Following on from our episode on Monday on what should be in your welcome books, we have an interview with Henry Bennett of Your Welcome. Listen in to find out all about their business and the Your Welcome Tablets they are using to help you increase your revenue streams.
The Serviced Accommodation Podcast is a show brought to you by Chris Poulter and Ritchie Mazivanhanga aimed at new and experienced property investors alike. With each show we help you Start, Systemise and Scale your Serviced Accommodation Business.
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Hi this is Chris and today I’m going to be talking with Henry Bennett who is the CEO of YourWelcome.
So Henry thanks for agreeing to join us today.
Pleasure, thanks for having me on Chris.
So can you just give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started off your career? That kind of thing?
Yeah absolutely. So I started my career working in entertainment, buying rights to TV shows which when the app was invented we spotted an opportunity where we could buy rights to TV shows such as Countdown and Catchphrase and the like and turn them into mobile apps which we did quite successfully for a number of years before we sold that business to a big American post-production company. And then yeah we’ve ended up, our next business is in the short, the short stay technology space.
Okay that’s great and do you have any kind of personal experience with that short say industry?
Yeah. So like I guess a lot of good startup businesses, the actual business itself came from a hack from what I was doing myself in that after we had sold the mobile business we were kind of deciding what we were going to do next. And despite having three kids and a wife in our house, I decided that I’d put my house on Airbnb and see what happens and it was quite interesting actually because we got a big response.
I live in the centre of London and we probably within a couple of weeks had about 10, 10 to 11 inquiries of which we decided to start taking on bookings and what actually happened was that my house is a period, really old house and when people arrived, they were delighted to stay in an old house but very quickly got very irritated by the nuances of the place like having to make an open fire and the slightly wonky back doors that come with a house at that age. So what actually ended up happening was it was such a hassle renting my house out that I decided to record a series of videos of the 12 things that everyone always basically asked me and I left them just on an old iPod Touch I had lying around the house and when I greeted the guests I said to them if you call me and you don’t look at the videos, I’m not going to speak to you which they were a bit like oh but actually what was quite interesting was that I stopped getting phone calls because people were happy to watch a 10 second video and less happy about reading a massive tome that I left out about how my boiler resets itself.
So and what was interesting was when I got back to the house they hadn’t cleared their browsing history so I could see literally where they’d decided to go in the mornings and the evenings and the decision making that they were making. So myself and my business partner looked at this and thought this is quite interesting in that if we could create enough value that a property owner or a host would put a tablet into their property we could then basically predict what people are likely to buy and want to go and visit based on historical data and that’s basically where we ended up and that’s what YourWelcome tablet essentially is.
Fantastic. So it’s a typical kind of entrepreneurial venture really where it’s a product borne out of necessity.
A little bit yeah absolutely, I mean obviously we looked at the industry and sort of taken a view as there’s a lot of other people, yourself included, that the short stay accommodation space is something that is clearly something that investments is going to come into and that it wasn’t, it was about the same sort of time that Accor bought onefinestay and we suddenly saw sort of the bigger players starting investing heavily in this space so there was a bit of business design behind it I guess as well.
Oh yeah for sure for sure. I mean I think most entrepreneurs probably have five or 10, 10 ideas a week in terms of like oh there’s an opportunity here or there I don’t know if you’re the same. But certainly you get a lot of, you get a lot of ideas and it’s kind of the ones which stick and the ones which are really backed up by kind of market changes and really you know the way the world’s going which kind of make it through aren’t they.
Yeah I think the thing is like you said right at the beginning. The reason why myself and my business partner pursued this one was actually I was using it; I was already using it essentially myself and having success with it. So it’s rare that you can hack a product like that so quick in the tech space.
Yeah yeah absolutely, well I mean one thing which is really big obviously in the tech space is the whole kind of lean start-up methodology isn’t it?
