From booking excursions to sharing tips, holiday apps are improving the customer experience. But can they ever replace resort reps? Andrew Doherty reports.
With Thomas Cook and Tui investing heavily in their holiday apps, and a clutch of start-ups designing solutions to make clients’ holiday experiences as seamless and enjoyable as possible, a question emerges – are holiday reps’ days numbered?
We speak to advocates of the new technology to discover the benefits resort apps offer agents, operators and clients, as well as those who champion traditional reps to hear why they think they are here to stay.
To date, Thomas Cook’s holiday app has been downloaded more than 3.1 million times, with ratings hitting 4.4/5 on Android and 4.3/5 on iOS.
According to Thomas Cook’s 2019 annual report, 40% of July departures from the UK used the app for their holiday, utilising features such as live chat support, packing checklists, resort maps and points of interest.
With the public demonstrating an appetite for such applications, new players are emerging to capitalise on their growing popularity.
Enter Hangout on Holiday, a solution for operators seeking to gain a share of in-resort spend, improve their clients’ experience and reduce the costs associated with employing holiday rep staff.
“I used to be an overseas resort rep and I’m familiar with what clients want,” says Hangout on Holiday founder Paul Stanyer.
“People want to find the best places to visit, tours to experience and have problems solved quickly and efficiently, without waiting for a rep to drive between resorts to do so.”
The app, which is currently being used by Olympic Holidays, Infinity Weekends and Party Hard Travel (PHT), allows reps to have direct contact with guests across multiple resorts at a time, with clients having 24-hour access to booking events and excursions.
“We also offer a chat facility that allows guests to speak to each other and share recommendations in a way that’s similar to TripAdvisor. Reps and clients can use the chat facility to contact multiple restaurants with one message, without spending hours on the phone to check availability.”
Additional functionality includes the ability to broadcast flight departure details, seven-day weather forecast charts and video content highlighting resort facilities and excursions which, according to Stanyer, could help agents upsell a holiday.
With new features in the pipeline including live broadcasting and the ability for operators to pick and choose functionality from a menu card rather than investing more time and funds having a bespoke app built for them, Stanyer is confident of Hangout on Holiday’s success.
“So far, take-up has been great and the feedback has been positive. We’re expecting around 50,000 more downloads this summer.”
An advocate of Hangout on Holiday, Travel Counsellor Kathy Crane used the app during an Olympic Holidays trip with her husband to Santorini.
“I first heard about the application in an Olympic Holidays information pack. After reading about its features, I downloaded it straight away. I don’t like going to holiday rep introduction meetings, so being able to bypass them was very appealing.”
Her positive experience searching for excursions and speaking to reps from the comfort of her sun lounger has inspired Crane to recommend the app to clients who have recently booked an Olympic Holidays resort.
“The Olympic reps using the application are fantastic. They were so knowledgeable about Santorini and were very punctual replying to me. I also loved being able to speak to other guests and hearing about what they thought about certain excursions and which restaurants they would recommend.”
One downside, Crane feels, is Hangout on Holiday might be a little complicated for older clients who aren’t used to apps. She suggests agents help less tech-savvy customers by sending an email explaining how the app works in advance, or meeting with them to show them all the functions.
For Barry Moore, co-founder and head of operations at PHT, Hangout on Holiday’s ability to tailor functionality for different operators’ needs is a huge bonus.
“Our clients are in the 18 to 25 age range and therefore are looking for different features than Olympic Holidays’ customers. A feature we particularly like is the chat room, where our clients can speak to each other before the trip. Here we can sell our event packages to them, which is a fantastic revenue stream for us.”
But with 30 holiday reps still working across seven of PHT’s resorts, Moore is steadfast in his belief that the human holiday rep is here to stay.
“I don’t think holiday reps’ days are numbered at all. We still want people to be the face of our brand, and their fun personality will keep clients coming back. An app can’t do that.”
Chris Wright, managing director at Sunvil, says resort reps are still the go-to resource for your clients on holiday.
How many reps does Sunvil have?
We have 25 reps in Greece and Cyprus who live there year-round. Some have been there for more than 25 years, married locals and are now part of the community. Their knowledge, which they’ve also built up from meeting other travellers, is second to none, and they can share insider travel tips people might not have thought of.
Has their role changed?
A lot of clients are now researching the destination before they travel, so the questions they are asking our reps are different – they are looking for unique experiences they can’t find on the internet.
What happens if a client needs help?
Communication tools have changed, and a lot of our clients now use things like WhatsApp when something has gone wrong, yet having someone to deal with a problem in person is much more effective.
Do apps spell the end for reps?
I don’t think we’ll move away from holiday reps completely, but we will continue to evolve and embrace technology that will complement our reps’ knowledge. People will always value human interaction.