How a 23-year-old entrepreneur created a Handy way to keep you connected on the road

Good news, expats: A 23-year-old entrepreneur has created a Handy way to keep international travelers connected without buying SIM cards in the airport, or running up roaming charges.

Last year, Dispatches contributor Ivana Avramovic was on a business trip to London when she texted us about a new amenity offered at the hotel where she was staying.

“This is an interesting service hotels offer and they are just starting in the U.K.,” Ivana texted. “Make a good story for Dispatches.”

Along with the lux soaps, plush towels and lobby coffee bar, she got a  free cellphone. A new, fast-growing concept enables hotels to loan you, the international traveler, a smartphone for your stay. You get to take it with you and use it as long as you’re there.

With that loaner, you can make free calls – as many as you like – all over the world, Ivana said.

Now, imagine American tourists  – who expect to pay for WIFI – coming to London and getting that perk from the hotel, she texted.

From Hong Kong to the world

Ivana was staying at the hotel that did the pilot project with Hong Kong-based Handy. This was not the Connaught or Claridge’s.

Ivana was staying at The Georgian House Hotel, four-star in Central London popular with biz travelers.

By mid-2017, at least 35 hotels in London were using Handy, she said.

Entrepreneurs know great ideas are born out of deep frustration (witness Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Airlines), and that’s the case with Handy.

Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Terence Kwok, then 23 years old, founded Handy in 2012 after he found it incredibly frustrating to stay connected while traveling in Europe.

Kwock’s Tink Labs startup launched first in Hong Kong and Singapore. Then he raised several hundred million in early-stage capital to go global.

The breakthrough moment was a move into the London market, one of the most competitive in the world. Since then, the Marriot and pretty much every global hospitality chain including Sofitel, Hyatt and Intercontinental has picked up on the service.

“I was surprised because typically Marriot in Europe doesn’t even give you free WIFI,” Ivana said. “They ask you to pay 25 euros extra.”

By early 2018, Handy was projected to be available in 125,000 hotels rooms in the United Kingdom, with a target of 1 million across the globe.

Pushing the expansion is a lot of good publicity from tech sites such as CNET, as well as from hospitality industry websites.

Handy is good the for the guest, good for the hotel

Of course, hotels don’t hand out Handys, as cellphones are called in Germany, out of the goodness of their hearts. Handy combines the functionality of a personal smartphone with a direct connection to hotel services.

Guests get:

  • Unlimited local & international calls
  • Free internet access
  • Destination-specific content
  • Exclusive promotions for hotel offering
  • On-the-go hotel concierge service

Each handy smartphone is customized for each client hotel and provides travelers mobile services as well as an interactive city guide and one-click access to the hotel’s concierge and amenities.

So, the bet is, you’ll spend more at the hotel than the cost of the service. But still, to Ivana’s point, who’s going to turn down a free cellphone?

Also, we’re guessing the actual cost of the connectivity is at least partially passed on in hotel room rates.

Finally, Handy’s website makes clear the hotel gets the guest analytics (worth a LOT) as well as a direct connection to TripAdvisor so guests can post ratings and comments instantly.

If there’s a downside to this, you still have to use one phone to look up contacts, the other to call. And the Handy calls show up without your ID, which means some contacts won’t pick up.

But, overall, we expect Handy and all their ensuing competition to become as de rigueur at hotels as those little chocolates on your pillow.

And as they say in Hollywood, “Honey, baby, sweetheart … call us!”

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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