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7 Nov, 2005

Use Internet to Grow Markets, UNCTAD To Developing World

MAKING more efficient use of the Internet offers the least developed countries one of the most cost-efficient opportunities to grow their share of the global tourism market, according to a UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report.

To be distributed at the World Summit on the Information Society starting in Tunis, Tunisia, on November 16, the report says that the LDCs will save huge amounts of foreign exchange in distribution, licensing, marketing and Intellectual Property costs if they set up proper websites that can attract direct bookings rather than through global intermediaries.

Says the report, “Tourism is a prominent economic sector in some LDCs, ranking first, second or third among all export sectors in 19 LDCs, and is a less prominent but fast-growing sector for another 10 LDCs. However, their overall share in international tourism is small, accounting for less than 1 per cent of international tourism receipts with a total of 6.4 million international tourism arrivals in 2003.”

UNCTAD surveyed national Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) to evaluate the level of development of their etourism websites and to identify the challenges faced in the development of e-tourism.

The survey found that out of 50 DMOs, 17 do not have an e-tourism website. “Tourism in these countries is insignificant, owing to instability, structural disadvantages (including poverty), the absence of tourism policies or a lack of demand.”

Among the remaining 33 DMOs, 24 have a dedicated e-tourism website and nine use government websites.

In addition to the questionnaire, the presentation, content and technical functionalities of the websites were evaluated according to their user-friendliness and the number/level of services proposed.

According to the report, the large number of websites that are still dependent on the infrastructure of developed countries for worldwide access, high bandwidth and uninterrupted service reflects the lack of ICT availability in the LDCs. However, a large majority of websites were developed by local companies. In addition, free and open source software tends to be used by nearly half of DMOs.

The survey identified the following main messages from the research into the 24 e-tourism websites:

<> Websites are mostly purely informative. Online bookings are not available for any of the websites, but 18 of them provide links to local hotels, national travel agents and tour operators. According to DMOs, the lack of both financial and human resources, together with a lack of dynamism on the part of tourism providers, prevents them from proposing this service.

<> The majority of the websites provide rich information on the destinations (history, traditions, culture and geography, as well as accommodation, restaurants and entertainment, mainly in the form of tourism provider contacts or links to major hotel chain websites). The information is presented graphically in an attractive way and documented with photographs.

Moreover, some websites propose specific activities, mainly related to the country’s ecosystem, such as ecotourism. Regarding the 24 DMOs’ websites, ecotourism is proposed by 15 countries.

<> A couple of DMO websites offer poor-quality content, which could have a negative effect. In general, for promotional websites, the rule is not “something is better than nothing”, because the website is a critical asset, but rather “no website is better than a bad one”.

<> The number of visits per website serves as a benchmarking indicator for NTOs, and a few of them, for instance the DMO of Nepal, also identify the country of origin of visitors to their website.

<> Of the 10 DMOs that responded to the survey, 4 indicated that they had redesigned their etourism websites in 2004 and 2005, mainly to facilitate the ease of use and introduce new languages with a view to improving their effectiveness.

In most cases, this was done by a local communication company or by the DMOs themselves. Several DMOs are planning to make their site more dynamic and user friendly.

<> Out of 24 DMO e-tourism websites, 11 are multilingual, with a maximum of six languages for Nepal, four for Senegal and three for Maldives. Eleven websites are available only in English and two only in French.

<> One of the main tasks of the DMOs is to include all tourism providers, especially when existing databases are flawed and incomplete. They have all put in place different business models, some free of charge and some subject to an annual registration fee.

<> Among the constraints the DMOs face, they reported a lack of knowledge, skills and human resources for web design, maintenance (including the update of data) and database management. Some DMOs have received international or regional support to build their websites (UNDP, the EU, South Pacific Tourism Organisation and Portuguese Cooperation).

Overall, the DMOs reported that the Internet has become the cheapest and quickest form of promoting their tourism offer. However, the technology in itself represents both an opportunity and a challenge for developing countries, notably the LDCs. The lack of knowledge of ICT tools and resources places developing countries at a severe disadvantage in competing in the international online tourism market.

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