media have become a tool for promoting tourism. 

Rugamba advised that people when interacting on social media should positively talk about their countries because negativity about their country is a disadvantage. She added that technology has also created a leveled ground to promote tourism. 

“I know what tourism has done for Rwanda and what it can do for you. Tourism is a business and technology is an enabler. People are searching for information before travelling.” She said, adding, “The best thing technology has done for tourism is perception – we can use it to change the perception of our countries.” She said. 

Rugamba, whose’ Songa Africa Safaris has been a beneficiary of technology through social media said that 90 percent of travelers take into account experiences of other travelers which are readily available online before making deciding which destination they go to. She encouraged that governments should consider tourism as an export. 

Amos Wekesa, a renowned tourism entrepreneur with Great Lakes Safaris, emphasized that it is a responsibility of all Ugandans to market Uganda because the platforms are available.   Despite the availability of platforms that technology provides, Ugandans, according to Philip Kalibwami, the business development manager at The Pearl Guide, said Ugandans are not making good use it.

 Derrick Sebbaale, the Chief Technical Officer of Vodafone Uganda, said Uganda is fast becoming a leading tourism attraction globally and therefore SMEs in this sector will have to be more innovative and in tune with the current trends in order to benefit from the industry and better manage the challenges that come with such growth. 

Sebbaale challenged the stakeholders to consider investing more in technology and platforms that can serve as effective channels for pre-tour narratives about destinations, sites and the peoples & culture of Uganda. 

Jackie Namara Rukare, the ‎Head of Marketing, Vodafone Uganda, urged that people in the tourism sector must harness technology and get the best of it but noted that two cannot work in isolation but in tandem with other amenities like the right infrastructures in place.

Why Polyethene Ban Is Failing To Work In Uganda

In the last ten years, the Ugandan government has been considering to ban polyethylene bags commonly known as kaveera of gauge below 30 microns used to carry mostly groceries albeit with little success as members of the private sector fight tooth and nail to save their businesses that benefit from the use of the environmentally unfriendly carriers.  

But in April 2015, despite numerous callous demonstration from members of private sector, including court battles, the Ministry of Water and Environment under National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) effected the ban on importation, manufacture and use of polythene bag of gauge below 30 microns.

The implementation however has not been a rosy one as affected businesses and other government agencies including cabinet fought the ban calling for its suspension. This back and forth has left the public in a state of indecision. Some traders stopped packing customer purchases in the kaveera while others continued to use the ban substance despite threats of legal action from NEMA.

And the Minister for Water and Environment Sam Cheptoris has blamed this inconsistency on the lack of sensitization and awareness about the dangers of the use of kaveera and the ban throughout the country. The minister says many people including those fighting the ban of kaveera don’t know the reasons why kaveera was being banned yet if they knew they would comply.

“The ban has not been successful because people don’t know the reason for the ban. We need to increase sensitization,” the minister said during his maiden visit to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) head office since taking over the ministry following his appointment in the new cabinet.

The minister advised NEMA, a government agency tasked with managing the country’s environment, to always make sure that when enforcing environment regulations people understood and appreciated the reasons for such actions.

The unwanted ban

The ban of kaveera took center stage during the Budget speech of 2009  before former finance minister Syda Bbumba and the then Environment Minister Maria Mutagambwa presented the proposal to cabinet and parliament before being famously halted following lobbying from traders and manufacturers of kaveera in the country.

The impasse dragged on as negotiation between environmentalists, government and traders hit dead ends all the time until April, 2015 when NEMA under the directive of the line ministry moved to implement the ban. The kaveera, according to advocates of the ban, is being banned because of its hazardous effect on the environment.

NEMA in a statement ahead of the ban last year said the economic, health and social costs of the continued use of kaveera outweighs the economic benefits derived from the production of kaveera and its cost is reflected in the increasing cost of malaria, reduced agricultural productivity and infrastructure repairs. The ban has however continued to get resistance across the country.

Kaveera and environment

According to www.academia.edu the accumulation of polyethylene waste in the soil will result in poor soil aeration and poor absorption of water and nutrients. They continue to say that polyethylene materials can increase soil temperature. Polyethylene products can last up to 1000 years in the soil inhibiting the breakdown of biodegradable materials around or in it and the other fear is that agricultural crops cannot grow where polyethylene products are because their roots cannot penetrate the soil for water, nutrient etc.

The website also explains that kaveera has negative impact on water because it can endanger the lives of water species like turtles, whales and sea birds who can mistake these polyethylene wastes for food or get entangled in it, resulting in painful injuries, or even death. Also marine plants and animals can be smothered by polyethylene plastic bags.  Marine debris which also include Polyethylene waste is unsightly and unwelcoming to beachgoers, which can result in lost revenue from tourism.