And you know for people who aren’t necessarily familiar with it, it’s a very simple concept. It’s you know rather than going out and building a massive company and hoping that people will like the product and buy it and that there’s a viable business there. Instead you kind of going out to the market with the absolute least thing which you can have which actually tests whether this might work or not which is called the kind of MVP, the minimum viable product. So what you essentially had there before you ever had a business, you already had an MVP in place which told you that you know actually there is a demand for it because you knew that from yourself, that guests were going to be willing and happy to use it and that there is also a potential to kind of monetize it in the long run.
Absolutely, absolutely yeah and that’s where we started.
Yeah, fantastic. So like I say from an entrepreneurial point of view I think that’s such a shortcut to kind of already have that there.
Brilliant, so it was very interesting I saw the talk which Henry did a couple of weeks ago now talking about the YourWelcome tablets and certainly I’ve been looking at them for a little while now and saying yeah I can certainly see where the benefits are in terms of you know welcome packs do take a while to put together. On our last episode we were talking about all the different things that you should be including there and we were thinking along the lines of well it’s going to be much easier and much more interactive to put it together into a kind of virtual welcome book if you like for guests to use. But what was interesting about Henry’s talk is that there’s actually various different areas where it can be a big benefit.
So the first thing you said is that you can potentially monetize it. So you might have late check ins out there, you might have links with taxi companies, all kinds of things so rather than just being for the guest benefit, you can actually make money out of it as well.
The second thing was communication, you could improve communication because you can have videos on there. You can actually end up with more of a kind of relationship with the guest I guess. Also that you can pull out guest data and see what they’re looking at, where they’re going to and you can use out within your business and also you can make some local recommendations and start giving people more kind of experiences rather than just staying in your area. So I thought that was really fascinating Henry so could you maybe talk a little bit then more about how we can monetize using YourWelcome tablets?
Yeah. So essentially the way the way we kind of paint this problem is that if you look at the hotel industry space of which ultimately short stay accommodation is competing with. One of the key differences between the two types of accommodation is that within the hotel space across the industry there’s roughly 20 percent of revenue is made from anything other than selling your space i.e. renting out rooms. So restaurants, taxis etcetera etcetera. Whereas in the short term space, the short stay space 100 percent of revenue is from selling rooms and there’s no revenue at all from the service layer. So basically what the tablets do is enable you to put what is essentially a transactional portal into your home sorry your property so when people come in and they’re first looking about what they’re going to do, so if they arrive late for example, the tablets come pretty populated with a link to a food delivery company. So you get a percentage of money every time someone orders food. And then we’ve done deals with taxi companies, tourist ticket companies, depending on the location of where you are theatre tickets, dry cleaning companies, the list goes on and on. So you’re able to make a percentage from the third party on demand as we call it deals that we’ve done, that your guests are looking for. And then in turn you as the owner that owns this portfolio of short stay accommodation can set up your own services and sell it through and the biggest one we see by a mile is the late checkouts. So as most people listen to these podcasts probably know it’s quite a challenge to sell late checkouts through a lot of the OTAs, they are just not set up to do it and it’s done by resolution. You can very simply just set a price and then you communicate to the guests that anything related to a late checkout and stay clean, leaving luggage is all on the tablet. They can go on there, they can see a price, description, the parameters around the deal and they can purchase through it and then you get a percentage of that, a big, obviously a large percentage of that as well. So basically we’re bringing in a new service layer and monetization to the short stay space.
Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic. And so the ways that you’ve set it up, you’ve already got links with a lot of these service providers, that’s right.
Yeah absolutely. So all of the core ones are in there, food delivery is by far and away the biggest. I’m always amused when I talk to short term accommodation providers about kitchens in that I always say the amount of takeaways you get orders through our tablets, I’m always interested to learn whether people actually use the kitchens or not.
So basically the tablets are set up deliberately that you can just open them up, sign in and then leave them out if you don’t want to leave any of your own information on there but obviously the more, the real money and the real revenue is in setting up your own services. So I think I think the good analogy is if you think how many people ask you for a late checkout, the average price that most people charge across our platform is £25 for a late check out – that’s quite a big percentage of your nightly fees so it’s a material revenue stream.
