Expert Opinions

Sustainability, AI and Technology in Tourism

Africa’s hospitality industry has witnessed a resurgence in recent years, driven by an increase in tourism and business travel.

Hospitality and travel website list the latest trends in the hospitality industry for 2024 as:

  • Sustainability: Strong focus on eco-friendly initiatives in hospitality.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Increasing use of AI for customer service improvements.
  • Wellness: Growing emphasis on health and wellness in hospitality offerings.
  • Contactless Technology: Increasing importance for guest safety and convenience.
  • Health and Wellness: Growing focus on health-centric services and amenities.
  • Local Experiences: Emphasis on offering authentic local cultural experiences.
  • Smart Room Technology: Growing adoption for enhanced guest control.
  • Local Experiences: Emphasis on offering authentic local activities.
  • Flexible Spaces: Designing spaces for various guest needs.

Marna Swanepoel and Dustin Pieterson – lecturers in Tourism and Hospitality Management at The IIE School of Hospitality & Service Management, which has campuses in Newlands, Cape Town and Rosebank, Johannesburg – believe that sustainability remains a top priority for the South African hospitality industry.

Says Swanepoel: “Africa boasts diverse biomes, extraordinary natural wonders and abundant wildlife that must be protected and shared. Sustainability initiatives not only preserve this, but also ensure that future generations can enjoy them. On the other side, sustainability efforts have a community impact as well and contribute to local communities by creating job opportunities which allow families to generate an income and put bread on the table, thereby addressing socio-economic challenges.”

Her views were echoed by Pieterson: “Sustainability has been a topic of discussion for decades and we now better understand why. If the industry preserves resources, it also positively impacts local communities. As the hospitality industry becomes more eco-friendly so are tourist behaviours influenced for the better – if an establishment implements sustainable practices, guests are automatically inclined to do the same.”

He also believes that AI is set to transform the hospitality industry in 2024: “This new technology has already enhanced how hospitality businesses view and streamline their resources and it has the ability to assist businesses in seamlessly streamlining its workflow.

“By using AI-driven guest profiling and recommendation systems, hotels can tailor services, amenities and offers to match guests’ preferences and thereby improve overall guest experience.”

Pieterson also sees the expanded use of contactless technology which allows guests to check in, self-checkout, schedule room service, request laundry and other hotel services, and make appointments at the hotel spa, by using their own devices. It allows for a better guest experience as it eliminates waiting times and puts the guest in control of what they want to do and when they want to do it.”

For Swanepoel, Africa can provide travellers with unique experiences and that’s what South Africa should focus on: “Africa is a sea of cultural diversity for those who love to travel and experience cultural richness. By promoting local activities, businesses can directly involve communities, ensuring that tourism benefits are shared which comes back to sustainability and the development of local communities.”

She also believes that wellness as a trend highlights holistic health and aligns with the growing global awareness of self-care.

“Africa’s natural landscapes can provide an ideal backdrop and setting for wellness retreats, offering that holistic approach and modern wellness amenities. This is what we should be focusing on and promoting,” she says.

Both believe that it is vital that those teaching at hospitality schools keep up with latest trends and technologies.

“At the IIE School of Hospitality & Service Management we constantly adapt our course material so that it is always relevant,” says Pieterson. “This increases our students’ chances of employment after graduation.”

Adds Swanepoel: “Not only does keeping up with the trends enhance guest satisfaction, operational efficiency and competitiveness, it also adds valuable skills such as professional development, job satisfaction, creativity, and even job security for the workforce.

“Tourism and hospitality are an ever-changing industry, but by having the basics of hospitality in place and delivering a memorable experience, hospitality establishments will always have a good foundation to work from, whatever the trends.”

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