Industry Leader Interview – Donna Fitzgerald, Chief Operating Officer at Agiito.
16th November 2021Tweet
- What are the challenges facing your business right now, and how are you working to overcome them?
“We are still facing a number of challenges directly relating to the sourcing of accommodation and venues which include:
- Quarantine Hotels – we are still seeing a number of hotels across the UK closed and in contract to provide quarantine only bookings until January 2022.
- Increased demand for UK holidays – having a direct impact on both hotels and holiday lets availability and price for our short to medium term stay alternative accommodation customers. We are seeing this continue throughout the winter period and of course over Christmas and the New Year.
- Shortage of staff in UK hospitality – many hotels rely on overseas workers and the combination of no work during lockdown closures and Brexit regulations has caused many staff to leave the country.
- UK Stamp Duty Holiday- Following this recent initiative we have seen an increase in demand for short to medium-term rentals.
- Postponed Events – after 18 months of cancelled and postponed events we are now seeing a huge demand in this area impacting availability across all accommodation types.
In addition to the challenges we face with sourcing accommodation, we are also seeing a shift in customer behaviour; with many people still working from home and identifying potential problems earlier in the property, the risk of needing alternative accommodation reduces. On the other hand, many customers have been reluctant to move out because they have been unsure of where they would be accommodated over the last 18 months or because the required work simply couldn’t be competed. So, they have lived with outstanding issues, meaning there could be a backlog to deal with.
We continue to overcome these challenges by working effectively with our supplier partner network to ensure we have a wide, varied choice of offering for our customers including temporary solutions, hotels, apartments, holiday lets and rentals. We have been able to successfully use our leverage and great partnerships to encourage properties to re-open earlier than planned where we have been able to identify need and volume during the pandemic period, including a decant project for 120 homes.”
- What has been your biggest business learning from the coronavirus pandemic?
“It has been a constant learning curve and, as a business, we have been able to react to the impacts of the pandemic ensuring our customer safety and wellbeing is at the forefront of our strategies. We’ve always been a business that embraces change and thrives on innovation. This mentality has helped us develop new propositions and react quickly over the pandemic period.
Our biggest business learning from the pandemic continues to be the importance of customer communication, our specialist knowledge, and the great supplier partnerships we have built up over many years. Adapting technology platforms to provide Covid safety features and introducing our CovidHub, giving customers the latest information and advice with 24/7 support, has kept our customers informed throughout and given confidence support and peace of mind at a time when they may feel vulnerable.”
- As we go to a “new normal” what are you looking forward to returning to and practices will you keep?
“We are still in a changing environment, so we are not quite at the ‘new normal’ yet. One thing is for sure, the mental health and wellbeing of our people remains a priority.
We’ve re-opened our offices and it has been great to see and meet with our people face to face again. Our people have recognised the positive impact of being back in our offices on team collaboration, personal development and overall mental health and wellbeing. Having enabled homeworking throughout lockdown periods we have been able to identify the benefits this brings across our business and we now continue to offer flexibility and give a choice around hybrid working options.”
- If you could go back to the beginning of 2020, what piece of advice would you give to yourself?
“One thing is certain: I didn’t expect the pandemic to still be in play and feeling the impact of it now, both personally and professionally. However, I’ve realised the importance of taking time out to prioritise my own health and wellbeing. I now get outside in the fresh air more, but those closest to me will tell you I still need to work on this……”
- What would be your prediction for the industry in 2021?
“Continuing digital transformation and smarter use of data, which I don’t think will surprise anyone. We constantly review the market to see how we can innovate and add real value, particularly through digital transformation and the use of data insights to improve and provide choice for our customers’ end-to-end experience.
Digital transformation has empowered insurers to deliver excellent customer service complimented by the ability to make more informed decisions through the provision of accurate data. The alternative accommodation path, however, has been slower to adapt due to specific accommodation industry nuances. This is further compounded by ensuring choice alongside cost value is offered to the customer throughout the life cycle of the claim, but I expect to see further innovation and improvements in the digital offering here.
Customer behaviour, again. I mentioned this earlier, but I think we have yet to see the full impact of changing customer behaviour; demand for high value claims is still low due to the reduced severity and frequency of claims, such as large escape of water claims. We will, however, continue to experience and manage the impact of extreme weather changes such as flooding and the demand surge that come with these.
Sustainability has also become key. Individuals, as well as businesses, are focussing on their own sustainability goals to embrace a more carbon-neutral way of living. Customers want help in achieving these goals and we partner with Trees4Travel to help businesses offset their Co2 impact and to achieve their corporate social responsibility goals. We expect this to become more of a need from our alternative accommodation customers and will start to be asked more questions about the sustainability of accommodation they are being offered.”Tweet