BY JOSEPHINE WAWIRA
Defined as browser-based Internet services accessed from handheld mobile devices such as smartphones or feature phones; through a mobile or other wireless network, mobile web traffic continues to rise globally. It is largely driven by faster Internet speeds, availability of multiple mobile applications, as well as feature-rich devices.
Kenya in 2017 had a mobile subscription rate of 41 million (+3%), surpassing the 40 million mark. The mobile penetration now standing prominently at 90.4% of the adult population according to a recent Mobile Report by Jumia, has been highly driven by the arrival of aggressive entrants into the market, consequently driving moderate reductions in the prices of mobile devices.
Internet penetration however, cannot only be measured in terms of the number of connected Kenyans, but in terms of its accessibility as well. The global mobile Internet traffic was up 11.65% year on year as of the fourth quarter of 2017. It currently stands at 51.12% of global web traffic originating from smartphones.
Overtaking Nigeria in 2017, Kenya is now the global leader in share of mobile Internet traffic at 83%. Internet penetration in the country is driven by a robust Internet infrastructure as well as affordable smartphones. The communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) in a recent report noted that 86% of the country’s population has access to the internet, interpreting to approximately 43 million Kenyans not putting into consideration multiple handsets owned by a single user.
Effects of the high connectivity on e-tourism
Tourism is undoubtedly one of the greatest contributors to the global economy through foreign exchange and employment. With approximately 345 million Internet users across Africa, representing 9.3% of the total population and a penetration rate of 27.7%, it is a replica of the multitude of opportunities in the tourism and hospitality industries that players need continue exploiting. This is according to analytics by Jumia Travel’s (online travel agent) hospitality report 2017.
Smartphones particularly remain an incontestable tool in accessing travel information and essential data important for both travelers and service providers such as hotels, travel agents, and airlines correspondingly. The Smartphone is certainly more than a mere communication device. It is a gateway to the world’s travel destinations. Kenya is no exception! Since the advent of the Internet the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry in Kenya has seen outstanding advancement. More Kenyans are now going online to look for travel information, discounts and deals on hotels and airlines, new destinations to tick off from their travel bucket lists, as well as travel packages available at the most affordable and guaranteed prices.
If the rise and growth of ecommerce businesses especially travel agents in the country is anything to go by, then who can argue otherwise on the positive impacts of Internet on travel? Valued at Sh.4.3billion ($4.2m), ecommerce in Kenya – though falling behind countries such as South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco – is expected to experience a boost in the coming years; particularly due to high uptake of mobile payments as well as better internet connectivity.
A leisure destination: business on the rise
Kenya is largely regarded as a leisure destination. In 2017, the country was for the fourth time bestowed the title of the “world’s best safari destination” by the World Travel Awards. The accolade came despite a bumpy and prolonged electioneering period, which normally translates to a poor performing tourism sector. However, its resilient performance won the attention and hearts of millions of tourists; with the award acting as a vote of confidence. The best leisure destination that Kenya is, offers unbeatable wildlife safaris, mind blowing sandy beaches at the prodigious coastal region, not to mention the unadulterated destinations in the Rift Valley, Nyanza, Northern Kenya, and the Mt Kenya regions.
Yet, it would be unforgiving not to mention the metropolis cities that also define Kenya, and which are full of vibrant life both day and night. It is in these cities that the country’s other face of a business destination becomes known. The bolstering of business travel especially, is greatly contributed by Kenya’s location as the African New Technologies hub as well as East Africa’s economic hub. Notably, business travelers are often overly occupied with tight schedules and deadlines, making personal travel bookings not quite a preference. For this reason, online airline and hotel reservation especially done by travel agents to include airport transfers and possible bleisure activities has become a better option due to the efficiency associated with it.
