The — Digital Evolver program is part of the efforts of Good Life X to help revitalize Sri Lanka’s tourism sector - an industry deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it is improving operations, channel management, digital presence or online marketing, tourism businesses need to focus on strategies that can help them thrive in the post-pandemic era. The Digital Evolver program is focused on enhancing the digital capabilities of the selected participants, while also gearing them up to foster well-being of the local communities and environments in their host destinations.
Pascal Gavotto (Tourism Specialist and Director at Fatumaru Consulting Lanka Ltd) and Naveen Marasinghe (Digital Marketing expert and COO of Antyra Solutions) are members of the panel of experts of the GLX Digital Evolver program, and they shared their thoughts on the impact of digital transformation on the tourism sector and the opportunities available for Sri Lanka’s tourism enterprises.
The tourism sector has undergone significant change over the past decade and a half, driven primarily by technology. Speaking about this, Pascal said, “ In a short period of time, the Online Travel Agent (OTA) has captured almost 50% of the global market and completely changed the distribution system. Traditional hotel operators were confronted by a new competitor; thousands of vacant apartments and homestays suddenly became available to the tourism market in just a few clicks, thanks to the likes of Airbnb.”
Naveen believes that digitalization has had a massive impact on three key areas of tourism - operations, distribution, marketing - leading to the democratization of the sector for all types of operators, no matter their size.
“Today, a small surf school in Arugam Bay can create a profile online to be visible to an audience that’s actively looking for the type of product they are offering. They can create a niche market for themselves, with no intervention from a travel agent or other third party. That’s what technology has made possible,” said Naveen.
Pascal highlighted that platforms such as TripAdvisor and Google have also had a significant impact on the sector. With travellers being able to post their experience online for the world to see, tourism is now heavily driven by customer feedback and recommendations. “In my opinion, this is not a transformation; it is a revolution!”
Large hotels and tour operators have adopted technology rather quickly, taking advantage of improving their marketing and distribution, and optimizing operations with significant productivity gains. However, the story is a little different for smaller entities, especially in Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka is an emerging economy with advanced telecom infrastructure, very skilled people and IT providers. But the digital gap is growing for Sri Lankan enterprises, many of whom seem to think that being on WhatsApp is sufficient to manage their business,” said Pascal.
“What they need to understand is that the digital revolution offers them the opportunity to use the same tools and systems that may have only been affordable to the big players not long ago. This is the beauty of technology - now smaller tourism enterprises too can compete in the world travel market with the same tools, should they have the skills to use them.”
OTAs allow even smaller businesses to showcase their property and inventory, receive bookings, manage rates, handle cancellations, display customer reviews, etc., which means there is more opportunity for discovery by an interested audience. From a marketing perspective, social media offers enterprises a massive opportunity to make a noise, engage with potential customers and talk about their product/offering in ways that they never did before.
“Social media has given voice to brands, allowing them to create their profiles and engage with customers using authentic user-generated content. They can even target niche audiences who have more probability of converting to customers. Additionally, operators can run advertising campaigns on their own, using the budgets they have in hand, without the involvement of professionals,” said Naveen.
The adoption of tech and certain digital platforms also have the potential to create challenges for smaller organizations. Speaking on this, Pascal stated that in Sri Lanka, the ‘booking.com syndrome’ has created an overdependence on one distributor for many businesses.
“Business owners do not always have the skill set necessary to adapt to the new digital context, and many have been outsourcing their marketing to specialized companies. By doing so, they externalize the core know-how and seriously decrease the value of their business. The dependency on OTA and outsourcers weakens them,” he said.
Naveen articulated that the implementation and daily running of certain digital systems can be a pain point for most enterprises. They require expert advice and people with specialized skills to actually benefit from the operational efficiencies that technology can create. Furthermore, he highlighted that by not selecting the correct platforms and having the proper workflows in place, business owners can increase customer frustration, instead of increasing efficiency, resulting in loss of business or negative reviews.
This is a key reason that programs such as Digital Evolver by GLX are important because they expose smaller business owners to the myriad opportunities available to them and give them the correct guidance on which type of tools and technologies they should embrace for the success of their business.
Release ID: 89065401