Access to tourism-related information has become a lot easier since the launch of South Africa’s home-grown Wikitourism online portal two years ago. All content is publicly available with copyright permission, which means that anyone can freely use the information. By Adrienne Harris.
Anyone with access to a computer these days will know about Wikipedia – and has probably even quoted from it numerous times.
But the new Wiki on the block – Wikitourism, is the information portal for the tourism industry, by the tourism industry. This project was initiated by the Tourism Enterprise Partnership (TEP), who have had ‘access to information’ as a key pillar of providing support to small tourism businesses in South Africa. The challenge has always been how this can best be achieved.
Tourism industry information has been uploaded onto numerous websites, which makes it extremely difficult to source information – in fact, a quick Google search on the words ‘tourism industry information South Africa’ came up with just over 99 million results. A further difficulty with doing general searches is that many (if not most) of these 99 million webpages do not exist anymore, or have been moved, or are simply out of date. Keeping websites up to date takes up substantial resources, and many man-hours. It is also important that the user of any web-based information is confident in the accuracy of the information accessed.
TEP, as the word ‘partnership’ in its name shows, has always looked to collaboration as means to maximise resources for truly effective impact. And Wikitourism is no different. Taking on the ethos of creative commons used by Wikipedia and various open source initiatives, Wikitourism has been developed as a free information portal for the benefit of the entire tourism industry. All articles, documents and other information are either publicly available, have copyright permission or have been written specifically for the website. This means that anyone can freely use this information.
As with the concept of Wikipedia, Wikitourism relies on dedicated tourism role-players who are prepared to contribute their time and knowledge to build up a repository of information of use to all types of tourism stakeholders. The initial incubation of the project has been undertaken by TEP, but as Dr Salifou Siddo, the TEP Chief Executive, explained, “we are hoping that industry individuals and associations will start to ‘own’ sections of the website and ensure that these sections are kept up to date and relevant. This includes trade associations, academics, specialists and anyone else who feels that they have information to contribute”.
There is no doubt that there is a huge demand for information – the current statistics from Wikitourism bear this out. The site now boasts more than 154 000 unique page visits and nearly 600 000 page reads. These statistics not only show that Wikitourism is now firmly embedded as a source, but also that visitors are not just looking at the home page and quitting out. The ratio of page reads to unique visits shows that users are not just looking at the home page and quitting out.
TEP is encouraging all role-players in the industry to get involved. Whilst ‘Wiki-ing’ as a contributor takes a bit of getting used to, the software has been designed to allow for quick uploads, edits and additions. In fact, the word ‘Wiki’ comes from the Hawaiian word ‘quick’ and this website is certainly growing “Wiki, wiki”. This is another great advantage of using MediaWiki software as opposed to more traditional web-based software, the website can grow with great ease. The amount of information that can be added is virtually limitless, although it is unlikely that Wikitourism will ever compete in size with Wikipedia’s 39 million pages!
Wikitourism could be an absolute game-changer when it comes to how we handle “information overload” in the tourism industry, but only if there are sufficient committed individuals who are prepared to support and promote access to information for all stakeholders.
For more information visit http://www.wikitourism.co.za/
About the Author: Adrienne Harris is the Executive Director of Harvest Tourism – a company that focusses on tourism development as a tool for poverty alleviation, community benefication, training, strategic planning and implementation. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.harvesttourism.co.za