Paul Stanyer, founder of the digital communications platform for holidaymakers and travel brands, says COVID and the chaotic post-pandemic rebound has underlined how vital it is that firms communicate with customers to enhance the experience and to drive new revenue opportunities
Company Profile: Hangout on Holiday prepares for shift into top gear
The COVID pandemic shut down of travel and the operational chaos that followed it as the sector struggled to go from first gear to fifth taught the industry a lot of lessons.
One of the most important which was the value of communication and that technology can play a crucial role in getting the right information to the right people at the right time.
Trying to operate in a global crisis is never going to be easy, but the brands that emerged from COVID with reputations intact were the ones that stayed close to their customers.
For industry entrepreneur Paul Stanyer, the situation travel found itself was a live endorsement of the ethos at the heart of his Hangout on Holiday venture.
What began life as a B-C app to allow holidaymakers to ‘meet’ before they arrived in resort has evolved into a powerful B2B tool for operators to communicate relevant information to their clients.
“You need deep pockets to promote B-C and the fact is the trade already has the customers,” says Stanyer.
“The concept has not changed an awful lot. It’s still a digital platform that provides users with relevant content and information on how to make the most out of their holiday.
“It allows customers to talk to other customers in resort and to reps of the operator has them and to local experts which we are starting to plug in.”
Stanyer said Hang Out is an antidote to the experience of finding out information of established ocial channels like Facebook for which there are multiple resort-based groups.
“What happens is someone posts a question and it goes off-piste and the original question often gets lost,” he says.
Greek operator Olympic Holidays has been using Hangout for a number of years because it allows it to send a communication out targeting customers in a particular resort.
This virtual rep functionality has become even more valuable since COVID as operators, hotels and resorts struggle to find the staff to convey important information to their clients.
“We built the broadcasting function with COVID in mind. It means operators could tell their clients what the latest status is for returning home, what test did they need and where to get a test.
“It’s gone from that to letting users know about power outages and other vital information about the resort as well as weather and earthquake warnings.
“Our customers can keep their clients really well informed and they can do it on a resort basis, a regional basis or a country basis.
“Many operators have been telling us that communication with customers is one of the biggest challenges they have.”
The third ‘C’ pillar of the Hangout strategy after content and communication is commercial and the role it can play in helping operators benefit from some of the in-resort spend of their customers.
“Travel companies have an influence over where that money will be spent but they do not use that power. They could and should be capturing an element of the consumer spend in resort.
“The challenge for tour operators in the future is actually finding reps. Because of Brexit no one can work overseas anymore unless they jump through hoops.
“Hangout is digitising something that used to happen manually in the past. It can let people know there a trip coming up or an offer in the restaurant or spa and send them an e-ticket with a receipt.
“I used to be a rep and I could not sell better than a video can. I Helped to introduce the resort booklet that all consumers received in print and we used to sell that to local business.
“This is a digital version of that. Operators are struggling for staff so they can create cost efficiencies by not having as many staff and the chance to improve revenue opportunities.”
Because Hangout is a two-way communication tool holidaymakers can send a message to all linked businesses in a restaurant section and the first or best response gets the booking.
Increased demand from the trade has seen Hangout develop a bespoke solution for Tui Destination Services, its first foray into multi-lingual for Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
It also developed a platform for hotels during COVID and has started working with Greek DMC Gem Travel which represents 50 local tour operators.
The Hang Out on Holiday app will be promoted on Gem Travel’s stand at annual trade show World Travel Market in November.
Work is underway on a re-platforming of the technology to make it more flexible for B2B partners to use and a local experts ‘business in a box’ that will allow them to benefit from their knowledge.
Stanyer says he expects to see interest from companies looking for digital solutions following COVID and also as the industry evolves and in-person customer interactions become less frequent.
“What we want to build is a modular platform where you can effectively take what you want and plug gaps in your business where you don’t have in-house resource.
“We are breaking everything apart, it will be a wholly different platform. What we want to do is make it more dynamic.
“What this year taught us is you need a good communications platform and strategy. This is not about creating utopia, but you need as many points of contact with the customer as you can.
“Olympic is seeing 50% downloads. They have been using it the longest and most effectively, using every single module the way it was intended.
“We spent a lot of time with them in resort and because we know how the summer holiday season works we knew how to give them advice on a digital version of their overseas service.
“That’s the way the world is going. There are fewer people and staffing shortages across Europe. You can save on staff in resort while enhancing the consumer experience.”