The negative impact of kaveera also extends to the atmosphere because when burnt polyethylene waste produces unpleasant and chocking smell, polyethylene waste combustion produces soot which is an airborne particulate emission and the combustion of polyethylene (both low (LDPE) and high density (HDPE) has been found to produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) especially olefins, paraffin, aldehydes and dioxins which are a danger to human life.

We Are Making Ugandan Hotels Visible To The World – Jumia Travel

The hotel business is central in the development of a tourism industry in any given country. It is even more important in developing countries like Uganda where foreign tourists think twice before deciding to board the plane. For hotels in a country like Uganda must be in a good shape, with good services and well marketed.

In Uganda, Jumia Travel, formerly Jovago, is doing the job of showcasing Ugandan hotels on the wide wild web as Louis Badea, Jumia Travel country manager explains in this exclusive Question and Answer interview recently conducted by Earthfinds Editor Baz Waiswa. Read on.

What do you really do as a business?

Basically I manage the operations of Jumia Travel in Uganda. We are the first online hotel booking website in Africa. Jumia Travel is a portal on which travelers, guests and customers can find and book hotels for accommodation and meetings.

You recently rebranded from Jovago to Jumia Travel, how is this going to accelerate your business deepening in Africa?

We used to be part of a group called Africa Internet Group (AIG), now called Jumia Group, which owns a number of websites includes Jovago now Jumia Travel, Hellofood now Jumia Food, Everjobs now Jumia Jobs, Kaymu now Jimia Market among others.

Jumia was the most famous brand especially in Kenya and Nigeria. So our management considered that since this Jumia venture was popular and appreciated by our customers, they saw that if we ran all the ventures under the Jumia name, we would get more visibility and traffic.

Therefore we joined our strength to grow. Of course we were worried a bit, it’s a big change, but the impact is really good, people are curious, our traffic has increased and now people know that they can get whatever they want in one place.

One month after you rebranded, how has the Uganda market reacting to the change of name?

In Uganda we are seeing an increase in traffic but at the same time we did it at the beginning of a high season, the business is good. We have seen increase in traffic and hotel bookings.

You have been in Uganda for a year now, how have you performed as compared to your business plan and projections?

We have performed quite well. When we came here we used to cover only a few parts of the country, now we have hotels everywhere in Uganda. We are in western Uganda - Kisoro, Kabale, all the national parks, Mbarara; central region – Kampala, Entebbe; eastern region - Malaba, Mbale and in the north.

We have done well in terms of improved hotel content on our website. When you visit the website, you will see good pictures and accurate information. We make sure that our prices are competitive. We have good diversity of hotels on our web portal.

All a customer has to do is to go on the website, select the destination you are going to, for example is its Gulu, you select Gulu, filter through the list of the hotels in Gulu according to amenities you are want then select the number of rooms and nights you will spend there. On this page, you make a choice of how you want to make the payment.

You can pay by credit card, Mobile Money or cash at the hotel. The hotel gives us the rates. We can advise them according to the season or start promotions to attract customers. On the Mobile App, hotels can update the prices and details of what they are offering.

What have been some of the challenges operating in Uganda so far?

The challenge, I would say in Uganda, especially in national parks, is that the lodges are expensive if you compare with other countries say South Africa. Here we still lack middle range affordable lodges. Sometimes we have cheap tents but it is hard to find lodges of $100 -&200. It is the same with hotels in Kampala, there are many good quality hotels but very expensive.

We sometime we have issues with internet to communicate. We wanted to book for a client in Juba but we couldn’t, six months ago we wanted to book in Bujumbura but the network had been cut off so we were not able to confirm the bookings.  Political instability is a problem, if there is a war we cannot do business, this is a challenge but we keep our customers informed.

Sometime the hotels don’t have trained staff or they don’t communicate to their employees. We have signed contracts with hotels but when clients reach the hotels, the receptionists don’t receive them well because management has not informed them of our arrangement.

The other challenge is locating hotels. Many hotels are located in places with no plot numbers so finding them is a problem. Some cannot be tracked on GPS.

And the achievements?

Every month hotel booking are growing and we have grown the number of hotels on our website. We have also seen the number of reviews increase on the website which means people are appreciating our services.

We have been able to give visibility to hotels in Uganda. 60 percent (about 400 hotels) of hotels on our web portal are marketing online for the first time. We give them that chance to get business and visibility on our website. This is good achievement for us.

Uganda is taking a giant step marketing itself as a top tourism destination, as a stakeholder, what are you willing to contribute to this cause?

Uganda is less popular than Kenya and Tanzania when it comes to tourism mostly due to lack of visibility. Most people outside Africa think Amin Dada is still here, this is because Uganda doesn’t market herself enough. We try to market Uganda – tell the world that Uganda is safe and cheap.

