RDO7: Exceeding expectations by elevating the experience
Three timeshare industry leaders shared their views on how to keep the customer satisfied with delegates at the RDO7 Conference in London.
Recognising that today’s hospitality customers are looking for so much more than clean and tidy accommodation, Peter Booth, vice president of the Pestana Group; Gordon Gurnik, RCI president; and Richard McIntosh, managing director, Hilton Grand Vacations EMEAA, brought their cumulative 89 years’ of experience in the timeshare industry to the platform.
Peter Booth, vice president of the Pestana Group
Using a winning mix of celebrity brand and social media, Booth revealed that Facebook posts promoting Pestana’s new CR7 hotel brand featuring pictures of Dioniso Pestana with new celebrity partner and global football star Cristiano Ronaldo, achieved an impressive two million ‘Likes’ on Facebook recently.
For Booth and Pestana, social media is a two-way street and is used to support a strong personalisation programme. “Over 50 per cent of our members fill in an online questionnaire during their holidays,” Booth said. “There is a lot of important information in those responses which we can take to profile our members to help personalise their experience.”
Personalisation makes guests feel special and at Pestana resorts comes in the form of knowing and providing small things such as non-smoking or smoking rooms, hard or soft pillows – and it can make the biggest difference to a guest’s perception of their stay.
Celebrating 30 years in the business, Pestana is using the figure 30 to generate interest in its landmark birthday, as well as to give something back to its customers in the way of added value. The big 30 was shaped into guest benefits such as 30 per cent spa treatment discounts, a reduced 30 euros’ charge to bring a guest. “We are in the people business and have created a service culture at Pestana designed to get guests to come back to spend with us,” said Booth.
Among the many aspects of Pestana’s service culture are:
- A dedicated guest relations team
- Phone all members two weeks before they come out to stay to ask if they have any special requirements or, for example, to assure them they will have the same maid they had during their previous visit, if they want that
- On-site reservations team with an open door to members wanting to pop in any time to discuss anything they might want relating to their Pestana holidays
- Welcome meetings, cocktail parties, dinner dance evenings, traditional regional dinners
- Talks on the gardens of Madeira, the influence of the British and even basic Portuguese language lessons as requested from online guest questionnaires.
“The better the holiday, and the more personal we can make it, the more money our guests will spend with us,” Booth explained.
Gordon Gurnik, RCI president
Quoting several eye-opening statistics, Gurnik stated: “Experiences are key. What we are actually doing for people on vacation after the sale matters more than ever.”
Taking figures from a 2016 TripAdvisor survey, the RDO7 audience learned that:
- 25% of Millennials will happily try an experience they have never had before
- 69% of Millennials look to do something new on vacation.
And the route to reach the Millennial customer is digital, Gurnik told delegates. “It used to be a bunch of pictures and catalogues, now it’s apps. Some affiliates are providing iPads to their owners – they’re more fun; it is an updated, more immersive experience,” he said. “We are seeing the use of a lot more videos – two-way videos that talk to people and educate them, and which bleed into their vacation search and planning.
“Four or five years ago people looked first for location in planning a vacation. There has been a shift heavily to what kind of experience they want, and from there, what location. We need to have those conversations with people during the planning process.”
Personalisation has also become part of RCI’s strategy, and Gurnik explained that it was important to listen to know who your customer is; how they travel (adults or family groups); what experiences are they looking to enjoy while out on vacation.
And linked to personalisation is theming, he explained. “Themes have become a big thing – adults-only, spa, rock ‘n’ roll,” Gurnik said. “Health is a big one, hiking, yoga. Many of these things are easy to do, even to retrofit into existing resort properties. Urban locations, though not traditionally in timeshare, are now being developed by a lot of people because of the attractions of this experience.”
Gurnik believes it is important to engage with customers at every stage of their holiday journey, from planning through to returning home. He stressed the importance of communicating – particularly listening. Concluding his RDO7 session, he said: “Experiences – keep them fresh. We are thinking all the time how can we evolve, modify and promote new experiences to our members.”
Richard McIntosh, managing director, Hilton Grand Vacations EMEAA
Agreeing with many of the RDO7 session presenters, McIntosh acknowledged how much tougher business life had become over the last decade with more competition, more product development and offerings, and more flexible usage packages.
“It’s much better for guests,” he said, “but more to manage, more to go wrong.”
Guests, he went on to tell conference delegates, are the best brand advocates. “HGV recognises guest loyalty and runs elite tier memberships – Elite Plus and Elite Premier,” he said. These higher tier memberships give loyal customers benefits such as privileges at check-in, first use options and exclusive offers at the start of the year.
Among other tools used to engage guests are online and print issues of the HGV magazine, published four times a year; regular member surveys; a mobile app on which members and guests can make restaurant reservations in advance or message the front the desk while in resort. After the first 48 hours of their stay, HGV guests are sent a message asking if their experience has been good or bad.
“This is putting our head above the parapet,” said McIntosh, “but at least we can do something about any issues before they go home and post bad TripAdvisor reviews. You rarely get a memory that doesn’t involve people. A smile from the staff on the front desk is of great value; nice surprises. We need to know when our guests need us to be there for them.
“It’s about where the experience comes from, and we create the best experiences possible for our guests, who are in a vacation state of mind. Nothing stays the same, we need to start moving.”
The panel members fielded questions from the delegates. Here are some of the highlights:
There has been a lot of talk about sales conversions from Online Travel Agents (OTA sites). How do the panellists view OTAs?
Booth – We draw a lot of sales leads from our hotels. We do convert from OTA bookings; they often have a good closing percentage because they have had a good hotel stay with Pestana first.
McIntosh – We don’t want our guests to book through the OTAs. We do everything we can to encourage them to book through Hilton’s own site to get the best rates. We don’t differentiate between different guests once they are in the hotel however.
Gurnik – You must figure out how to give owners the best available rates and discounts. More and more of us are moving to ensure we offer coherent benefits to our owners.
Guests have high expectations. What can veteran resorts do to keep up with newer resorts?
Booth – If you haven’t provided for capital expenditure on your resort each year, that’s poor management. Make sure you account for maintenance fees correctly. We have never increased our fees by more than the rate of inflation.
McIntosh – Find a strong and reliable management company to give your resort a future. There also needs to be a bit of realism – if you bought an old Ford Escort car, you can spend money on it, but it is never going to change into the latest model.
Gurnik – Find a partner, perhaps a larger developer organisation, to work with – or close it down. Owners’ boards are often not transparent with their owners and don’t want to have these conversations.
As a new resort developer in the room, how can I exceed guest expectations?
Booth – Build trust, manage expectations sensibly and ensure you deliver. Lose the trust of your owner base, and you’re in trouble.
McIntosh – Be inspired in what you do. Surprise and deliver.
Gurnik – Deliver what you say you’re going to deliver. Surprise and delight your owners.