I was so impressed with the talks in the Event programme of World Travel Market Africa on Friday that I returned yesterday to the Cape Town International Convention Centre to listen to some more. It was a much more disappointing and unprofessional experience than on Friday.
It was a shame that the afternoon session was very quiet for all at the exhibition, having to compete with the Stormers playing Highlanders. It did make finding parking outside the Convention Centre easy though. In between two talks I went into the Media Centre, and was horrified at how rude the security person was, questioning my presence there, after I had used it the day before as well without question, annoying too as I had blogged about the first day yesterday! It is disappointing that the quality of the food at the Convention Centre, which had improved greatly after the arrival of Chef Warwick Thomas almost a year ago, was uninspiring in the Media Centre, with some pieces of feta, lots of olives, cherry tomatoes, green leaves, and cucumber slices (the day before they came with mini pita bread), baby potatoes and slices of roast beef with stir fry vegetables (the day before much better rice and tender chicken breasts), and fruit and a mini milktart, which leaked all its content the minute one used the spoon (compared to the excellent fruit tarts and chocolate mousse served the day before). At 15h00 the content of the small bar fridge, consisting of cold drinks and water, had been cleared out, and they were not refilling it for the next three hours until closing time, because the budget limit for drinks had been reached! The day before a Convention Centre staff member announced that no more drinks could be had by the writers using the Centre, despite the fridge still being three quarters full! This all happened despite Natalia Thomson, the PR consultant for the exhibition being in the Media Centre, but she did nothing about the drinks shortage, despite the feedback to her.
Nick Hall of Digital Tourism Think Tank chaired a panel on ‘Travel Technology – The Mobile Revolution in Tourism’, having chaired a very similar one the day before, duplicating the TripAdvisor speaker Rory Kenny on his panel too, both repeating most of what had been said the day before. Velma Corcoran, Marketing Executive of Cape Town Tourism, gave refreshing and honest feedback about the tourism bureau’s progress with mobile communication with visitors to Cape Town. Dr Zornitza Yovcheva also works for the Digital Tourism Think Tank, and it felt that she and Hall were using the session to sell their company’s service, which is to build travel apps and mobile travel websites.
Kenny from TripAdvisor spoke first, saying that travel and mobile go hand in hand. He predicted that there would be 1 billion mobile phones in Africa by next year! Of the Smartphones currently used in Africa, 65% are used for Google searches, predominantly on weekends. Millennials make up more than 60% of mobile phone owners. TripAdvisor has had 100 million app installs, we were told, has 108 million unique visits (time period not specified), is available in 21 languages, and has 82 off-line City Guides. It is the ‘largest global travel website’, Kenny said, which I challenged in question time (saying it is the largest travel review website, in my opinion), resulting in Hall trying to cut my question short and eventually removing the microphone from my hand before I had finished asking the question. The reason for this now is clear, being to protect TripAdvisor due to their partner relationship! TripAdvisor’s research shows that its mobile app is used for travel information by 91% of travellers, 45% use it for restaurants, and 37% search for tourist attractions. TripAdvisor has developed a Mobile app, a Mobile site, a tablet site, and has the desktop site, to make its website as slim and slick as possible depending on the hardware it is viewed on. Kenny mentioned again (as he did on Friday) that they launched mobile Instant Booking at the beginning of this week, in which they take customers’ credit card details to help facilitate the bookings by their accommodation establishments. Due to the exorbitant roaming charges, the City Guides are off-line, allowing one to access them without internet availability, and providing GPS co-ordinates. 4G high-speed internet will come in Africa. Mobile trends include voice commands to the phone with voice recognition. When asked, Kenny said that TripAdvisor is experimenting with Google Glass. He concluded by saying that all best-practice comes from Silicon Valley, which should be adapted to suit one’s needs.