We try to tell the world that travelling to Uganda is possible. We connect travelers from all over the world to hotels in Uganda. For example a traveler from Tokyo can find a hotel in Uganda before coming down here at competitive rates. We make sure hotels in Uganda get visibility from all over the world.

How many Ugandan hotels have you listed on your web portal?

It should be about 800 hotels – 200 hotels in Kampala. We register new hotels all the time. For hotels to be on our platform they need to have two ways of payment – pre-payment and post payment – meaning people can pay using credit cards or Mobile Money or book and pay at the hotel. Most of the guests book online and pay at the hotel.

Other amenities that customers consider when booking are WIFI (37%), swimming pool (26%), bed and breakfast (17%, AC (15%) and transport (5%). If the hotel doesn’t provide these services then there is quite a problem. Booking by star hotel rating stands at 1 star hotels (3%), 2 star hotels (31%), 3 star hotels (46%), 4 star hotels (17%) and 5 Star hotels (7%).

As an institution that deals with hotels, what is your earnest comment on the quality and seriousness of Ugandan hotels?

I think they are good; the lodges are good but expensive, then if we look at Kampala, very many good hotels are coming up. We also have hotels that lack renovation. Sometimes there is lack of customer services training but I know Uganda Hotel Owners Association is working on it. Sometime the hotel staff is not well trained.

Where do these hotels need to improve?

They should make sure the operations manager is good. They should train people. Sometimes when you go to TripAdvisor you find hotels with bad reviews but their managers have not bothered to respond. It also happens even on our website, it is important to check reviews and respond.

If I am the manager, I make sure I check all the reviews and train my staff to ensure that whatever made the customer to complain doesn’t happen again. When you have good services, you get good reviews and ranking improves.

What do travelers look out for in a hotel? What are their expectations?

It is mainly WIFI, swimming pool, good food, good staff and good value for what they are going to pay. So the prices you put must match with what you are offering. Hotels sometimes think that all expatriates earn $10, 000, so they think all Mzungu can pay $600 for a room.

Hotels should have affordable prices. Not all tourists can afford to pay for a $500 a night. Hotels should pay attention to customer demands, what is happening in the market to stay competitive.

What type of travelers’ book for hotels in Uganda on your website?

50% of bookings are made from inside Uganda then from Kenya. So it is Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, UK and US. We get lots of people from Kenya. We don’t ask for nationalities but we can only trace IP addresses. They are usually business travelers.

What are you planes for the coming years, what should Uganda expect from Jumia Travel?

We are going to start offline marketing, go out and meet people in the streets, sponsor events and sign up hotels. We will continue offering better services and improve our Mobile App to enable hotel owners manage their content better. We have a partnership with Uganda Hotel Owners to do training. We will handle topics like marketing and customer care.

Jumia Travel Advises Hotels On Pricing

The hotel industry is tremendously growing if the number of quality hotels springing up is anything to go by however they risk stagnating the hospitality industry if they don’t price their services in a reasonably affordable manner, a travel expert mentioned it in an exclusive interview with EARTHINDS on Wednesday.

Louis Badea, the country manager of Jumia Travel, an online booking agency, explains in the interview that while there are nice lodges in national parks and quality hotels in major towns, their services are high and a turn off to even foreign visitors. “We lack middle income affordable lodges if you compare to other countries like South Africa, same for hotels especially in Kampala,” Badea said.

A Uganda Hospitality Report compiled by Jumia Travel describes Uganda as ‘a hub for tourism buzzing with different attractions all over the country’ receiving 1.24 million foreign visitors in 2014, 50% more visitors than 2007. However most of the visitors are of middle class status who are not able to pay exorbitant fees for accommodation.

The report which captures performance of the hospitality leading the first quarter of 2016 reveals that 46 percent of people who book through the web portal prefer 3 star hotels while only 7 percent check in into 5 star hotels. 31 percent prefer 2 star hotels while 17 percent and 1 percent stay at 4 star and 1 star hotels.

This says a lot about how hotels should price their services because, according to Badea, travelers look for good but affordable accommodation. He says that hotels should have amenities like WIFI internet, swimming pool, air conditioned, good rooms and transport for client’s easy mobility around town or parks.

The reports also captures statistics explaining why clients choose a particular hotel. This being a technology era, 37 percent of customers consider availability of WIFI internet before booking into a hotel. Coming in second is swimming pool with 26 percent of clients preferring a hotel with a swimming pool probably to cool whenever they want.

Other amenities travelers consider are bed and breakfast (17 percent), AC (15 percent) and transport (5 percent). “If the hotel doesn’t provide these services then there is quite a problem.” Badea warns. Close to 800 Ugandan hotels are listed on Jumia Travel web portal and can also be accessed through a mobile App.

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