This year’s RDO Conference was a success, with some world-class speakers, top-industry experts, and a varied mix of business and education sessions which proved to be informative, entertaining and motivational. Our venue for this year’s conference was once again the Don Carlos Leisure Resort & Spa located in Marbella.
The theme “The Next Chapter” was chosen to reflect the fundamental shifts taking place across the world which we have witnessed in the last couple of decades, that are only set to become ever more significant. The impacts of these technologically driven changes can be seen in almost all areas of our lives, thus it is important to understand how these developments will affect our business and the world in which we live.
The travel and tourism industry continues to increase globally, and the timeshare and vacation ownership industry is in an excellent position to capitalise on this. Throughout the decades since the concept of timeshare began developers have continued to be able to meet and often exceed the expectations of holidaymakers. As noted by conference moderator Jeremy Skidmore though, the timeshare industry has suffered from bad press, much of which in recent years has been undeserved, especially in articles from the UK and other parts of Europe.
By utilising the many new and exciting technological tools at their disposal, such as the power of modern immersive websites, social media influencers, online reviews, Artificial Intelligence and more, coupled with a growing awareness of what travellers want from their vacations from ever increasing amounts of data, timeshare developers can look forward to a successful next chapter.
This year we had two excellent keynote speakers, Leo Johnson and Daniel Hulme, each with very different experience, styles and knowledge to convey to the audience at RDO10. Their differences complimented each other very well and presented our conference delegates with highly engaging, thought provoking and useful presentations, that both offered glimpses of what the future may have in store and how our delegates can best prepare for what is to come in order to continue to thrive.
Leo Johnson gave an insightful, fascinating and entertaining keynote speech entitled “Future Proofing.” As the name suggests, he talked extensively about how the timeshare industry can prepare itself for all the fundamental future technological, economic and societal shifts that are just around the corner.
Right from the very opening of his speech, Leo kept things engaging by giving the audience the option for either just a straight-up optimistic glimpse of what the future might hold, or some darker possibilities mixed with optimism. The conference delegates overwhelmingly opted for the more realistic insight into possible dark and disruptive glimpses of what the coming decades may have in store, with a move onto more positive possibilities.
Leo certainly didn’t sugar coat things, as he launched into a look at the way technology is advancing at an astonishing rate, with computer power doubling in size every two years and the likelihood that Artificial Intelligence and machines will be able to overtake humans in efficiency, speed and quality in almost every possible area of work. The World Bank estimates that automation will replace a very high percentage of jobs globally in the coming decades, including millions of white collar jobs in the US, UK and other developed countries. This worrying trend is also coupled with accelerating climate change and millions of potential climate refugees.
If the keynote had ended on that note, or continued with further dark scenarios, then this would have been a very depressing glimpse of what we have in store. Instead, despite all of the trends he described, Leo remains optimistic and skillfully steered his speech back from the brink of an abyss to offer delegates a very promising look at how the future can turn out. What has given Leo hope for the future of humanity, businesses, the economy and society, is that he feels there is a growing global consciousness and potential for humans to be able to do much more than they have, in large part driven by the power of technology to instead liberate us.
Teams within businesses, such as within timeshare resorts can be liberated from many mindless menial jobs, freeing up time to be more creative and offering a better service to customers. The economy may move away entirely from the idea of jobs, towards tasks that truly engage and interest people, thus increasing their desire to do their very best. Rather than being a negatively disruptive force, future innovations are a way of positively unlocking the potential skills and abilities latent in all of us.
Tech can be used in the vacation business to increase profits and utilise modern trends, such as the power of crowdfunding which could be used to fund future developments like improvements to resorts, thus allowing maintenance fees to be vastly reduced and improve quality and service. Innovation within organisations, such as timeshare resorts could be de-risked, through crowdfunding and other modern ideas. Timeshare led the way in the Sharing Economy and it can now lead the way in the next decades of innovation.