Yeah absolutely and even if you know four times a month you get people who choose to do a late check out well you haven’t really got any costs involved in there so it’s £100 straight on your margin isn’t it.
Correct. Exactly. And I think also the other thing that’s quite interesting is that because late checkout is something that a lot of people want, if they are instantly looking at that going okay I can see I can buy a late checkout, they’re also more likely to buy other things during the stay because they’ve already checked out the ability to do that through the tablet. So we’re seeing some good results.
Yeah. Yeah that sounds good. And also even though you’ve got all those relationships in there already, people can still set up local relationships. Is that correct?
Yeah absolutely so I mean we’re in like 20 countries now. So for example when we ship a tablet out to Rio as an example which happened the other day, obviously the taxi company that we’ve chosen is the one that has the best check out process from our optimized web perspective. But the person we shipped the tablet to was telling us that although the web optimization was good, that wasn’t the service they’d recommend so they asked to swap it out which we were obviously, we totally understand it. We obviously can only, we can only choose it from a conversion perspective of what our guests would like, what they want to do on the tablet not from a local knowledge perspective. So we’re always open to that.
Brilliant because it allows you to just create these kind of local relationships and then also potentially monetize through the YourWelcome tablet.
So when it comes to kind of communicating with guests then, what the benefits behind YourWelcome?
Yeah. So I think you know the way the way that the world’s moving now is that we all kind of know the medium of video. People are extremely comfortable picking information up from that. So I think one of the things that’s quite interesting that we see is that when people first sign up for YourWelcome and particularly if they take you know 50, 60 units, we onboard this massive welcome pack with loads and loads of text and then they record a couple of videos. Then what we then do is analyze the data of what a guest actually reads out that because obviously every time someone looks at something in the Welcome Guide they get access to see where they view that and they’re always quite surprised how little guests read.
So basically what YourWelcome can basically do is we try and say to people if you leave it in the properties for six months we’ll get it down to basically five videos that you need people to you know view to stop phoning you and to make sure they know about the health and safety etcetera. And then from their side you know if you do five or six 10 second videos, that’s less than a minute of viewing time. And so you’re trying to optimize that level of information that you need to tell the guests and information that they’re prepared to consume. If you can get that right you get less phone calls, the guests will be happier because they’ve got the information they need and you’ll be more comfortable you’re not going to get damage and the guests know everything they need to know during their stay.
So that’s kind of the big the big thing. I think video is a pretty powerful medium for this and I think the big analogy we often use is that and we saw this coming up to November last year in London, was that suddenly there was a wave of people shooting videos of how you reset boilers. If you think about that, it’s actually if the boiler you know you, literally it’s the pressure’s gone. It’s really easy just to turn the tap you turn thing off turn the tap and it repressurizes, you turn it back on. To go try writing that down, it’s very very hard to communicate that and I don’t think anyone is going to pick it up and not phone you in the middle of the night. I think that’s a good example of think of how videos is a powerful medium. And the other one bizarrely is TVs and working TV remote controls and Sky and Virgin, is that it’s quite hard to write or works but it’s very very simple to effectively record video.
Yeah yeah absolutely so it’s kind of better communication essentially isn’t it? You’re getting the information across easier and quicker.
Correct and also the other thing is and depending on how many properties you have in your portfolio is that you’re also instantly able to update the tablets so for example say you know one of your properties you’ve just switched from Sky to Virgin or Tivo you can just update it in the web portal and it instantly updates the tablet which means that there’s no excuse to not have 100 percent up to date information for your guests always which I think is important in a guest perspective.
And the other thing that’s quite interesting as well with some of the bigger serviced apartment operators we’re working with is that if you have a health and safety video or indeed text you’re able to then demonstrate A) has a particularly guest watched that health and safety you know in the event of a fire. And also across your portfolio what percentage of people are watching it and if it’s not enough then you can then make steps to make it better.
Yeah and I think that’s a really interesting point which I hadn’t necessarily considered is that if you put a welcome pack there, you can’t necessarily see what the guest is interested in, what the they’re using, those kind of things. Whereas with the electronic version you’re getting very good intelligence and information around that so what other ways can you use the guest data from the YourWelcome tablets?