Mrs Corcoran really impressed, although showing a photograph of her baby on her Bio page for an extended period was really odd. She linked back to a session about Blogging on Friday, saying that as a tourism bureau they do not blog themselves, but act as curators of others’ stories about our destination. She said that there are more mobiles than people now. A survey showed that the first thing people would take with them if they had to leave their home in an emergency is their phone. Africa’s mobile penetration is 15%, compared to 10% on average globally. Internationally 60% of Facebook users connect via their mobiles, but in South Africa this is 90%. South African mobile phone owners have a Smartphone, and 80% a feature phone. She shared that they had lost 10% of their website traffic, but the mobile traffic had grown by 60%, yet their bounce rate is 68%, showing that their website is not perfectly suited for mobile use. She defined Mobile broadly, seeing it as a medium which is a means to an end, and shared that their new Thando Mobile Visitors Centre is coming to travellers at events and at Cape Town’s biggest attractions, offering video information, brochures, and a booking service (with free wifi). She also mentioned the challenge to mobile usage by travelers in South Africa, in SIM cards having to be FICA registered with proof of residence. She highlighted that the fundamentals (roaming costs, lack of free wifi, FICA) need to be addressed with urgency to make Mobile marketing more efficient. Humans and technology need to connect, but mobile phones work against this. ‘Mobile is not a sprint, it’s like a Comrades‘ concluded Mrs Corcoran.
Dr Yovcheva talked about an iterative website strategy, which really is the model her company would use to develop an app or a mobile site. Steps in the process are defining goals and analysing the competition’s use of technology; define needs and problems, which would include identifying mobile impediments; mobile design, with a focus on the most important information being featured first; implementation, deciding on which platforms to offer the mobile app or website, e.g. Android, iOS, Blackberry; mobile marketing would be the communication of where the mobile website is available; and lastly one would track the mobile performance for its success, and bounce rate.
I discovered, by looking at the Digital Tourism Think Tank website, that Oliver Gradwell of Travel Bloggers Unite, who chaired two sessions over the two days, also works for Digital Tourism Think Tank, being listed as an ‘expert’ (although he only has 1884 Twitter followers!), and that TripAdvisor is a ‘partner’ of the company, which was not declared at all! Ironic too was that the emphasis of the five talks that were digital marketing focused spoke about internet connections and free wifi for successful digital marketing, but that the wifi connection in the venue was exceptionally poor, especially on Friday, making it almost impossible to get one’s Tweets out, especially those with photographs. Even more ironic was that despite the emphasis on Digital Marketing at the conference, the marketers of World Travel Market Africa were clearly not guided by their ‘expert’ speakers in retweeting the Tweets posted about them, and to share links to blogposts written about them with others, so as to attract more visitors yesterday!
At the end of the conference section of World Travel Market Africa I was disappointed that we were held for stupid, with the duplication of speaker topics and content, and the hard sell from the Digital Tourism Think Tank and its services. The attempt to block my question to the TripAdvisor speaker was unprofessional, and contrary to our freedom of speech! The Cape Town International Convention Centre needs to seriously pull up its catering socks, while Reed Exhibitions needs to understand the importance of media support for its exhibition, in improving its catering in the Media Centre, in its interaction with writers, and in its acknowledgement of coverage received for their exhibition! A far improved wifi service can only benefit the exhibition company, in creating more immediate and a larger volume of coverage via Social Media. Yesterday they barely Tweeted, and any Tweets about World Travel Market next week would be old hat! Perhaps weekdays are better for a travel and tourism exhibition, and Reed Exhibitions have wisely chosen three weekdays for next year, but made a typing error on the Z-card: ‘Save the date 15 – 27 April 2015’! Funny was seeing a photograph of Durban Tourism’s unmanned stand today on Facebook, with the question asked as to who would be paying for this wasted expenditure! Despite this feedback, the meeting of Cape Town and Western Cape tourism players, meeting up with old friends in the industry, and the stimulating talks (some) were food for thought.
World Travel Market Africa 2015: 15 – 17 April 2015. www.wtmafrica.com Twitter: @WTMAfrica #WTMAfrica
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage