GLOBAL REPORT—As mobile technology continues to proliferate throughout Africa, hotel research and booking transactions via mobile devices are becoming more of the norm for millions of consumers in the region.
There are approximately 500 million mobile network subscribers in Africa, and an estimated 7 million of them are smartphone users, according to data compiled by market research firm Euromonitor International.
The key driver of mobile commerce is the low-cost 2G phones that allow consumers to access the web on their devices. These phones comprise around half of all mobile handsets in Africa.
Although mobile services still are emerging in the African travel industry, travelers are beginning to demand and expect them.
“Consumers are looking for convenience and ease and they expect to be able to access information or book a room wherever they are, and more consumers are turning to their phones to book last-minute travel accommodations,” Paz Casal, travel and tourism analyst for Euromonitor International.
Kenya-based Sarova Hotels, which has more than a thousand rooms in eight hotels in East Africa, is experiencing a surge in mobile bookings since incorporating m-commerce into their system. Approximately 10% of the company’s online reservations are now booked via mobile devices.
Sarova Hotels' mobile booking site
Sarova introduced m-commerce in mid-2010 upon launching its mobile site, allowing customers to book directly from their devices on the mobile site.
In early 2011, the company began accepting M-Pesa, a mobile-phone payment service, from its Kenyan customers. M-Pesa, which is powered by telecommunication company Safaricom, allows consumers in select markets to load and transfer funds to other users.
“This has been more for convenience to the Sarova customers since they can pay whenever and wherever they may be,” said Bevaline Ogur, e-commerce assistant for Sarova Hotel. “The introduction of mobile as a channel has impacted Sarova’s booking process in that it has encouraged more bookings via mobile devices through the Sarova WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) site.”
The M-Pesa service allows domestic market customers with busy schedules who cannot physically make it into Sarova offices to settle a payment or into the bank to make deposits to do so by a click of a button from their mobile phones, Ogur said.
France-based hotel group Accor has not yet experienced a great level of success in the African mobile space.
Souleymane Khol, Accor’s marketing, sales and distribution director for Africa and Indian Ocean, said revenue generated from the company’s Africa site is roughly EUR100 million (US$128 million).
Approximately 10% of the company’s total revenue for Africa comes from web distribution channels, and the percentage of mobile bookings is even less.
“We do not have a specific strategy dedicated to the African market for mobile devices because even in mature countries, sales through mobile devices represent around 1% of web revenue,” Khol said.
However, the company in 2012 is building the region’s online strategy. Khol said the main objective is to increase awareness of Accorhotels.com as it is the primary tool the company has to boost traffic and online bookings.
Advantages to promoting mobile as a channel
The four biggest markets for mobile phone usage in the continent are Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, according to Casal. And research from BuzzCity found that consumers in Kenya and South Africa are more likely to make remote purchases via mobile Internet, fixed Internet and telephone, with 46% of Kenyan and 43% of South African users having done so.
M-commerce and mobile marketing offer great opportunities for the industry, Casal said. “Hotels can use mobile commerce to drive reservations, to promote events and to increase general awareness of their venue or destination,” he said.
An additional benefit to facilitating the mobile-booking process for users is the potential to save on online travel agency commissions, Casal said. Making mobile sites more accessible would compel guests to book directly with the hotel company as opposed to a third-party.