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Young travel tech rock star seeks to connect traveller and hotelier needs

One of the hottest travel tech to come out from Asia is handy, an all-in-one mobile device with its own charging dock and native Wi-Fi access, available for lease in hotels.

With its bespoke OS, HotelPortal platform and LUXOS-curated content, it also works as a personal concierge, in-room remote control, travel guide, live language translator and booking platform.

But did you know that handy was borne out of frustration over paying roaming fees while on holiday? We sat down with Tink Labs founder and CEO Terence Kwok to learn why this sharp-eyed Hong Kong native and his product have both reached rock-star status in the hospitality and tourism scene.

TDM: When you began handy, did you really mean to address the problem of roaming fees? Why?

Terence Kwok (TK): The idea of handy came about through a real struggle I had in 2012. I was travelling on a family vacation, and throughout the trip, I had to leech off spotty Wi-Fi signals across Europe. Out of desperation, I enabled the roaming option on my smartphone. As I was counting every minute I spent on it, I wondered:

“Why can’t I be connected like a local?”

We started off with the mission to connect the disconnected. We developed our very own device with the world’s first bespoke handy OS, where travellers could stay inspired with carefully curated travel guides, and enjoy unlimited local and international calls.

At the beginning of this venture, we set up a counter at the Hong Kong International Airport where travellers could rent it at a fixed price per day. We realised it wasn’t the quickest and most effective way to acquire customers. We then decided to evolve into a B2B2C model, where we partner with hoteliers worldwide so that travellers could interact with handy in their room at no cost.

TDM: What differentiates your city guide platform from other digital guides available on mobile today?

TK: LUXOS has been a tremendous asset to us in helping both expand our brand and provide quality content to our partners and their guests. They provide handy with real-time travel recommendations integrated seamlessly in the homepage newsfeed, helping users discover the city’s best-hidden gems.

Our content management system (CMS) gives hotels access to catered insights on guest activity such as preferred locations, activity/consumption patterns, and more – all of which handy is positioned to capture, and helps directly inform decision-making for hotel stakeholders.

TDM: How do you protect your Smartphone and SmartDock from theft? How do you make sure the HotelPortal platform is not easily tampered with or erased?

TK: With handy’s CMS available for device tracking, hotels are able to track geographical locations of handy devices if they are reported missing. They can also erase data and reset the devices remotely to ensure no user data is breached.

TDM: How does handy generate revenue for Tink Labs?

TK: The partner hotel pays for the handy service based on the number of rooms. Service fees vary depending on the level of integration with hotel services and the number of features that hotels activate, such as push notifications, in-room dining and many others that handy offers.

Hotels on average only need to pay a rate of US$0.50 to US$1.00 per room per day for the handy platform, less than the price of water in many countries.

In the beginning, handy was available for rent at airport counters

Tinkering with guest experiences through handheld technology

TDM: With AI, machine learning, virtual and augmented reality all high on the travel tech radar these days, are you using or looking into using any of these for the handy platform?

TK: We’re always exploring new trends, like the Internet of Things (IoT), and thinking about how they could be beneficial to hotels and guests. AR/VR are adapting more to the travel industry, and a virtual concierge is a great example to show how VR is changing guest services.

For example, part of the handy Suite is a digital check-in and check-out service where guests can also view their bill throughout their stay. This gives them a much more efficient and positive hotel experience.

“Hotels pay up to US$1 per room per day for the platform, less than the price of water in many countries.”

TDM: How do you envision the hotel room of the future?

TK: It’s already being designed; brands like Marriott and Hilton are already experimenting with hotel rooms of the future. Technology is becoming such a huge attraction and part of a hotel’s service now; guests want smart and efficient technologies, and to be able to connect their personal technology to the hotels with ease.

Guests expect to have control over their room and be able to turn off lights, air conditioning and even draw their curtains at just one click of a button. Handy’s in-room controls let guests personalise their room to their preferred temperature and brightness without having to even get out of bed. It allows guests to shop, dine, request and enjoy many services on the phone that would previously require them to leave their room or even the hotel.

