Chris North of Your Holiday Bookings tells Lee Hayhurst why keeping on top of web analytics is vital for a modern online travel company
Sitting in front of an oversized computer screen in on office in a nondescript unit on an Essex trading estate, Chris North scans the data coming through on Google Analytics.
North is director of sales and development for the Vertical Group’s Your Holiday Booking collection and tour operating arm Your Holiday Integration.
The venture epitomises a general trend the industry is seeing of suppliers, in this case hoteliers, working more and more closely in partnership with retailers.
As modern technology has enabled the travel supply chain to be curtailed intermediaries are finding ways to retain their value to the ultimate owner of the product.
At one extreme is the Tui Travel model of absolute exclusivity, control and guaranteed volumes, at the other is agencies creating in-house bed banks and agreeing direct contracts.
In the middle sits Your Hotel Integration which offers hoteliers a direct channel to consumers in the UK, fulfilment of sales through agents and a full marketing plan.
In return Your Holiday Booking and agents in Vertical’s Holiday Experts homeworking division get access to deals, added value and guaranteed stock no other agents can.
North said: “We basically represent the hotel in the UK market.
“We will go and see the hotel, make sure it meets certain requirements like health and safety and see if there’s a natural fit with our programme.
“Then we will build a specific website for the property and then promote the website and sell the product.”
North said for the hotelier it is better than going direct because the YHB sales force waiting to take bookings on the phone know each property intimately and are English speakers.
And with 70% of business transacted on the phone, despite the hotel websites allowing fully protected packages to be booked online, all are trained to push the upsell.
At this point, North admits, he comes over all second hand car salesman. “I’m sure I must have been one in a previous life,” he says.
“These are five star resorts, they are the best in their destination and the audience we tap into are very high end consumers with large disposable incomes.
“It’s like selling Mercedes. If you are wealthy enough to drive a Mercedes are you going to just buy the bog standard model? We use that logic with our holidays.”
North claims his agents have a 50% strike rate for the upsell options they offer clients, something he says differentiates it from others.
“Many other companies do not focus on the upsell at all and will just order take, just sell what the offer is. We sell experiences; these are not your everyday hotels.”
YHB says it has a 30% repeat booking ratio with clients who come back year after year either to book the same property or try another in the portfolio.
The arrangement with the hotel is ‘free sale’, so no allocation it taken while exclusivity it not demanded, but as long as the supply is there YHB will sell it.
Portugal, Spain and Turkey are slated for possible expansion to add to its 35 properties in the likes of Greece, the Canary Islands and Cyprus.
North said the model is better than working with traditional tour operators or bed banks.
“The feedback from hoteliers is there’s a lot of negativity around the bed banks and OTAs.
“Many are not applying minimum mark ups and are dumping prices and that damages the hotel name.”
This partnership approach is best epitomised by the relationship YHI has with Sani Holidays in Halkidiki, Greece, a resort with five separate hotels.
Each property will have up to 80 pages produced for its website full of finer details like restaurant and spa menus, kids’ activity programmes and rich content like 360 degree tours.
The partnership has proved so successful it has allowed Sani to stretch its season knowing it can access UK customers it could never get to by itself.
North says the strategy he adopts means consumers believe in the offers more than a straightforward 30% or 40% discount message and, in turn, this drives up the quality of calls.
Using consumer data, marketing campaigns are targeted and YHB claims an open rate of its emails of up to 60% and an average of 35%, well above the industry average of 18%.
“This is never going to work for thousands and thousands of properties and nor does it need to if you have the capacity to sell them really well.
“If you have too many you can’t give the attention to detail and the absolute dedication that’s needed,” said North.
In essence, hotels can become their own tour operator with guaranteed distribution. “We are a lever that the hotel can pull to solve a problem.
“I may get a call at 9am from a hotelier and they will say a Russian partner has pulled out and they have lots of rooms to fill in April.
“We will load that stock and push it out to homeworkers and on media channels immediately and be taking business from 11am.
“With a lot of the big guys it can take weeks to load an offer. More often than not by the time they have we’ve sold out.”
This approach necessitates a real-time picture of what is going on in the market, which brings us back to that oversized screen full of Google Analytics.
“I can tell the hotel how many people are looking at their product, what room they’re looking at and where the consumer is from and where they have come to us from.
“If you’re running a promotion out of Gatwick but all your customers are coming from Glasgow you’ve made a mistake. These tools allow you to make the right decisions.”
The biggest problem, says North, is having enough hours in the day to make use of all this data.
“I started working with Peter [Healey, Vertical founder] when I was 18 and he said to me I want you to trade the business.
“That’s what a lot of people do not do, but we are trading the business day in day out in real time.
“It’s keeping on top of it and responding when there is an opportunity. It’s a game, but you can get it catastrophically wrong.”