After years of uncertainty and disruption, travelers are craving peace of mind, flexibility, and exclusive perks. By addressing these customer experience needs, the shared vacation ownership sector is building brand credibility, driving loyalty, and setting the stage for a new era of growth. [ARDA]
As the travel industry emerges from the pandemic and traveler preferences shift, loyalty is up for grabs. Companies are rethinking traditional levers such as point-based travel while also experimenting with new models such as subscriptions. At the intersection of these trends sits the timeshare, an industry with unique, longstanding relationships with its customers. Now that a new generation of owners is discovering the flexibility of shared vacation ownership, the industry is entering a transformative era.
SkiftX spoke with John Staten, president and CEO of Holiday Inn Club Vacations Incorporated, to explore how timeshare companies are elevating the customer experience and driving engagement and loyalty while also highlighting how this approach fits within the broader evolution of the timeshare industry.
SkiftX: Can you provide an overview of the Holiday Inn Club Vacations brand and portfolio?
John Staten: Holiday Inn Club Vacations is a vacation ownership company on a mission to be the most loved brand in family travel by delivering easy-to-plan, memorable vacation experiences that strengthen families. Since our founder, Kemmons Wilson, opened our flagship Orange Lake Resort more than 40 years ago in Orlando, Florida, family has remained at the core of everything we do.
Our growing resort network includes destinations located throughout the U.S. that families love, including — but not limited to — Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and our newest resort in New Orleans.
SkiftX: How has the customer experience at Holiday Inn Club Vacations evolved over time?
Staten: During our company’s early years, owners traveled to the same villa within the same resort during the same week. After recognizing that owners wanted more flexibility and options, our company evolved to the point-based system, now widely adopted across the industry, and partnered with a global leader in hospitality, IHG Hotels & Resorts.
All travel and hospitality brands are now expected to deliver unique and personalized experiences, along with seamless digital solutions. Last year, Holiday Inn Club Vacations introduced a new program, VIP Experiences, to provide curated and exclusive experiences such as concerts with backstage access, behind-the-scenes tours of local attractions, wine tastings, authentic luaus, and more. The program has proved to be very popular among our members, who are constantly looking for new and unique vacation experiences near our resorts.
Additionally, digital transformation among our internal and external platforms has been a top focus for our organization over the last few years. We know our owners and guests live in a digital world and expect to be able to interact with our brand via digital channels.
For each of our resorts, we’ve built an online portal with all of the information guests may need about the property. Easily accessible via a QR code received at check in, the portal includes a resort map, details about onsite restaurants, amenities and activities, local things to do, and more. We leverage customer data to fully understand and anticipate what they want and need to provide them with personalized experiences that align with how they want to interact.
One of our key growth strategies is centered on customer obsession, as we know that today’s consumers now expect this level of attention and care from brands. Last year, our owner support team earned a J.D. Power certification for providing an “Outstanding Customer Service Experience.” Earning this prestigious certification was no easy feat, but it was an important step in showing our commitment to becoming a customer-obsessed organization.
SkiftX: What exactly do you mean by “customer obsession”?
Staten: At its foundation, being customer obsessed means developing long-term relationships with our customers. In today’s world, most companies claim to be customer obsessed, but their operating model, and more importantly their culture, is built around a transactional mindset. To be customer obsessed, you have to focus on building relationships.
Being customer-obsessed means we have a passionate team, enabled by data and technology, that anticipates and exceeds the needs of our owners and guests — with an emphasis on anticipation.
Most of our owners have long-standing relationships with Holiday Inn Club Vacations, so they see our brand as more than simply a resort. We must be a trusted travel partner and take the time to learn our owners’ preferences and behaviors. We then use those valuable insights to provide personalized recommendations and experiences that fit their needs.
SkiftX: What role does employee experience play in elevating customer service?
Staten: Without a culture that reinforces the organization’s collective focus on excellent service, customers will end up with vastly different experiences depending on which team they’re interacting with. Consistency is important in delivering an exceptional customer experience. Because customer obsession is one of our top five strategic initiatives, we actually embedded it as a metric into our employee bonus structure.
SkiftX: You joined Holiday Inn Club Vacations from outside the travel and hospitality world. What best practices in customer experience are you adopting from other industries?
Staten: Prior to joining Holiday Inn Club Vacations, I spent time in many different industries, including aviation, telecommunications, technology, and higher education. From this experience, I can tell you that consumers have similar expectations throughout various facets of their lives, regardless of the product or brand. The consumer has never been more empowered to decide and demand how they want to be marketed, sold to, and serviced than they are today. Advancements in technology and information have resulted in today’s consumers being far more knowledgeable than ever before. Plus, today’s consumers are completely intolerant of lackluster customer service and will not hesitate to drop a brand immediately for not living up to their expectations.
When it comes to improving customer experience, a key best practice for any brand is to look across all the industries your consumer transacts in to understand their expectations.
SkiftX: How do trust and credibility contribute to better customer experiences?
Staten: You can’t build a relationship with anyone you don’t trust. Trust and credibility are vital for an industry like ours where we have long-standing — sometimes lifelong — relationships with owners and Club members. In addition to our focus on providing customer-obsessed service, we are also committed to actively listening and capturing feedback as we make decisions and plan our future.
One of the worst things a brand can do is to ask customers for feedback and do nothing with it. Customers want to know that their voice matters. Timeshare owners are extremely loyal travelers, with 84 percent of owners indicating in ARDA’s 2022 Owner’s Report that in hindsight they would buy a timeshare again. That level of loyalty doesn’t occur without first building trust.