Other services, such as handy’s Concierge Chat and LUXOS city guides, allow guests to plan their trip and communicate with hotel staff both inside and outside their hotel room. This also means that hotels can continue to give guests 5-star service regardless of whether they are on the property.

TDM: What would you like to see travel tech start-ups tackle? Why?

TK: Travel start-ups must have an eye for issues faced by a global audience. I would like to see more technologies aid travellers and extend hotel services outside of the hotel. Guests only spend a certain amount of their time in a hotel’s premises, so what usually happens is that hoteliers have to wait for their return to let them know about special deals.

In-room services are also an important factor of the guest experience and already becoming an industry requirement. Business travellers especially want services such as 24/7 in-room dining and high-speed W-Fi, as they spend most of their trip in the room.

TDM: What advice would you give to start-ups playing in the travel tech space?

TK: I’ve always believed that for start-ups to succeed, they must target a global audience instead of a local or regional one, to capture travellers from around the world.

It’s also important to understand different markets to ensure that products can adapt well. When expanding globally, local partnership is key to help understand and penetrate the market.

Keeping tabs on handy learnings

TDM: How was 2017 for handy? What would you count as your biggest win for last year? 

TK: Last year was a great year for us, as we expanded on a global scale. We are now available in 82 countries, 650,000 rooms and help 25 million global travellers stay connected. We have partnered with many new hotels over 2017 and have also strengthened partnerships with leading chains including AccorHotels, IHG, Sheraton, and more.

Our biggest win would have to be handy’s launch in Japan. The team there has expanded into 200,000 rooms in a year’s time – this also contributes to the overall tourism and travel industry atmosphere in Japan with the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the nomination for World Expo at Osaka in 2025, etc.

Today, handy is a complimentary service found in hotel rooms

TDM: What do you think is the biggest secret to handy’s success?

TK: Our holistic B2B2C approach allows both the hotel and user to benefit. We help hotels to increase revenue, guest satisfaction and solve the issue of travellers spending very little time inside the hotel, as our product helps them market their restaurants and facilities even when guests are outside.

For travellers, we are able to keep them connected to their friends and family with our unlimited overseas calls and internet access. We also provide in-room shopping, ticketing features and city guides to help them discover more about the city they are in.

Connectivity is more important than ever and demand for Internet services is soaring. Tink Labs seizes the opportunity to usher the transformation of hospitality and tourism, by creating a product with a unique model and offering – handy – at a time when it is needed most.

The number of our global presence changes so quickly on a daily basis. It’s never a single demographic, but we are continuing to expand and are committed to building the world’s largest tourism ecosystem that covers the entire travel journey: pre-, during, and post-trip. 

TDM: What were the key learnings in your journey?

TK: Three things:

● Travel is an infrequent activity. We originally operated a B2C business model which was sold to travellers at the airport with a charge per day, but we shifted gears to a B2B2C model to serve hotels and their guests.

● It’s important to listen to your customers and understand what they need. We provide guests with full complimentary access to integrated connectivity, content, and services on a single device, helping them better explore their destinations. Gathering feedback helps us improve and tailor our services to suit everyone.

We are constantly updating; for example, our ‘Concierge Chat’ instant messenger, push messaging and in-room dining features have recently been implemented. These create a more personalized guest experience as well as giving them a more organised and efficient service.

● We’re a technology company that constantly yearns for innovation. Product is key and we are constantly improving and adding features to make handy the best possible product for both users and hotels.

TDM: What’s next for handy in 2018? Any new locations to break into, new hotels and GCCs to work with?

TK: This year we are focusing on IoT and are continuing to develop our hardware and handy Suite, as well as complete our in-room ecosystem, which includes our in-room shopping and dining features. We continue to expand and commit to building the world’s largest tourism ecosystem that covers the entire travel journey: pre-, during, and post-trip.

It’s all about pushing the product boundaries to create the best experience for both guests and hotels and to turn handy into an industry-standard amenity, as crucial to the traveller’s experience as the room they stay in. We can share more information on our progress to bring handy to 1 million hotel rooms after Q1 2018.

This is part of a new series featuring IoT in travel tech. Watch this space for more IoT travel tech players.

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