Globally, hotel bookings made via the Internet stood at 148.3 million in 2017 while the percentage of the same day hotel reservations via Smartphone stood at 65%. This is an indication that even for travelers who end up completing a booking on their own, prefer to do so on their smartphones as compared to either desktops or tablets. Mobile bookings on Jumia Travel Kenya for instance saw an increase to 44% in the company’s Q3 2017 report, in comparison to 41% in the second quarter of the same year. Desktop bookings saw a slight decline from 59% to 56% in the same period last year.
Leisure travel in Kenya remains on the high thanks to marketing and awareness campaigns carried locally by industry stakeholders; leisure spending contributed 67.5% to the GDP in 2017, while business spending accounted for 32.5%.
The high reliance on mobile devices with Internet connectivity gives service providers an opportunity to tap into the continually revolutionizing mobile web, investing in advanced and easy-to-use applications among other essential technologies in the travel industry. For instance, Wi-Fi remains a primary preference for hotel guests in Kenya and Africa at large with a demand of about 23%. Fast and reliable network connection as well as a huge amount of bandwidth is critical for both leisure guests – to allow sharing of moments online and connect with family and friends back home – and for business-oriented guests – to ensure their business connections continue unremittingly. Investing in the 4G network (with a focus now on the upcoming 5G) therefore, will improve hotels’ operational efficiency and boost the provision of more personalized guest experience.
Barriers to internet connectivity in relation to travel
Various factors may hinder the access and penetration of Internet not only in Kenya but also in the entire region. One of those is the price of Internet data especially in Kenya, where it is still too highly priced as compared to neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. This in turn means limiting access to most of the low-income earners, thus restricting availability of critical travel information. It is not surprising therefore, that quite a huge percentage of Kenyans still believe that travel is unaffordable and only a reserve for the rich and foreigners. Allowing easy access and affordability of Internet by lowering the broadband prices will go a long way in creating online awareness on the various local destinations available and affordable to all Kenyans.
Besides, while mobile connectivity continues to grow, there remain several Kenyans who are conflicted on whether to purchase a smartphone, as their primary priorities remain affording food, shelter, healthcare, and education for their children. The rising living standards in the country without a doubt continue to lower Kenyans purchasing power especially on items that may be considered luxurious or not of much priority in their day-to-day lives.
We cannot talk of barriers in relation to travel without mentioning hotel connectivity. A lot of hotels in Kenya and across Africa still lack Internet connectivity, while an approximate 60% do not have any online presence. Without an online booking software and often making reservations manually, these hotels will continue to miss the opportunity that lies in the online travel market; while their connected counterparts reap massively from the new ‘gold’ in the hospitality industry.
Then there is the issue of Visa application that we must deal with. In all honesty, applying for a visa in Africa remains a big hassle that consumes much effort and time. Though several countries including Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana among others continue to lead efforts towards visa free travel, complexities of border control and a host of other implementation challenges need to be resolved if a border free policy is to work. There’s a ray of hope in Kenya, after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive in 2017 that Africans visiting the country will henceforth be issued a visa on arrival. This move to further boost Kenya’s relationship with other African countries, also enables East Africans to travel, do business, and live in Kenya with just their identity cards. Yet, with all the efforts by individual states, research by the African Development Bank, Africa Visa Openness Report 2016 shows that Africans still need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries. We can only be optimistic that our respective governments, whether individually or under the umbrella of the African Union, will see through the adoption of visa liberalization policies that if well implemented could increase Africa’s tourism by 5 to 25%.
The Key Takeaways
Service providers including hotels, airlines and travel agents among others need to put in place effective mobile-centric marketing and customer engagement strategies that will help tap into increasing travelers online. There is also the imperative need for hotels to adapt their services to the demands of the tech-savvy customer, and one who is more focused on personalized travel experience.
With more affordability and accessibility of mobile data, more Kenyans are likely to travel locally leading to an even more thriving domestic tourism sector and an increase in online booking trends. Possible direct return on investment is an even better performing tourism industry.
While leisure travel remains king in Kenya, it is now time to start putting equal effort on promoting and marketing business travel destinations across the country. This addition will move to increase the travel, tourism, and hospitality expenditure from both domestic and international visitors.