Yeah so the guest stay has a whole, another level to it. Essentially you’re able to have access to not individual searches and individual purchases but patterns of behaviour across your portfolio and also per property. So if you imagine if you’ve got one property, let’s say it’s in the centre of Guildford for an example, you can then start seeing a profile built up of who that average person is. Now obviously if you’re personally greeting your guests, which I’m sure some of the some of the listeners are still doing, you kind of an idea of age and what they’re doing but really it boils down to the OTAs give you business or pleasure and what we start doing is drilling down a bit further into that. So for example average guest comes in, they’re likely to be searching for this type of content and they’re likely to buy these type of items. We enable ourselves, we use that data to basically predict what the guest is most likely to buy and more importantly at what point during the stay. So for example a classic one is that if your average check time on a Friday, you know if you’ve got a weekend business, Fridays are 8, 9 o’clock then they’re likely to buy a takeaway at that point as they’re turning up late and they don’t want to go out. But later on, like during the stay they might have planned their entire visit about what they’re going to do, which tourist attractions they’re going to visit but on day three they’re most likely to not have prebought something and that’s the point. We can then serve up an offer to them. So that’s how we use it.
So from your perspective what you’re able to do as a property owner is if you start seeing across your portfolio or in a particular property the same searches coming up. So for example we saw in London a lot of what time did the last, does the last tube run from and it was continual, particularly in certain properties in East London. That’s the sort of information we should be leaving out. Obviously the owner of that property definitely doesn’t care that the tubes finish running at 2am because they’re past the point of wanting to go out that time at night but actually all their guests are wanting that information. And you’ve can then start analyzing, seeing okay there’s additional information that I need to start leaving out for my guests here. And I think that helps again further tailor your welcome guide to make sure that you’re not just giving them information based on your experience but you giving it on your experience backed up with data.
And you were saying that you were saying that guests quite often use a tablet for searches and therefore you were able to see what kind of places they’re visiting while they’re with you, is that right?
Yeah, correct. So the other thing is, is that we see roughly I think is forty seven minutes of usage of the tablet per stay and the average session time is 11 minutes which is very high if any of you out there have worked in the web or at business.
So we get I think it’s now we’re getting 30 to 40 thousand Google searches across our tablets per month now and one of the things that’s quite interesting is that you can start getting an overview of where they’re likely to want to go. So every time someone picks a recommendation that they want to go to for example we have the tablets preloaded with a whole lot of recommendations with bars and restaurants etc. but every time someone views that you get access to see that they’ve shown interest in that recommendation and every time they send the directions to their phone we know they’re likely to go there and if they order a taxi as well through the tablet we know they have definitely gone to that recommendation.
And you can then start seeing how much impact you’re having on the local business community. So it was interesting, I had a meeting with a company in Amsterdam not so long ago who were very interested in this data because how they were viewing these tablets was that they were able to, when they get planning, or try and get planning permission to change a residential block into a serviced apartment block they could use data from the tablets to prove their impact on local businesses as opposed to saying we you know we send a lot of a lot of our visitors to local cafes they can go we actually send this percentage of our of our guests visit local things which is pretty interesting as an evolution.
But yeah also you’re able to start I mean we do it from our side as well. So for example the London theatre tickets were something that we put on the tablets just because the sheer amount of search volume we saw for it. We saw so many people searching could you by West End get tickets on the day. The answer is yes you can but it’s normally pretty expensive. So we’ve found a partner that could give us real time London theatre ticket availability on the night with a discount available as well which we think is a great service and really the service has come about from analyzing what guests were wanting in property and then us delivering it.
So really the tablet is kind adding, it’s basically adding a data layer to your experience as an owner and operator. You guys know what guests have traditionally wanted and we just kind of verify that and potentially add some more insight that possibly may not have known.
I think the mass of matter power but for that data. I think your recent experience with Amsterdam in the planning is one example of things which jump out which you might not have initially thought but because it’s such useful data there it can be used for kind other applications.
