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Wayn’s world

February 18, 2013

(Published in TTG 14.02.13) (Where are you now?) was one of the social networking pioneers, only to be set back by the global credit crisis in 2008. Today it unveils a new look and features as it seeks to work more with the trade.

Where are you now? Or more to the point, where is now? Having gone “under the radar” during the past couple of years, co-founder and chief executive Peter Ward says the company has been busy, building up momentum.

One of the first “travel community” websites to grace the web, it was aimed at helping backpackers and gap-year travellers, allowing members to interact based on the places they had been, were in currently or were planning to visit.

Its meteoric rise since 2002 (seebelow), however, was hampered due to the arrival of Facebook in 2006 (“Facebook reinvented social”, Ward recollects) and later the credit crunch. Despite Facebook’s dominance, which saw the likes of MySpace and Bebo falter, Ward had faith in Wayn’s niche aspect. “LinkedIn managed to survive as it was all about business, it had a niche. We had a niche too: travel.”

With this niche, Wayn fought back with various tactics, and varying degrees of success. “We felt we had to launch a news feed, to keep up with the Joneses, then we integrated with flight providers, car hire companies, and so on. But integrations then were in the early phase of evolution, and it wasn’t really adding to the user experience,” says Ward.

But with member numbers still growing, the company was still an attractive proposition for investors, and Wayn was set to raise £20 million in the autumn of 2008 – but then the credit crunch hit, and the deal fell through at the last minute.

“We were growing, but making a loss,” Ward says. “We didn’t want to sell, so we made savings; out of our 42 staff, we lost 20. It was challenging, but it was the best thing we could have done. After, we had a strong team.”

After the credit crunch, Ward says he began to spot a new trend – simply that people were travelling less. As a result, he says he had to “make the site more meaningful, make it easy to meet people and engage around traffic”. With more emphasis on photos, and the “viral loop of meet friends, make friends, ratings and comments”, the community website’s traffic doubled, and it once again became profitable due to increased advertising.

So with the relaunch, what has changed? First, there is greater Facebook integration (so now users can see which of their friends have been to Paris, for example) and Foursquare is added, meaning check-ins and other content automatically appears. There is also a Pinterest-style wall for the new home page, featuring photos, profiles and tips. A new destination appears each day, but can be changed. “Changing the shop window means we can serve up relevant information. For example, someone might never have considered Aukland before, but they may start to get sucked in to going there.”

As part of the relaunch, there is also now a greater focus on working with the trade.

Target audiences

Ward is keen to expand on the work it is doing with tourist boards with agents and operators.

Wayn already works with South African Tourism, Wonderful Indonesia, and London & Partners, and can collect information on what people plan to do in a given country, and their aspirations.

So what about the UK? “We’re looking for travel agent partners,” Ward says. Wayn features email advertising as well as “offer notifications”, which he says are similar to Facebook “friend” notifications. Rather than being “disruptive”, Ward says users enjoy this element.

Offer notifications start from £2,000, while tactical promotional packages go up to £15,000. The company says it tends to act more as a lead-generation platform, driving traffic to clients.

It recently worked with Expedia, Momondo and to integrate their own booking facilities into the community.
Meanwhile, its collaboration with Malaysia Airlines on its January sale campaign saw the social networking site contributing 55% of total traffic for activity.

Whatever the service, clients get full reports on traffic (clicks, views) as well as “engagement metrics”: data capture, brochure and downloads.

”We fuse community with campaigns and advertising. We keep the wheels of the community turning. Our users like competitions and offers, but you have to keep them relevant, and engage in an innovative way, so it’s seen as a ‘value-add’ not a disruption.”

As well as plugging into the main social networking sites, Ward would like to add Flickr, Picasa and Instagram, with a “recommendation engine” based on photos in the pipeline. There’s also an app in progress too, which Ward claims “will change the way you think about checking in”.

With today (February 14) being Valentine’s Day, the website is also launching a promotion called “Share the love” – “where users can share an e-card with friends. It’s not about dating, but sharing the love with friends.”

No doubt Ward will also be hoping for some new relationships with the travel trade to ensure the work he’s put in pays off, and gets Wayn back on the radar.

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