Company Profile: Hangout on Holiday is gearing up for…

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The COVID pandemic brought travel to a halt and the ensuing operational chaos as the sector struggled to transition from first to fifth has taught the industry a lot of lessons.

One of the biggest was the value of communication and the fact 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 will never be easy, but the brands that have emerged from COVID with reputations intact are the ones that have remained close to their customers.

For industry entrepreneur Paul Stanyer, the situation the trip found itself in was a live endorsement of the ethics at the heart of his Hangout on Holiday project.

What started life as a BC app to allow holidaymakers to “meet” before arriving in resort has become a powerful B2B tool for operators to communicate relevant information to their customers.

“You need big money to promote BC and the fact is the business already has customers,” Stanyer says.

“The concept hasn’t changed much. It is still a digital platform that provides users with relevant content and information on how to get the most out of their vacation.

“It allows customers to talk to other customers at the station and to the operator reps and local experts we are starting to hook up with.”

Stanyer said Hang Out is an antidote to the experience of finding information on established social channels like Facebook for which there are several resort-based groups.

“What happens is someone posts a question and it goes off track and the original question often gets lost,” he says.

Greek operator Olympic Holidays has been using Hangout for several years as it allows it to send communication targeting customers at a particular resort.

This virtual rep feature has become even more valuable since COVID as operators, hotels and resorts struggle to find staff to relay important information to their customers.

“We built the broadcast feature with COVID in mind. This means that operators could tell their customers what the latest status is to return home, what test do they need and where to take a test.

“It has grown from that to notifying users of power outages and other vital station information as well as weather and seismic warnings.

“Our clients can keep their customers very well informed and they can do it on a resort basis, a regional basis or a national basis.

“Many operators have told us that communicating with customers is one of the biggest challenges they face.”

The third “C” pillar of the Hangout strategy after content and communication is commercial and the role it can play in helping operators leverage some of their customers’ station spend.

“Travel agencies have influence over how this money will be spent, but they don’t use that power. They could and should capture an element of in-station consumer spending.

“The challenge for tour operators in the future is actually finding representatives. Because of Brexit, no one can work overseas anymore unless they take steps.

“Hangout digitizes something that was done manually in the past. It can let people know there’s an upcoming trip or an offer in the restaurant or spa and send them an e-ticket with a receipt.

“I was a rep and couldn’t sell better than a video. I helped introduce the resort booklet that all consumers received in print and that we used to sell to local businesses.

“It’s a digital version of that. Operators are struggling to recruit staff so they can cut costs by not having as many staff and having the ability to improve revenue opportunities.”

Because Hangout is a two-way communication tool, vacationers can message all related businesses in a restaurant section and the first or best response gets the reservation.

Growing retail demand prompted Hangout to develop a bespoke solution for Tui Destination Services, its first foray into multilingual for Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

It has also developed a platform for hotels during COVID and 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 booth at the annual World Travel Market in November.

Work is underway on a new technology platform to make it more flexible to use by B2B partners and a ‘business in a box’ of local experts who will allow them to benefit from their knowledge.

Stanyer says he expects to see interest from companies seeking 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 fill in the gaps in your business where you don’t have internal resources.

“We smash everything, it will be a totally different platform. What we want to do is make it more dynamic.

“What this year has taught us is that you need a good platform and a good communication strategy. It’s not about creating a utopia, but you need as many customer touchpoints as possible.

“Olympic has 50% downloads. They’ve been using it the longest and most efficiently, using every mod as intended.

“We spent a lot of time with them in resort and because we know how summer holidays work, we were able to advise them on a digital version of their overseas service.

“That’s the way the world is. There are fewer people and staff shortages across Europe. You can save on station staff while improving the customer experience.

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