“Book Direct and Save.”
That’s the marketing slogan we’ve all heard major hotel brands use in catchy television and digital advertisements. It’s a simple phrase that effectively underscores a sophisticated long-term marketing strategy designed to develop brand loyalty, enhance the customer experience, and leverage the value of consumer information. Can independent hoteliers who lack the marketing power and name recognition of big hotel brands play this game? I think so. But we need to become more adept at understanding the digital marketing tools and meta-search engines we have at our disposal. We can then leverage this technology to create and promote our own brands and tell our own stories.
My story begins ten years ago. After finishing my undergraduate studies at Yale and earning a master’s degree from Harvard, I made an animated documentary short about the perils of technology (the irony is not lost on me) that played in several major film festivals. I then moved to LA and worked in script development and casting for an Oscar-winning producer. I was convinced that I would spend my life in the film industry. Yet, all that changed in March 2014 when I took a mini-vacation to visit my family in Miami. During that trip, I had lunch with my uncle, one of the pioneers of the timeshare industry in the United States. We spoke for hours about marketing, management, and the future of the timeshare industry. This conversation lit a spark that grew into a life-changing opportunity for me at Star Island, a resort near Orlando.
Three months later, I moved across the country to begin my new job. Upon arrival, I spent two weeks in every department of the Star Island Resort – from housekeeping to accounting – learning the ins and outs of the hotel and timeshare industries. Today, I am the Executive Vice President of Star Island Management and Star Island Development. While I oversee all aspects of these businesses, revenue management and digital marketing are my passions.
Since 2014, our gross rental revenue has more than doubled while our net income has increased six times over. We have successfully maximized hotel revenue by changing our advertising efforts to emphasize direct bookings and brand loyalty. In doing so, we have improved the percentage of our direct business from 5% to 55% while further enhancing our guiding philosophy of optimizing the customer’s rental experience.
Our biggest leap forward came in April 2017 when we began a multi-tiered social media campaign. After thoroughly studying social media advertising with my wife, an experienced graphic designer and marketer, we designed a trial advertising campaign that proved enormously successful but required only a minimal investment. By the end of 2017, our social media advertising generated nearly $500,000. In 2018, that number grew to $1,000,000. This year we are on pace to do even substantially better.
In vacation ownership terms, social media advertising acts as a cutting-edge technological tool that generates the functional equivalent of tour flow. Where many reading this article develop tour flow for vacation-ownership sales, we are establishing a new base of potential renters. To date, we have created over 600,000 unique renter leads that have never visited, let alone booked on our resort’s website, from over 100 multi-platform and multimedia ads.
If you are in timeshare sales, you know how much money you generate per tour, and you work to increase the efficiency of those tours. While the timeshare industry thus has VPG (volume per guest) statistics, we look at RPC (revenue per click) and CPC (cost per click). Where you might know you may make $1,400 per tour, I calculate how much rental revenue we create per click. RPC on our website has increased threefold since the introduction of social media generated advertising traffic. Moreover, when you compare the CPC and RPC numbers of our social media generated web clicks, we currently produce a 60 x ROI.
How did we accomplish this? The answer is that we regard analytics and purpose-driven curation of content to be paramount in our evolving digital economy. Together, they provide data that enable us to better understand our customers and determine what they want. We then design marketing campaigns to give our customers what they seek by predicating advertising decisions on analytical facts, not subjective theories. Doing so not only increases our efficiency and revenue, but it also prioritizes our long-term success by improving our brand and developing better consumer relationships.
More and more, vacation memories have become beautiful souvenirs that people eagerly share on social media platforms. In fact, these “Instagramable” moments have become invaluable social-media currency for an ever-growing segment of the population. As a result, vacationers do not only seek hotel accommodations that offer great value at an unbeatable price. They also desire photogenic experiences they can capture and curate themselves – ones that will look cool to their social media followers. By developing ads that cater to all these desires, we earn our rental business one click at a time. We give our customers what they want and improve our bottom-line in the process.
There’s no magic to this process. It’s just a matter of marketing your compelling story to create direct bookings.
Matthew Meyers is the Executive Vice President of Star Island Management and Star Island Development. Mr. Meyers oversees Star Island Resort, a premier destination timeshare development in Kissimmee, Florida with over 20,000 owners, 900 rooms, and 250 employees. He is in charge of all resort operations, management, sales and marketing, on-site revenue, hotel rentals, and new development. (firstname.lastname@example.org; linkedin.com/in/matthew-meyers-67b547121)