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ARTICLE InspirationMay 17, 2014

Tourism series, part 3: Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific

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Creating a great website and an online accommodation booking experience that is intuitive is a challenge for any tourism operator. Imagine, then, trying to create this experience across 24 local resorts in a 70-strong property portfolio worldwide! Mark Potgieter from Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific shares his insights.

From Seven Mile Beach in Tassie, to Denarau Island in Fiji, as part of the greater Wyndham Worldwide group, Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific operates a network of 24 resorts throughout Australia, Fiji and New Zealand.

In addition to simply accepting first-come, first-served bookings, its WorldMark South Pacific Club is a timeshare-style club with 47,000 members who choose to holiday each year at the group’s various resorts across the globe.

A challenge that Wyndham and many other tourism operators face is how to provide a great user experience for very different audiences: people who are new to the brand, as well as loyal customers.

In Wyndham’s case, its website needs to cater for its WorldMark South Pacific Club members, who may be very familiar with the group’s resorts. But it also needs to cater for online users who may never have stayed at a Wyndham property before and are looking to book a holiday. This means the site not only has to showcase the whole resort portfolio, it also needs to allow vacation club members to check availability in real time and facilitate secure online bookings for both new and existing customers.

Online accommodation booking for existing customers

Many WorldMark South Pacific Club members simply want to search resort availability and make a booking. To cater for these users, Wyndham introduced online booking for WorldMark South Pacific Club members in 2005.

“We were one of the first vacation ownership companies to offer this function to members in this region. Our major competitors still don’t offer this function,” explains Mark Potgieter, Senior Vice President of Marketing and WorldMark Services.

As a result of offering accommodation booking online, 40 per cent of WorldMark South Pacific Club bookings are made online and the aim is to boost this to 50 per cent in 2014. The online move has significantly reduced the length of phone queues and has given members more control over their bookings.

On the hotel side, it is a more complex picture, says Potgieter. “Due to our large portfolio, we have to manage different property management systems, which presents us with some challenges. However, with the rise of intermediary applications such as SiteMinder/ResOnline, we managed to offer this function in 2008.”

While Wyndham’s strategy is focused on facilitating online bookings, Potgieter recognises that sometimes it is important to talk to customers directly.

“Some aspects of our product can be relatively complex. Providing an explanation in writing sometimes doesn’t carry the tone we want to communicate with our customers,” he explains.

On the hotel side, it’s important for us to ensure our customers experience the same look and feel across multiple properties and receive the same level of service from both offline and online channels."

Mark Potgieter, Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific

Online booking platforms and e-commerce security

Having started Wyndham’s online journey nine years ago, Potgieter says keeping up with customers’ changing online behaviour and the short life cycle of some technologies is a challenge. “Every large company has some business processes operating on legacy systems, which sometimes prevents us from moving as quickly as we would like to,” he explains.

He adds: “On the hotel side, it’s important for us to ensure our customers experience the same look and feel across multiple properties and receive the same level of service from both offline and online channels.”

The most important aspect of being online, however, is prioritising customer privacy and payment security, believes Potgieter. “We certainly don’t want to be in the same situation as Target in the US in December last year,” he says.

Potgieter is referring to the retail giant’s data breach of up to 110 million customers’ information. “At Wyndham we take customer privacy very seriously,” he says.

To support these security and privacy goals, Wyndham began working with SecurePay about five years ago. Potgieter says there were a number of reasons the group introduced a payment gateway: “operational efficiency, security and customer experience enhancement”.

He explains that now customers can book and pay at any time that suits them, and they are safe in the knowledge that their credit card details are safe.

“SecurePay helped us to comply with all security requirements without having to invest a lot of money,” he says.

Making the online marketing move

The rapid rate of online change has also heavily influenced Wyndham’s approach to marketing. “We need to understand what the internet does for consumers – it gives them power,” says Potgieter. “Customers can get information about products online, from their friends and family – they don’t have to believe what companies say. Our online strategy focuses on offering great experiences to our customers, who then share those experiences online, which has greater credibility,” he says.

Consequently, Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific’s marketing strategy encourages customers to share their holiday experiences on social media platforms such as Facebook , Pinterest and blogs. And, with so many of Wyndham’s customers having a long-standing association with the brand, many even provide the company with content to be used on its own online channels, including holiday stories and photos.

Customers’ affiliation with the brand and their high level of online engagement was a pleasant surprise, says Potgieter. “Before we introduced a social media strategy, we were not sure how our customers would react. We were also unsure whether they would care enough to interact with us directly. As a result, we didn’t put many resources into supporting the initiative during the first six months,” he explains.

It wasn’t long before Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific moved to strengthen its social media approach. “It turned out that we got overwhelming responses from our customers. We then had to expand the support structure to the whole company.”

Did you know?

SecurePay integrates with a number of accommodation booking systems, including YesBookit and Bookeasy.

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