Breaking Travel News interview: Kuoni eyes mobile space

Breaking Travel News interview: Kuoni eyes mobile space

Kuoni Travel engages with its customers regularly via its loyal following of 11,000 Facebook fans and 3,500 Twitter followers.

The experimental launch of its iPhone app has prompted the leading tour operator to look into developing a mobile site, where it sees great opportunity.

As Matt Rooke, e-business director, Kuoni explains to BTN, customers just can’t seem to get enough of technology.

Over the past few months Kuoni, which acquired Gullivers Travel Associates (GTA) for £437 million back in May, has rolled out a range of new online innovations including their latest Kuonihotels.com venture, which enables customers to book a range of three star and above quality hotels with no booking fee.

In addition, the travel brand has solidified its presence with the addition of 20 high street stores across the UK.

It is not surprising that this year, Kuoni has been nominated for Australasia’s Leading Tour Operator, Caribbean’s Leading Tour Operator, Europe’s Leading Tour Operator and South America’s Leading Tour Operator at the World Travel Awards.

BTN speaks to Matt about the new hotel site, the power of social media and finds out just how well customers have adapted to smart phones.

BTN: Kuoni has recently announced the launch of Kuonihotels.com. Why the focus on hotels at this time?

MR: The recent acquisition of GTA, affiliated with Octopus Travel – with its white label capability, provided an opportunity to exploit the synergies within the group by offering a new service – Kuonihotels.com that we can complement with what we already offer.

There has always been an interest from our customers in hotels and although it’s is not something we have offered online, we have offered it offline for many years.

BTN: What differentiates Kuonihotels.com from any other travel website that enables hotel bookings?

MR: There is a lot of similarity between many of the hotel only sites that are out there.

These aren’t things that are necessarily unique but we certainly feel provide a heightened service level for the customer. For example, booking processes through call centres, Tripadvisor ratings which not all hotel websites have, we only display three star and above hotels so there is a restrictive range in terms of quality, best price guarantee to ensure customers are confident that they are getting the best price, and there are no booking fees which some hotel websites have.

BTN: The search functionality seems fairly simple with the option to type in location and dates. Do you have plans to further enhance this functionality, or do customers demand this level of simplicity?

MR: Definitely – Although the significant majority of searches are based on those two features and there is a strong element of simplicity which avoids the need for the customer to complete a lot of different requirements prior to getting any search results.

This does make that process that much easier.

But the option to be able to filter those requirements once you get those results is clearly important. There is the facility to refine your results once you get to the results page and it is that that we will look to refine.

BTN: Why have you chosen Tripadvisor as a partner for this venture?

MR: We have worked with Tripadvisor for at least three years now. As a recognised review site within the industry it is almost standard and we are happy with that partnership and the independence and trust it gives to our customers when they are making their choices.

BTN: How important is social media for Kuoni?

MR: Social media is a very important part of our mix. We have over 11,000 followers of our Facebook page and over 3,5000 followers of our twitter news feeds and we are constantly looking at ways that we can improve how we engage with our customers and how our customers engage with each other. 

There is a lot that we are doing within this space, some of it is following others and in other areas, we may be innovating. So it is unquestionable that social media is an important part of our mix.

BTN: What benefits does Facebook specifically bring?

MR: Within Facebook we have really good dialogue with our customers. I’ve been quite surprised about how many people have been using Facebook as a means of complaining about the service offered, and yet I could probably count on one hand the number of customers who have been using Facebook to complain about Kuoni.

It has been a really positive medium for feedback and long may that continue for us. We really enjoy engaging and our customers in particular love to talk about their holidays and it is a perfect medium to do that.

I think the whole area of social media and generated content through third parties or directly with ourselves is certainly something that we will be doing a lot more of.

BTN: In what ways do you engage with your Facebook fans?

We offer competitions but there are also a lot of questions we ask to gauge feedback, whether it is; what is your favourite honeymoon destination?  What are some of your favourite anecdotes from your holiday?

It is very topical as well as general questions about the whole holiday experience. Whenever we ask questions we get 50 to 60 answers in a very short space of time.

People love to talk about unusual elements of their holidays and it also fuels ideas for us in terms of products that we can then develop. So as a means of engaging with customers and as a means of research it is very powerful.

BTN: What kind of a response have you had from the Kuoni iphone app? Will you consider moving into the mobile market?

MR: The response to the iphone app has been very positive for us. It was an experiment.

The thing about apps is that they are much quicker and easier to develop than a mobile site and it was a perfect opportunity for us to establish the importance of the mobile medium for our products and services to our customers and we found they were using it and they did see mobile as a means for searching for our types of holidays.

Kuoni sells complex and high value holidays so a mobile phone may not be an ideal tool for researching that type of product.

We weren’t sure if people would want to use it – but they do and it has prompted us to give serious consideration to develop a mobile site which we don’t currently have as site is not currently optimised for mobile or smart phones. We are investigating that opportunity and that has come about as a result of the iphone app.

When we launched the app we didn’t include capability to book online or check availability– you had to simply call the call centre – and the biggest number of comments from customers was - when am I going to be able to search availability and booking.

This was a surprise to us as it shows that even for a complex holiday using a small screen, as long as you make it simple there’s no reason why customers won’t use it.

BTN: What are the key priorities for Kuoni in the next 12 months?

MR: Over the last 12 – 18 months we have moved forward significantly, expanding and creating a high street presence, 20 shops by the end of this year. There will be a large focus to maximise the potential of those.

We’ve launched a lot of products and services from our sustainable tourism offering, ananea, to our cultural tourism product, iconic places.

The goal for the next twelve months will be to maximise the potential of those products and to continue launching new products.

We have a great reputation for our knowledge and expertise and we want to remain ahead of the competition in that area.

Mobile innovations

Another company that has been innovating in the mobile space is World.mobi, which has rolled out a collection of new city guides to over 800 cities in 200 countries. Key features include information on accommodation, restaurants, attractions, entertainment, nightlife, shopping, and transport. In addition, there are user reviews and traveller utilities such as a translation guide, currency converter, news and local weather guide.

Each is developed by the City.Mobi team to combine into a single global travel directory. London.Mobi is one such example, offering click to call functionality.