Defender Resorts was featured in Resort Trades Magazine discussing the importance of multi-channel marketing in the timeshare rental industry.
*Please note this article was originally published by Resort Trades magazine. View the original here.
Multi-Channel Marketing. Be Present. Be Honest. Be Good.
There’s no doubt that ‘sold-out resorts’ – those timeshare properties no longer in active sales – have to have a marketing plan with a strong online focus in order to survive financially.
As that shifted over time and with resorts reducing maintenance fees for various reasons, it is crucial for resorts to generate income outside of maintenance fees or else failure would be inevitable. One of the most obvious ways to do this is to utilize the biggest assets a resort possesses – rental units. That can be easier said than done, though. The ratio of available rooms compared to the ratio of travelers is rarely equal.
This imbalance has led to a highly competitive marketplace where properties cannot just passively put rooms up for rent then sit back and watch the rental dollars roll in. They have to market themselves. But around the same time income streams for legacy timeshare properties were changing, so was traditional marketing.
While maintenance fees used to drive income, companies used to have more resources available to promote their branding and marketing. The internet has changed that and marketing, in the packaging it was once known, is practically extinct. The internet has put buying, decision making and corporate reputations into the consumer’s hands. This is not a detriment to resorts, it is just a signal to change. Transparency across multiple channels is required. Put simply, be honest and be good in as many places as possible.
Invest in Technology
The first place to start is investing in the right technology. According to a study by Statistic Brain in 2013, 57 percent of travel reservations are made online. Of those, 65.4 percent are made directly on the property’s web site and 34.5 percent are made elsewhere (19.5 percent on merchant sites, 11.3 percent on opaque sites and 3.7 percent on retail sites).
This means that it is imperative to be present on as many of those different Online Travel Agents (OTAs) as possible. The technology many resorts used in the past to book reservations and handle inventory was not designed to link its inventory with OTAs, so software now needs to handle operations, reservations and marketing. A resort’s inventory is useless if it cannot be shown to the world.
A presence on OTAs cannot be the only communications effort being made because they can have technical issues which cause lost reservations, many people only use them for researching, and they are expensive with their large commissions. Whereas hotels keep all their income, with timeshare properties the income is split many times already between management companies, rental agencies, OTAs and more. The fewer channels you can use to book a room, the more overall income generated.
There’s also a lot of competition on these OTAs with so many properties being present and large chains having an advantage. For example, on Expedia you can advertise and bring more attention to your property. This extra coverage can be yours for the ‘low’ cost of a $10,000 PER MONTH minimum advertising spend. This may be viable for large chains, but for most independent timeshare legacy properties, it is not.
Strong, Clear and Honest Communications
The key to success on OTAs is strong, clear and honest communications. Consumers are searching on OTAs because they have some idea of what they want, whether it be location, number of bedrooms, price or resort amenities. By having strong listings that display honest information, you are not just finding customers, but finding the right customers who will be happy they stayed with you and in turn become your cheerleaders and marketers. If you try to bulk up your listings and display well shot photos that incorrectly represent your property or lists of amenities and copy that set your “quaint” resort up as “luxurious” you are just asking to fight a lot of fires both on-site and online.
Resorts should put a strong focus on their online presence beyond OTAs. Many people search for resorts on OTAs and then navigate to the resort’s specific web site to learn more or look for extra discounts.
Let people find you on OTAs; make them fall in love with you on your own web site. By making your web site responsive (viewable on any device, computer, tablet, smartphone), easy to navigate, informative and visually pleasing people will be more likely to stay. Once there you need to give them ease and incentive to book directly, which saves the consumer and the property money.
In addition to OTAs you have to show up elsewhere. It’s not a quick process, it’s time consuming, but it’s important. We are no longer in charge of our message. We can’t look at it as marketing, it’s now communicating effectively which means finding the best channels to spread your message and property details along with monitoring third party sites for misleading information. Don’t be afraid to brag about what you do have. Got an indoor pool? Spotlight that. Just do it in an honest way.
It’s not a one-person job to be done by a marketer. It’s an overall effort by marketing departments, general managers, management companies, front desk staff and more.
Think Like a Consumer
Develop unique programs and offers for customers by not thinking, “How can I make more money off them?” Instead ask, “What can I provide them with that they will value.”
Online reputation management is an important channel to constantly monitor. According to a recent study by travel market research firm, PhoCusWright, 77 percent of customers usually or always reference reviews before looking at a hotel and 53 percent of travelers won’t commit to a booking until they read reviews. So obviously people are reviewing TripAdvisor, and management responses make a huge difference. The same study found that 80 percent of travelers read 6-12 reviews before booking;87 percent have an improved opinion of a property with a bad review if it also has an appropriate management response and 70 percent are less likely to book when management responses are aggressive and defensive.
TripAdvisor should not be the only place you are monitoring. Be sure to review Yelp! and Google. Think like a consumer and Google your property regularly. Be sure to Google it from other devices and computers that you aren’t signed in on so it is showing you different results not based on your specific internet history.
Social media is another giant to establish a presence on. You must be present on social media in order to share information and have a conversation with current and potential customers, but it’s not necessary to be present on all social media platforms. A non-existent Twitter account is better than an inactive one. It gives the appearance that you don’t care. Pick what works for you and be really good at those. It’s better to excel at a couple, than be mediocre on many.
All your efforts need to be pulled together with analysis. Just like science, marketing is a constant experiment. It takes generating strategies and goals and then analyzing those to see if they are working or not. That way you can amp up what works and veto what doesn’t. You have to be constantly watching every avenue.
There’s no perfect formula. There’s only trial, error and informed decisions.
In short, be present, be honest and be good. Show consumers who you are and what you have and the right ones will come.