Online (and Offline) Ways to Meet Five Modern Resort Marketing Challenges

Vacation Ownership review question

It’s a golden rule of marketing: To reach your customer, you must understand the buyer’s journey. Sounds easy on paper. But according to travel, transport and logistics providers, McKinsey & Company data, the average person’s purchase journey for a single hotel room lasts 36 days, hits 45 touchpoints and involves multiple devices. A potential guest may use several search engines and visit your resort’s website or mobile app. She will likely click on several Online Travel Agencies (OTA) (i.e., Expedia, Hotwire, etc.). She will hear, see and read messages on streaming services, television, radio, travel magazines and billboards.

While large, global hotel brands have the means to achieve substantial reach across all channels, most other resorts must be more selective and choose the right touchpoints. How do you narrow it down? The answer is different for each resort. But we’ve helped several resorts reach their key targets and overcome these five common challenges:

Challenge #1. Effectively managing online reviews. Seventy-seven percent of travelers consider online reviews important. So, if you don’t have people responding to reviews promptly and professionally, you’re losing income.

Today’s travelers want to know how a timeshare resort will meet their needs and respond if things go badly (or if they go well). Reviews build credibility, community engagement, and ultimately can impact your ability to qualify for the best advertising rates on platforms like Google and Facebook.

The solution: Start by assigning someone to update your online listings (address, phone number, manager phone number and other contact information on your website, social channels, Google Business listings and other online directories) regularly. This may be a one-person job for a single resort. If your resort spans multiple locations, you may consider hiring an online reputation management service to take care of these details.
Such a service will also monitor and respond to reviews on your resort’s owned websites and social media channels and on third-party travel sites. Make sure any responses the vendor develops communicate your brand’s tone and voice. Visitors will see the respondent as an extension of your resort.

Challenge #2: Using authenticity to entice guests. Today’s guests want to know a brand’s values. They’re influenced by their peers. And they crave authenticity.

The solution: Bring guest reviews to life. We’ve found that testimonials online and offline drive potential travelers to dig deeper into their vacation planning journey. That real-life experience adds value to potential guests.
Online, influencer marketing, primarily through Instagram, continues to grow among U.S. hotels. This happens when vacation ownership resorts partner with key people to spread the word about their brands’ values and message. Before you hire someone to find influencers (or choose them yourself), know your own brand. Social media influencers like to work with brands whose values align with their own. Ensure any influencer speaking on your behalf actually experiences what you have to offer. Reading off your website won’t cut it.

Offline, we’ve seen success with resorts that leverage the equity of a respected media personality. Clients will ask a popular radio DJ to do a live feed from their resort and talk up his or her experience. Others may ask a well-known TV news reporter to do a segment on a hot new timeshare resort feature. We’ve seen clients experience an increase in social media chatter and a 3-5 percent lift in web traffic using this strategy. I can’t stress enough the value of having people talk about a live experience at your property. Consumers know when it’s just a script!

Challenge #3: Reaching your target audience. While this will be different for each resort, having several building blocks in place will help you create a solid online foundation.

The solution: First, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) remain two important areas when trying to capture potential guests. Invest in keyword research, optimize your website’s meta descriptions and headers, and track core keyword performance.

Also, wisely invest in paid social advertising. Testing is key. Consider your audience and creative as the main variables you should be testing across the various social platforms. Start with a diverse mix of images, headlines, calls to action and unit sizes. Match them up with various target segments and optimize into metrics that drive business outcomes (don’t just focus on soft metrics like engagement/shares). Use a mix of slick resort photos and user-generated-style imagery to test what works best (it may be different for each property).

Finally, use your website data to your advantage. Take the website content getting the most clicks and turn it into paid social advertising to drive additional traffic.

Challenge #4. Competing with Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and short-term home rental companies (such as Airbnb).

According to Phocuswright, OTAs accounted for 51 percent of U.S. hotel and lodging online gross bookings in 2018. Resorts make less on OTA bookings than on direct bookings, yet an OTA booking derives more revenue than an empty room.

The solution: Consider remarketing — the practice of serving targeted ads to people who have visited your website previously — both on and off the OTA platform. Here’s how it works. A consumer visits your website and shows interest in your vacation ownership resort. But she is still in the research phase and isn’t ready to book.

Later, she visits an OTA. If you remarket your resort on the OTA of that guest’s choice, it may encourage her to visit your site again and book directly with you, or it may help to convert on that OTA. Use an enticing call to action. Focus on the deal you’re offering or build a sense of urgency (“You already did the hard work; now book easily and enjoy.”). Additionally, consider dynamic remarketing which can serve up creative based on a user’s previous site interaction.

Challenge #5. Getting beyond email marketing.

Email marketing continues to show a high return on investment. It’s likely the backbone of your customer relationship management (CRM) database. Yet as Generation Z embraces mobile, spam filters get stronger and major email providers filter promotional items from your inbox, email’s effectiveness is beginning to erode.

The solution: Don’t surrender your email marketing plans. But do test other potential touch points. These may include push messaging, texting and other techniques you can use to build relationships with potential guests. If your target includes younger consumers, do this sooner than later.

These tips offer components of some of the more successful campaigns we’ve developed for our clients. But each timeshare resort must embrace its own unique journey. The more you know your resort’s target audience and values, the better you’ll be able to properly allocate a marketing plan and find the optimal ways for your resort to build brand awareness and drive guest traffic.

Kristen Costello is group director, digital, for JL Media, an award-winning integrated media and marketing company located in Union, New Jersey.