Travellers should be ready for technology advancements in tourism

A ‘Personal Rapid Transit’ pod waiting for passengers at Heathrow Airport in England.
Photo: Supplied

DURBAN – It is widely recognised that tourism has the potential to help South Africa and other African countries grow their economies and create jobs. 

Tourism is contributing for around 9 percent of South Africa’s gross domestic product, a growth to the economy of R412.5 billion in 2017, which translates into 1.5 million jobs or 9.5 percent of total employment. 

By 2028, it is estimated that almost 2.1 million South African jobs will depend on tourism. Similar scenarios are playing out across many other African economies.

The next few years will be an exciting time for travel technology as advancements made in the past decade begin to scale up and make network-wide impacts. 

Here are some advancements and new experiences travellers should expect to add to their adventures, and that tourism operators should be considering.

The tourism potential of autonomous vehicles

Heathrow Airport’s self-driving shuttles have been running on dedicated roadways since 2011. Airport officials told the BBC in 2014 that they replace an estimated 70,000 bus journeys each year. The pods also complete their journey faster than buses while reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent as compared with typical airport shuttle buses, and by 70 percent as compared with individuals in cars.

Here in South Africa, the potential for AVs to improve certain tourist experiences is very much on the radar. The non-profit Mobility Centre for Africa was set to run South Africa’s first public AV trials. This will begin showing the many ways in which these vehicles could be used to transform tourism. Examples include linking the Sandton Gautrain station with other local destinations, running along Durban’s famous beach front, or connecting Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront with the convention centre and CBD.

Embrace biometrics for smoother travel experiences

Biometric security technology is having the rare effect of making airports more secure while also making airport processes more convenient.

Some systems use automated document readers to check the electronic signatures embedded in authentic, government-issued IDs. Then, facial recognition is used to compare the document photo to the actual person. These steps let the system simply answer “yes” or “no” to the question “does this traveller match their ID, is it authentic and were they expected to travel today?”

South Africa is set to automate its border-control processes for citizens using fingerprints stored in the Home Affairs National Identification System, or HANIS. A joint project by the Airports Company of South Africa and the Department of Home Affairs will see biometric scanning introduced at Cape Town International in March 2019, with OR Tambo and King Shaka following suit thereafter. A programme for international travellers, Trusted Traveller, will also be developed in time.

Car-hire companies to lead the tech wave

Technology comforts are expanding outside the cockpit too. To compete with rideshare services, rental car companies are moving more of the rental process to mobile platforms and are even starting to deliver car keys to driver’s phones. And while it’s still early days for autonomous cars, rental companies’ expertise in fleet management could make them an integral part of new mobility’s future. 

Inter-city subways and flying cars are on the horizon, but travel and mobility won’t change all that drastically for several more years. In the meantime, the tourism industry in South Africa and Africa must lead the way in pioneering travel technologies that make sense for their markets—and travellers should enjoy the journey and join in the live testing of technologies that empower personal mobility and keep us all safe on our way.


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