Theoretically, shocks should be part of systems evolution as they help weed out the weak and give way to the emergency of the strong. Covid-19 is one such shock that will certainly “cleanse” tourism and allow for stay and emergency of stronger, resilient and better players and destinations.
Creativity is one tenet that’s essential for not only survival of the covid shock but of bouncing back better. Bouncing back better means being smarter, wiser, and transformed for the better. Such is the very foundation of competition as it allows actors to seize opportunities presented by the environment.
Uganda is presented with a rare opportunity to bounce back better and stronger. Lately, I have been thinking. We could actually lead the transformation of tourism marketing around the world. We can be the first in Africa (if not the world) to create a virtual tourism fair. The government has been spending billions of shillings to show Uganda to the rest of the world. A tour company would also spend an average minimum of $5000 per trade fair and many would attend at least three fairs per year. In ten years, this would be about $150,000 in trade fairs alone.
Now we have the opportunity to create a virtual tourism trade fair. With technology it is possible to create a virtual environment in which the private sector and the government agencies can exhibit what they do. Each would acquire a virtual stall where they show off their services.
As for a tour company, one would have the opportunity to share real experiences of each activity in the package they offer. A visitor would be able to see what to expect in rafting, gorilla tracking or a game drive. A visitor can be made to have a virtual reality feel of the accommodation facilities, eating houses and your vehicles to use in each package provided.
Accommodation facilities would also have the opportunity to show prospective visitors what they offer through virtual reality tours of their facilities. The fair should also have virtual meeting rooms where, if a visitor is interested, you can meet and hold talks with you directly. Opportunities should be available for such Virtual meetings as well as telephone calls. This can make it possible for both visitors and the hosts to see each other as they try to do business. In fact, deals could also be concluded through the system but there should be options to engage later. Such a system would not allow people with plagiarized content to share it as their own. Ideally, people with original content would benefit a lot.
If every service provider in the visitor journey is available, including immigration, and embassies, it would be easy for people to make decisions. In such an arrangement, some products such as gorilla permits, chimpanzee permits, rafting, etc could be exclusively sold by only companies registered in Uganda. Others would be required to either register or have partnerships. Also, visitor could be allowed to make their own choices of activities into a package and then have discussions. Generally, people with product knowledge would have a higher advantage. Once others realize this, investment is knowledge would be made with ease!
The fair can have several languages, implying that with a proper calendar, we can promote it in several markets through digital channels. We can even run it thrice year, once in each market or generally, targeting those months in which people make travel decisions. The best thing is that admission to the the fair would be done by the host (UTB), implying that the exhibitors should meet certain minimum regulatory requirements. This would give confidence to the visitors and potential partners that they are dealing with a legitimate service provider.
Sustainability would be fairly easy. In the beginning, government would have to invest in the creation of the platform. Government should also take responsibility of training the private sector and other agencies on how to create content, exhibit and do business in such a virtual environment. The cost of filming and photography should be heavily subsidized, but those who specialize in such services will have the opportunity to make money.
In the end, to exhibit, a company would pay some money. If the system is user friendly, and is well promoted, it could give enormous returns on investment. To maximize efficiency, it could be run as public private partnership business.
In my view, an initial investment of about $5million would be enough to create what I’m talking about. This could be less than what we currently spend on exhibitions per year, moreover with a narrow market reach and undefined results.
If government collected about $300million from tourism, surely, it can invest $5million. This virtual fair would give every Ugandan company an opportunity to showcase their services and thus earn Uganda much more revenue in the end! Problem is, it might contradict the whole culture of per diem that people are used to. For that matter, it may not even be given a thought!
The writer is a Senior Lecturer at Makerere University Business School