Spurred on by the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution, there is no doubt that ‘disruption’ is increasingly around us. Today, Facebook is regarded as the world’s most popular media owner, yet it creates no content; Alibaba is regarded as the world’s most valuable retailer, yet it has no inventory; Uber is thought to be the world’s largest taxi company but owns no vehicles; and AirBnB is seen to be the world’s largest accommodation provider but owns no real estate.

It is with this in mind that we attended a recent dialogue session hosted by the National Department of Tourism on the concept of the sharing economy.  The aim of the session was to kick-start a conversation on what constitutes the sharing economy from a travel and tourism point of view, and specifically to discuss how the industry should respond to this growing global ‘phenomenon’. Three notable take-outs from this session are as follows:

  • Digitalization is here to stay, thus there is a need for greater levels of technological innovation in the travel and tourism industry. It was acknowledged that the concept of the sharing economy is not new as a result of the fourth industrial revolution and that digitalization is here to stay. However, what is new is the manner in which new market players have leveraged the influence of technology to capitalize on gaps in the market. Which then begs the question, to what extent has ‘traditional business’ embraced technology to innovate and enhance their portfolios in line with market needs?  
  • Business is adapting to market developments inspired by the ‘sharing’ concept. Locally businesses are already leveraging marketing and operational opportunities presented by the sharing economy. At a global level, hotel operators such as Marriott (Liquidspace) and Accor (onefinestay) even have product offerings inspired by ‘sharing’ concept
  • The country’s policies and regulations need to keep up with changing market trends. Whilst business is adapting to the changes in the market, it was emphasized that the country’s policies and regulations are not in as far as the sharing economy is concerned.  Business emphasized the need for a fair and equitable operating environment.  Policy makers were urged to address the current existing gap in policy, regulation and enforcement to ensure an adequate response so that business is not disadvantaged.

This dialogue session was attended by academics, policy makers (led by NDT and including representatives from National Treasury, Departments of Cooperative Governance; Trade and Industry; Transport; and Telecommunications and Postal Services).  The private sector was represented through the TBCSA Secretariat, member associations FEDHASA and SAVRALA, AirBnB as well as the SA Meter Taxi Association. It is worth mentioning that Uber was invited to this meeting and will be engaging directly with the NDT on this matter.

It is now back to the drawing board for the policy development within NDT, who out of this session will consolidate the outcomes of the discussions; come up with recommendations and report back to the Economic and Infrastructure Cluster.  

From a private sector perspective, it is also up to us to chart a way forward in terms of outlining the type of response we wish to see.  We will continue to support efforts by our member associations to address this matter and we will be further engaging directly with you as members to hear your perspective on this matter. After all, it’s all about ensuring an enabling environment where all travel and tourism role-players can operate and thrive in.

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