RDO7: A master class from Hoseasons
There can be few brands that have been in business as long as Hoseasons – 70 years – and few that have adapted to the ever-changing market better than this leading holiday organisation.
“We have invested heavily in product innovation and technology to ensure we stay relevant to the consumer,” said Paul Hardingham, Hoseasons’ commercial director. Hardingham told delegates that great brand recognition earned over 70 years in the holiday business presented some surprising challenges.
Surveys are something else that Hoseasons has invested in and one of them revealed that although 40 million people knew the brand, many had a poor perception of it.
“We also asked our owners and, though they loved the family feel passed onto our operation today from our founder, Jimmy Hoseasons, many negatives came from our being a discount-orientated brand attracting down-market customers. Our owners loved the friendliness of booking with us, but thought the brand was dated, with our original bird logo reminding them of only the boats,” said Hardingham.
“We weren’t competing with Center Parcs, which was our benchmark. Despite the issues with our brand perception, people still chose us, but wouldn’t brag about us. We wanted a contemporary brand and saw it as an opportunity to unify all our stakeholders under one vision and to make our staff feel proud of working for us.”
Reinventing the brand and repackaging the product has taken Hoseasons from boats and caravans to holiday parks and luxury lodges. How did they do it?
Hardingham said Hoseasons went on a mission to get away from being the market followers to being the market leaders. “It was about having a pool of inventory and giving exclusive access to our product, where we could add value,” he explained. “We did a lot of customer research, which was probably the most valuable thing we’ve ever done. We asked simple questions such as ‘What do you want from a holiday?’ And from this list we got our core product and created a brand for a new demographic.”
The biggest change was the packaging of Hoseasons’ product into different product bundles created for specific market segments. Hoseasons introduced seven different brands and holiday experiences, from Go Active, which sees independent resorts all offering consistent sports activity programmes and wholesome back to nature family holidays, to Autograph, an upmarket offering that gave boutique hotel finishes to its lodges that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Bundling the product into seven different, specialist quality holiday experience options worked, delivering increased customer engagement and bookings. But the product strategy, though a big change, was only one step on the path of reinvention, according to Hardingham.
“We then had to leverage technology; it was big business, big web platforms and big ticket items that we needed to give our customers ease of access to our products, at no cost,” he explained. “We found it offered a disproportionate value to our owners and customers, while adding another dimension to Hoseasons.”
One challenge had been the gaps in occupancy during the shoulder seasons. The new product strategy reduced the seasonality associated with different locations, while a dynamic pricing policy, investment in technology and team talent to manage the inventory resulted in an increased inventory yield, giving it more from its assets. “That is the power of branding,” Hardingham told RDO7 delegates.
Moving away from its roots in the past and with eyes set on the future, Hardingham described how Hoseasons’ next steps were to execute its branding in the digital world. He said this year has seen the transition to responsive screen technology, “now that 50 per cent of website sessions are coming from mobile devices”.
Hardingham said 2017 would be the year of “mobile first technology and investing in talent”, adding that “Customers want instant access to go from seven to three clicks on their booking journey.” Airbnb didn’t present any threat for Hoseasons, Hardingham said. “They are disrupters, but they do fly the flag for self-catering accommodation which is good for us. It is bringing a new audience into the market place.”
Hardingham was confident that Hoseasons had succeeded in closing the gap between itself and Center Parcs. It is now looking like Hoseasons is fast becoming the market disrupter and set to forge ahead.