An open letter to the RDO and European Timeshare industry
It’s no secret that the timeshare sector has long had an image and marketing problem.
A timeshare study done some time ago showed that while 80% of customers were happy with their product, the same percentage of people were not happy with the way they were enticed into a timeshare presentation or pressured to buy.
While many resorts have made efforts to improve their sales practices in recent years, the industry still has its share of players who are pulling people off the streets and then giving them a high pressure sales presentation, and we still see plenty of holiday pack scams and buy back rip offs too.
Unfortunately, these practices reflect badly on the whole of the timeshare industry, and we have to make an extra positive effort to counteract the damage. Someone needs to stand up and lead the timeshare industry towards more effective marketing methods, and we think this should be the RDO backed up by the Exchange companies and leading resorts with a solid reputation to maintain.
It is clear that the timeshare industry can do much better when it comes to reaching out to prospective customers. But how?
Embrace new and smarter marketing
A savvy marketer will quickly suggest taking advantage of the social media to reach out to timeshare owners and prospective clients. And, just as quickly, she is likely to be dismissed by those who view social media as nothing but the latest marketing buzzword.
However, the change we are proposing is not about using social media for its own sake. In recent years, there has been a radical shift in the way people communicate and also in the way they get the information they then use to decide what they buy and where they go on holiday. The opinions of friends — and even perfect strangers online — now play a bigger part than ever in decisions we make.
This should come as no surprise because third-party comments and reviews are seen to be unbiased and disinterested. This means they come across as more credible than anything a timeshare resort could say about itself.
The other factor is that people do not like to feel that they are being sold to, and unconsciously put up mental barriers to counteract that when it happens.
However, when timeshare owners and guests share their experience on the social media or post photos for their friends to see, the resort is still being sold, but in a much more subtle way that is practically invisible and thus more powerful. One of the primary goals of timeshare marketing, therefore, must be to encourage this kind of interaction between the resort’s clients and their friends.
Social Media marketing is an ongoing process, not a magic wand
Social media offers timeshare companies an unparalleled opportunity to engage with guests/owners and others to promote their resorts more effectively. And yet, this is no quick and easy magic solution.
Savvy engagement and marketing on the social media needs to become part of the timeshare industry’s DNA. The effort needs to be solid and ongoing, and results will to take time to happen — perhaps even years. We are calling for a strong social media commitment from everyone in the industry: resorts, organising bodies, the media, and ultimately even owners and potential owners themselves, all working together to make this happen.
The digital revolution has transformed many industries already, from newspapers and TV to travel agents and flight companies, and the marketing industry is no exception.
The biggest obstacle facing resort managers and marketers in this regard is fear of the new, the unknown and the ever-changing. The result of this fear is that no training, no budget and no resources are devoted to the resort’s social media program, which needs all the above to succeed and function at its best.
One of the main issues resort marketers and community managers face is how fast the technology evolves and changes. It can be extremely difficult to stay up to date with social media and digital advancements. This is why there needs to be an educational plan in place, where experts who know what they are doing advise everyone else about how to take advantage of the latest developments.
Social media education must start first with resort directors and resort community managers, and then continue with other employees and eventually industry partners too. A resort’s community manager needs to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them as well as the necessary skills to lead the rest of the resort down the new digital marketing path.
Engage your owners and help them do your marketing for you
Many hotels are already taking advantage of social media marketing to boost reservations and they are a constant reminder of how effective this method can be when done right. For example, at Sands Beach Resort, Lanzarote, we have increased reservations by 30% in the three years since the start of the resort’s digital transformation thanks to a social media strategy that has won us critical acclaim.
The good news for the timeshare industry is that timeshare resorts have an added advantage over hotels when it comes to engaging people on social media. Guests who stay at a hotel probably do not want to have a long term relationship with the hotel because they are just there on a one-off visit. Hotel guests might interact with the hotel just before their stay, during and maybe for a short time afterwards, but a timeshare owner has a long-term interest in the resort and wants to know what’s going on.
This makes timeshare owners your biggest potential social media influencers – the people most likely to spread the good word about your resort – and they should be the industry’s marketing trump card. They need to be engaged online and encouraged to post about your resort and its facilities and events, share photos of their stay and tell their friends and networks about the good times they have.
Take a look at how Pearly Grey Ocean Club engages with owners on its Facebook page to see an example of this in action.
A proven plan for timeshare social media marketing
The good reputation of the timeshare industry in Europe will not be won back in the courtrooms, or by a one-off promotion or anything like that. There needs to be a strategy in place that starts with timeshare resorts engaging with their owners, providing valuable content via social media platforms, and building communities of brand advocates.
Social Media is not a distribution channel, so it makes no sense to talk about cost per lead and closing rates here. The goal has to be about engagement, reputation building, providing a fabulous service, and basically getting up close and personal and treating owners and guests as good friends.
With that in mind, here is a 10 point outline Digital Transformation Plan for the timeshare Industry to follow.
- The European timeshare industry should follow a coordinated overall strategy, implemented by the different resorts.
- Change starts with education, and so the RDO, along with the exchange bodies, should appoint a company to oversee education and training for the staff at the timeshare resorts they work with.
- The training should focus on informing the resort managers first, to give them an overall understanding of social media and the power of digital marketing, followed by more intensive practical training for the resort community managers and other marketing staff.
- Industry partners and resort staff should be encouraged to join in and engage with resorts and owners using their own social media accounts, and also work with the resort on joint and cross-marketing opportunities.
- Resort marketing teams, led by the resort’s community manager, need to become like media companies, blogging, taking fabulous photos and making short online videos.
- This whole process relies on developing a strong and friendly online relationship between the owners and the timeshare resorts. Everything else with then fall into place once that happens.
- There has to be ongoing collaboration in place between the the company leading the training and educating process and the resorts, so that they continue to remain up to date in changes that are happening in the social media and in the digital arena,
- Resorts need to keep an ear out for what is being said about them and respond as necessary. We recommend using the Revinate software to track comments and reviews that are posted online and respond to them as quickly as possible, in order to show that the resort cares. This includes comments on Tripadvisor, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and so on.
- The RDO should encourage resorts to engage in social media marketing by setting up a ‘webby’ style awards scheme, with prizes handed out to the best performers in the industry at the RDO conference.
- The overarching principle to remember is that we are not selling timeshare for its own sake. We are selling experiences of a lifetime. Our message must reflect that and needs to be fun, positive, full of energy and, above all, respectful.
As timeshare resorts discover these new tools and opportunities to market smarter by building more meaningful engagements with their owners and guests over the social media, it is only a matter of time until we begin to see some resorts start to break away from the pack.
However, there is no excuse to be left behind as the timeshare marketing landscape continues to change dramatically.
We believe those timeshare resorts that team up and work together to perfect their social media marketing strategy as we have described will have a huge advantage in the long run over resorts that decide to go it alone, and especially over resorts that unfortunately choose to bury their heads in the sand.
Written by Andrew De Gabriele & John Beckley