Saina Kunwar / Ravi Dhungel
As the digital transformation continues in scale, information technology is crucial for all industries and not limited to fintech, healthtech, agritech and edtech products. When the world sees the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear view, the revival of travel and tourism is inevitable. The technological advances have even made their way into the travel and tourism industry. We can now book hotel rooms, flights, other activities, and plan our entire trips – all from a mobile device. Technology has revolutionised the way we travel, making our travel adventures fun. This phenomenal change in the tourism industry is often referred to as traveltech. However, in the context of Nepal, traveltech products and services are still at infancy despite huge opportunities to build traveltech products.
In 2017, the average tourist arrival was 0.94 million which skyrocketed to 1.17 million in 2018, and spiked to 1.19 million in 2019, according to Nepali Sansar, a US-based media house. This number is a very small compared to the customers of any global traveltech products and services. According to strata research, the global travel and tourism market offers 4.6 trillion dollars. Nepal continues to be a fascinating tourism destination and for 2022 Nepal is placed in top 10 best travel destinations by Lonely Planet.
Travel is a resource intensive activity and there is no middle ground whether you travel or not. We have to provide quality services that require good infrastructure to support millions of travelers. What about providing self-services and customised travel tech products? The benefits are trivial to the travelers and service providers. However, with the limited infrastructure, the scaling of tourism products and services are challenging where resources are scarce and technology automation is at the bedrock. Traveltech services can be built on trekking, hiking, mountaineering, expedition, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, peak climbing, mountain biking, bird watching, mountain flights, ultra-light aircraft flights and paragliding, hot air ballooning and Jungle safari. These events can be developed as traveltech products with high degree of customisation of events, time, partners and cost.
Nepal is rich in cultural tourism. The cultural experience, traditions, festivals, lifestyles of ethnic groups, handicraft, painting and rituals can be developed as a knowledge base where the travetech services can act as a digital repository for cultural tourism. These products can easily be managed and provided via a single traveltech product. Temples, gumbas, domes, stupas and museums can be enabled to the wider world using virtual reality and augmented reality. Why not take a five-minute virtual trip to Changunarayan Temple before booking the trip? These are only possible in the traveltech products.
In global traveltech products, it's very common to have chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) used for automating the reservation systems by providing FAQ answers, payment information, schedules on the basis of user’s behaviour and analytics round the clock. Traveltech products like Tripadvisor are considered as the world’s largest travel guidance platform, scaling to millions of people. The site and app provides information on what to eat, where to go and stay on the basis of reviews of the people who have already been there before. The company is available in 43 markets and provides end to end travetech services with a click of the mouse.
According to Condor Ferries, 70 per cent of travellers use smartphones for travel research and 33 per cent of them plan their trips with the help of a virtual travel assistant. Around 82 per cent of 2018 travel bookings were made without a travel agent and 66 per cent of all travellers make their bookings online. Some 83 per cent of consumers in the US prefer making their travel bookings online while 80 per cent of travelers rely on reviews on Tripadvisor before making bookings. About 72 per cent of consumers won’t make a booking before reading online reviews. This data shows the value of traveltech services and products in the years to come for Nepali market where digital transformation will grow at unprecedented rate.
Technology in travel and tourism services is a must for scaling and providing customised services. Traveltech services can be directly provided to the small tea houses as B2B and local travel specialist as B2C as a digital platform and as a service. There has been much talk about the digital divide in the last decade but with the mobile penetration of more than 100 per cent in the Himalayas, there is a potential that travel tech products can be easily accessible in the country like Nepal.
Traveltech products also help to increase the bottom line on per day expenditure of the travellers by providing quality and customised services. The total expenditure of the travellers per day is very low compared to other countries although expenditure increased to $44 from 2018 to $48 in 2019. Traveltech products and services built as software and service applications can help small businesses and entrepreneurs to scale and optimise their resources thus increasing their profit margins and quality services by providing diversified products. Also travellers can sell their digital contents and experience using their personal blogs.
In Nepal, you can see as many temples as houses and as many Gods as people. Building sustainable tourism, scaling the infrastructure, providing the quality services and diversification of traveltech services is required to be globally competitive. We can build the traveltech products to optimise the resources, diversify the travel products and innovate the new products in the traveltech space.
With the massive potential of tourism, from expensive Everest climbing to budget hiking, Nepal offers services to all types of tourists. With the young and talented software engineering workforce and the experienced resources in mountaineering and hiking, Nepal can be a test bed to develop traveltech products for the world. Nepal can lead the world by building traveltech products and become a centre of excellence in travel and tourism.
(Kunwar is a graduate of travel and tourism management and the business analyst of JewelTrek.com. Dhungel is the vice president of platform engineering and cybersecurity of JewelTrek at esrtech.io )