The other one which is jumping to mind for me is that we know with the wonderful booking.com they don’t allow you to have proper copy or text if you like on your listing therefore you’re kind of stuck with their automatic ones. And so normally for instance in Southampton, booking.com clearly have the data that the Mayflower theatre is the big attraction in town and so every single new listing which you make starts off with this property is X miles away from the Mayflower theatre. Now if you know what people visiting your property are actually going to do so for instance we see a lot of our guest going to Peppa Pig World at Paulton’s Park. So if we know that’s the case then we can speak to booking.com, change listing and have it, it’s you know it’s a five mile drive from Peppa Pig World, suddenly the conversion rate on that listing is going to improve a lot just based on the data.
Absolutely and I think I think the other thing to add there is about the ability to allow your guests to check in on the tablet when they arrive. So we all know that some of the OTAs are a little bit sparing with the data that they supply to you on bookings. So what you able to do is the message the guests say that you can people check in via the tablet on arrival and you guys can set the fields of that check in so you can obviously take their name and address, you can take a photo of their I.D., you can take their email address and what that enables you to do is to build up your CRM effectively so you can then start remarketing to those clients. Now I’m not saying you necessarily want them book direct although some clients that is most definitely an objective of theirs to try and get rebookings direct as opposed to by the OTAs. But what it does enable you to do is that you know if for example, the example you just use about Peppa Pig World, I myself I’ve got three kids are able to make more than one trip to the great Peppa Pig World. But my point being is that if they’ve enjoyed the stay with you and you have the ability to communicate with them then it is like they’re going to come back to you. You do need to make sure that your communications are good and we give you the tools to be able to do that basically.
So when it comes to checking in on the tablet then I mean my natural reaction would be well if there’s nothing in it for them then why would they check in. So how do you kind of ensure that people do check in?
Yeah. So this goes for everything on the tablet really, it’s important to understand that we don’t own the guest relationship, the operator does so it’s the messaging pre-arrival. You say that when you arrive there’s- you need to check in by the tablet and on the tablet there’s a whole host of offers and services for you from ordering food to money saving offers. So the messaging starts with, there’s something in it for you anyway before you arrive and the second thing is the psychology of guests, presuming that you’ve message it correctly if you say that to complete your check in you must check in by the tablet people don’t really know what happens if they don’t. Obviously nothing will happen other than you’ll be notified that someone hasn’t but to the guest they don’t really understand the same as if you didn’t check out from a hotel and you hadn’t bought anything from the minibar nothing would happen but we don’t know and psychologically we’re like we’re going to go and make that effort to check out.
So I think that’s I think generally along with everything so it’s the same with each other monetize he tablet in that if you say to your guests there’s a tableau over there that has got some information on it. They won’t buy anything through it. If you say look you know what don’t turn to Peppa Pig World on the day and buy a ticket, definitely either there’s an offer on the tablet or just have a Google on your phone because you’re going to save 10,15 percent. It’s a service plus monetization for you but it’s important that you message them that message if you see what I mean and the same is true with check in.
Yeah absolutely and I think it’s the same with everything that we do really with short stay serviced accommodation. It’s about making sure that we’ve got a consistent and designed kind of communication stream because the more refined that is and the more you’re making sure that you’re giving out consistent messaging the more you’re getting the results that you want from it.
So the final feature around this and one which I think is probably one of the biggest ones is actually around review capture. So can you tell us a little bit more about how you can use YourWelcome for that?
