Norfolk Network stories

Hoseasons: Digital transformation and empowering change

Rachel Buck
Digital Marketing Consultant

Hoseasons is a holiday company with a 70-year heritage born out of boating holidays on the Norfolk Broads. Now part of Wyndham Vacation Rentals UK and providing all types of breaks in the UK and abroad, Hoseasons is on a journey to become the No.1 holiday company for customers, owners and partners.

Championing the digital transformation of Hoseasons is Karen Longdin, Head of IT Development and Architecture. Karen’s previous roles have included Head of IT at Stansted Airport and Assistant Head of IT for Essex Police. During the two and a half years Karen has worked for Hoseasons she has focused on changing the shape and direction of the technical team to keep pace with change.

The digital transformation of an organisation is a challenging prospect but one that is well within everyone’s reach, Karen assured a sell-out Norfolk Network audience. “IT isn’t there to make our life hard. In fact, we don’t tolerate it making things hard in our personal lives so why do we tolerate it in our businesses?”

Technology changes industries

Hoseasons is no stranger to innovation having been the first holiday company to take holiday bookings online back in 1999. But faced with a rapidly changing industry the company has had to consider whether they are a “holiday company with a digital business” or a “digital business that happens to sell holidays”.

According to Facebook, 72% of travellers plan their short breaks less than 2 months in advance. To plan their holiday, they are watching 5 videos, making 380 web visits and 34 searches with 87% of activity carried out on mobile. Last year Hoseasons reported a 104% increase in mobile bookings. This makes Hoseasons a “digital business that sells holidays,” said Karen, “because our customers are making us that way.”

Thinking about the future of holidays Karen pointed to a SkyScanner prediction that said by 2024 people will no longer ‘look’ for holidays. Technology in and around us will use data to tell us when we are in need of a holiday and will even suggest where you may like to go and what you might do when you get there. “This idea is not about new technology it’s about using that technology in new ways,” explained Karen.

"IT isn’t there to make our life hard. In fact, we don’t tolerate it making things hard in our personal lives so why do we tolerate it in our businesses?"

According to Gartner, Digital Business Transformation is: “a type of digital journey that has the ambition of pursuing net new revenue streams, products, services and business models. It is favoured by enterprises that must adapt to an industry in disruption or ones that want to disrupt their industries.” In Karen’s view, there isn’t a business today that’s not being disrupted by technology. Therefore, every business needs to be thinking about digital transformation and it starts with vision.

What’s your business vision?

Karen summed up vision as: “how do you want your business to look and feel?” This is important, she added, “because you can’t anticipate what the world is going to do with technology in a 6 or 12-month period but, as long as you stay true to how you want the experience to feel and how you want your business to work, you can ebb and flow with those changes”.

As Head of IT for Stansted Airport, Karen was responsible for the separation of IT from Heathrow post-sale. That separation was a multi-million-pound project that was completed in 10 months. The reason this was successful was because it had a “clear, unequivocal vision”. Vision, Karen explained, is important for differentiation and can be thought of in three layers:

  1. Trust
  2. Access
  3. Excite

Trust
“There’s good differentiation and bad differentiation,” said Karen. “You don’t tend to differentiate yourself well at the trust layer. This is where someone has a data breach – this stuff has to be right because this is the stuff that will take your business out from under your feet.”

Access
This is about speed, how accessible are your systems, do they work as your customers, employees and partners expect them to work, can they do their day job? What is a problem in access can soon become a problem in trust.

Excite
How do you make people excited to come to you and stay with you?

To illustrate how these layers might be used to stimulate conversations, Karen walked the audience through mapping an example Hoseasons customer journey. She began by scoring customer touchpoints based on feeling – “how do customers feel at these points – does it make me feel valued, does it frustrate me?”

She then added a score for what the ideal journey would look like for a Hoseasons customer based on the business vision. This exercise demonstrated how to identify the gaps in a journey and therefore prioritise focus at the excite layer.

“Your next step is to understand what are your technical touchpoints associated with the gaps you have identified,” continued Karen. Referring back to her previous example of the Hoseasons website, improving something such as ‘search and browse’ at a surface level would involve changes to the website’s user interface. But underneath that, it’s how easy it is for the product team to load the information associated with the holidays.

When it comes to effort and focus into the three areas Karen referred to what she described as the Pyramid of Effort.

"Hoseasons is a “digital business that sells holidays, because our customers are making us that way"

What next?

“Having a clarity of vision for what you want to achieve and finding someone who can help you articulate how to make that happen is the critical success factor,” advised Karen. “If you’ve got a technical department, that could be someone who works with you. If you’ve got trusted partners then you would have found the right people to work with. It could be students, it could be anyone who can help unpick this for you. But there is nothing about this that is out of anybody’s reach. If it feels out of your reach, you’re talking to the wrong people. Find whatever you need to feel empowered to do what you want to do.”