6 years ago

How Google engages with hackers in Africa to inspire travel mashups

NB: This is a guest article by Nathan Midgley, a freelance writer and web editor based in Accra, Ghana.

While Air France-KLM was unveiling a new Google-ITA-driven inspiration tool, a small band of international Googlers was hard at work in one of the carrier’s destinations.

It was gGhana week here in Accra – several days of events targeting the business, creative and developer communities.

The two aren’t related. I didn’t know anything about the AF-KLM tool when I decided to drop into a Google Plus API hackathon for young devs.

But reading about it later crystallised something I made a bum job of describing to Google Ghana’s outreach program manager Ato Ulzen-Appiah at the event.

Here’s how I put it in the comments thread of Tnooz’s AF-KLM piece:

“Google’s been pushing its business & location tools to businesses and developers in Africa *really* hard this month – conferences, hackathons and creative ‘hubs’ in Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire.

“Wondering what happens if the regions that tour ops traditionally ignore end up with tourism/hospitality outfits driving business independently through the Google marketing matrix, and that matrix plugs into an inspiration tool on an airline site.

“Do those markets end up developing on a completely different model to the one we know and, er, love?”

And for the curious, here’s a glimpse at the agenda for the gGhana business conference in Accra:

The model we “know and love” is of course a tour operator pushing clients to suppliers as part of a package, rather than suppliers in country independently pulling clients via inspiration, planning and booking tools.

That debate’s been around for long enough. But how does it play out in regions where Google is actively building online marketing infrastructure from the ground up?

The hackathon took place at MEST (Meltwater Entrepreneurial Institute of Technology), a key place in Accra’s tech scene – equally education and business-focused, it trains developers and runs a start-up incubator.

Participants were 50-60% Meltwater students, Ulzen-Appiah told me, with the rest coming from other technology schools like KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology).

Winner Edem Kumodzi physically hacked his modem to build and demo an SMS notification tool, earning, appropriately enough, a Galaxy S2. Well deserved.

But the two runners-up were the ones who looked at taking Google Plus beyond its own borders:

  • one created a stripped-down activity feed ready, for example, browser add-ons
  • another turned the commenting functionality into a basic Disqus-style – or, yes, Facebook-style – feedback solution for third parties.

They approached social platforms as sets of tools and data that can travel within the online ecosystem, rather than a siloed experience to be improved by new features.

It isn’t so far from there to thinking about what value social connections and +1s have in third-party commercial contexts, which is what TripAdvisor is developing with social graph and Like data from you-know-who.

That brings us back to travel.

As I reported for Tnooz a while back, Google’s Get Your Business Online rollout over here had Ghana Tourism Authority as a launch partner.

So there’s the germ of a movement to get the sector’s businesses thinking digital, and thinking Google.

The up-and-coming developers of MEST and KNUST will hit maturity switched on to mobile, social, and ways to pimp their own or their clients’ web properties through APIs; at the same time, tourism and hospitality business owners will start recognising new routes to international, regional and local markets.

And Google is in a position to play a pivotal role in both processes.

There may not be big bucks here, but there are interesting questions.

If, say, Kakum National Park, the Dodi Princess or Elmina Castle started thinking about online distribution a few years from now, who might pick up the business?

  • Known tour and attraction intermediaries like Viator, which only covers one country south of the Sahara (no prizes for guessing)?
  • A home-grown site even now fomenting in the head of a Ghanaian developer?
  • Or a Google-linked inspiration tool on an airline that serves Accra?

NB: This is a guest article by Nathan Midgley, a freelance writer and web editor based in Accra, Ghana.

NB2: Ghana keyboard image via Shutterstock.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. All on the same page | Sushi in Accra

    […] The team of young coders at Google’s Accra hackathon who built a commenting widget with the Plus API (see the #hackgplus hashtag, and the modest travel-focused piece I penned for Tnooz) […]


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