Yes. We’ve seen a good success rate with this. So essentially there’s a couple of things that you can do. So I guess generally across the tablet it’s built in a modular way so essentially what happens is most of these features set have come about from a particular client saying I want to do this which we’ve then built and then it’s available to other clients essentially because all different operators have different requirements. But one particular one that very early in our launch this came about, well they wanted to be able to offer the guests the ability to leave a review while they were still in the property. So the two things they did, the first one is that on arrival the first thing they see after checking in is out of five, what’s your initial, what’s your initial thoughts on this property? And if anyone clicked under three stars the operator immediately got on the phone to them and said is there anything we can do to improve your stay? So that I think is quite powerful because you’re instantly pre-empting getting a bad review because if I walk into a house and see its two stars there’s usually some reason why that would be the case because I can’t know what I’ve bought, I know the price, I know location, I’ve seen the photos. If suddenly I’ve walked in and you know the heating is not working or whatever it is, you then have the ability to correct that before it gets to the point of them leaving a bad review on one of the OTAs and then the other thing that’s also quite, has worked quite well is at the end of the stay on the last day it serves up on the tablets saying would you like to review this property and then we then deep link in to each of the OTAs, they select where they booked from so say bookings.com it goes that page, they sign in they can leave a review. So both of those things are quite powerful I think for operators.
Yeah definitely. I mean we have an episode on reviews and how to improve your reviews and one of the key tips which we give from there is that it’s about mitigating the issues, dealing with them as quickly as possible and making sure that the guest ultimately feels listened to and that you were able to resolve them. So what better way than as soon as they’ve come in the property you’re able to get a handle on any potential issues and then resolve them so I can clearly see how that’s going to kind of improve your reviews.
Also you know another one of the key things is just asking for the reviews and of course if you’re asking for them on the tablet then you’re going to get a lot more reviews in and that’s going to push up your rating as well.
Now one of the one of the things which we were discussing was having a kind of very clever system where we were asking for a kind of a rating on a star rating out of five and then potentially only pushing customers who put four or five stars on their through to the review engines. Is that something you commonly use?
We haven’t used that and we have discussed it but I don’t know, I don’t know how logistically that’s that’s possible because if you think if we did that, we’re essentially blocking people from putting reviews. It’s not always the case because when people are starting they just need reviews I know, so even medium reviews are better than bad reviews, sorry than the no reviews in some cases.
So it’s a difficult thing, so for us like technically it’s very easy to do essentially is go what how do you rate this property. If they press under five stars we don’t display the next page. But it is for an operator by operator perspective as to whether or not they want they want to block that if you see what I mean because I know especially at the start getting 10 reviews is kind of key to getting to further guests, you know assume those reviews aren’t horrific which they won’t be for your listeners obviously!
Yeah. Yeah absolutely. I mean I think it would be down to everyone to kind of work out the ultimate level. But the thought is probably that if someone is rating it one or two stars you’re probably not going to want their review, you’re probably better off without it, getting rid of it. I mean the parallel for instance is that we use Net Promoter Score within our business and so then we essentially have a secondary action based on what they say. So if they say nine or 10 then we’re asking for a review if they say seven or eight then we’re saying what we have done better? If they say 1-6 then we realize there’s probably quite a lot that we could’ve done better and we get out a list.
So it’s something we already doing within the business and so it’d be very interesting for us to kind of be able to implement something similar. And I mean that maybe Net Promoter Score would be an interesting development for YourWelcome as well in the future.
Yes, I’ll have a look at that absolutely.
Well I think it’s certainly been fascinating for me and I’m sure it’s been fascinating for the listeners as well. Now I understand you’ve got a special gift for the listeners, is that right?
Yes absolutely. So we’re giving all listeners a 20 percent discount for all subscriptions on a tablet. So if you go on to www.yourwelcome.com and then type in sapodcast into the voucher it will give you a 20 percent discount.
Wow, that’s fantastic. Thank you very much for that.
And obviously we’ll be very interested to hear if anyone does sign up some feedback as we’re constantly getting lots of lots of feedback. So for example from the events which Chris said that he’d seen me speak at already we’ve had two to three people approach us from that event saying I’m thinking about getting a short stay accommodation in this area. Could you, is it possible you could provide us with some top line data on what the average guest looks like which is quite interesting because that’s the first time people have come to us requesting that type of data.
Yeah and again it kind of stems off what we were saying before that once you’ve got the data there, there’s lots of applications which you might not kind of think about in the first place.
Absolutely but yeah anyway thank you for having me, I appreciate it.
Brilliant, thank you for your time Henry.
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