Adam Platt, technical director at Sykes Holiday Cottages, reflects on a challenging period that has highlighted how essential it is to innovate and collaborate
Our business has been serving the UK travel market for nearly 30 years, almost half of which I’ve been along for the ride for.
It’s fair to say that the past year has definitely been unlike any other. Nobody could have predicted or prepared for the challenges faced and as an industry we were all forced to adapt quickly.
Reflecting back on it all, I’d say we have a lot to thank technology for.
As a sector, despite the restrictions and the need to keep costs low, we all had to invest in and progress our tech developments more so than ever before. If anything, this became and still is more fundamental than ever.
When the pandemic first took hold, our technology and product teams had to respond immediately.
Customer numbers contacting us about bookings went through the roof and we quickly realised that it was unsustainable for us to keep on top of this manually without using technology to our advantage.
Equally, it was clear from the offset that customers wanted to be in control, so we had to move at speed to develop the tools and technology to give them greater autonomy.
Straight away, our team began work to develop smarter systems that allowed customers to make or request changes to their bookings via our customer portal – rather than every single person needing to speak to someone right away to sort their refund or rearrange a booking.
Come September, when things started to get a little more complicated again, we had to develop this even further.
With local lockdowns and rules varying between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we then needed to advance our systems to notify customers after any announcement was made impacting them specifically.
Within a few weeks, we reached a point where emails and communications went out within minutes of announcements. If the lockdown was predictable, minutes became just seconds.
All these changes have allowed for a smoother customer service experience from start to finish, one which will likely be taken forward and developed even further this year.
Work is already underway to add to our customer service section of the online portal, with the eventual aim being that customers can get all the answers to their questions here, or at least be pointed in the right direction.
Standing by our holiday let owners during what was an incredibly hard time for them was also critical over the past year.
With more than 19,500 properties in our Sykes community, keeping owners updated and managing any refunds and booking amends for their properties also relied on sophisticated technology systems.
As an agent, it is up to us to look after both sides of the party – the holiday let owners and their guests too – and constant communication was the key to reassuring owners.
Similar systems were built to allow us to contact owners if their property or bookings had been impacted by local lockdowns, while we also improved our online owner portal to ensure a constant stream of updates and information was hosted there for them too.
Tech developments were also progressed to respond to the growing demand from new owners.
Despite the challenges facing the travel industry, we witnessed a constant pipeline of enquiries as second homeowners looked to list their properties in time to benefit from the predicted – and now current – staycation boom.
To respond to this, we introduced our new digital onboarding system, allowing owners to sign up online to receive more information about letting with Sykes and then speeding up the entire process of letting their property if they chose to proceed.
This ensured that a backlog in new owner enquiries wasn’t created by the sharp uptick in demand and going forward it will allow us to bring owners onboard more efficiently.
If anything, it seems the pandemic has been a good chance for our industry to reprioritise what is and isn’t important.
This has certainly been the case for our business – with technology and data analytics rising to the top.
It will take continuous innovation and collaboration, but we believe that technology holds the key to driving greater efficiency in the sector, and in the ongoing recovery of the UK travel.
The past year certainly pushed us as a business to invest in technology more, and it’s exciting to think what the future could hold if we were able to achieve all this in just one year.