The second keynote speaker at RDO10 Daniel Hulme, delivered another fascinating and important message for conference attendees, during “AI and the future of business.” Daniel, who is the founder and CEO of AI solutions company Satalia, and also Director of Business Analytics MSc at University College London, discussed with delegates at RDO10 how business owners such as those of timeshare resorts can utilise the incredible power of Artificial Intelligence to successfully improve not only their profitability and success, but also the happiness and well-being of employees.
In a similar fashion to Leo Johnson’s keynote speech, Daniel also initially offered some rather sobering insights into the rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence, coupled with the many fallibilities that exist within human understanding, perception and thinking. As Daniel explained there are many ways in which the human mind can be tricked and things are not always what they appear. AI and computers can outsmart people in many areas and they are only set to become ever more powerful. As machines become more intelligent, there need to be checks and balances developed sooner rather than later, before things become too late.
As Daniel described though, Artificial Intelligence is certainly by no means perfect and there is still likely to be several decades at least before robots are close to truly matching humans in the more advanced roles. Most machines that have been developed thus far are designed to do a specific job very well; a truly intelligent machine would be able to perform many different tasks to an advanced level and this is quite a way off.
Moving to a more optimistic outlook, Daniel described the rise of the purposeful company and how technology can liberate people to truly enjoy their roles within organisations, by reducing menial tasks which can be automated and instead allowing people to do what they love. In this sense what he suggests timeshare brands should do is create decentralised organisations with fewer hierarchical structures and really strong purposes, in order to attract talent.
With the increasing speed and power of the internet and computer tech, and the rise in a global scale ultra gig economy, timeshare brands can call on the skills of workers from all over the world for a variety of different tasks. Overall, while there are certainly upcoming future hurdles and dilemmas to overcome from the rising power in Artificial Intelligence, businesses such as timeshare brands can succeed in increasing their profitability by utilising AI to take the vast amounts of data available, create insights from this and take the relevant action based on this. Contrary to what some may believe, you don’t even need to have all of the data, you just need the right data to make things happen.
Guest Speakers and Industry Insiders
Ste Davies, a Digital Consultant, who has been working in digital communications since 2005, gave an insightful presentation entitled “The New Influence – how to build an influential brand online in the age of digital disruption.” During this he described to delegates how the internet has been changing all aspects of our lives since the mid-1990’s, with the pace of this change picking up a quicker and quicker pace. This has not all been for the best though of course, as in 2016 we reached an inflection point with the election of Donald Trump in the US and voters in the UK choosing to leave the EU with Brexit, both of which were largely driven by information shared online, much of which was false. What has been shown by this and many other incidencents driven by social media and other online platforms, is that power is being reorganised and influence has fragmented.
Ste described that although with the launch of Web 1.0 back in 1995 with the rise of web portals and forums there was much to be celebrated for a rise in individual creativity and freedom, then later by 2010 with Web 2.0 and the dawn of social networks, there was further promise from the internet for people and brands, unfortunately we got lazy as we (individuals and brands), gave away more and more of our data to ever more powerful companies like Google and Facebook.
Whereas a decade ago, towards the beginning of Web 2.0, Ste was advising brands that they didn’t need to rely on a website for marketing and growing their business, instead being able to build up a presence on social media, YouTube and other such tools, he now advises company leaders to think of their website as their home online and to build a moat around it. Instead of relying on companies like Google and Facebook solely for business, everything should now feed into traffic to your website including search engine searches, email marketing, social media networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.), messaging apps such as WhatsApp, podcasts and more.
It is also vital to post content on your website which people can’t get from the few descriptive lines on a search engine query, to increase their interest in clicking on it. This includes photos, videos and blog posts. Brands such as those within the Travel and Tourism industry should leverage influencers and utilise their power to attract people’s attention to the content they produce. Digital influencers have changed advertising and can now be searched for via various websites which have databases of influencers based on different themes such as travel, fashion or gaming.
Ste mentioned how people are increasingly losing trust in brands, governments and other large organisations, but still tend to trust people like themselves which is why influencer marketing is so powerful. Whereas before there had been a rise in fake influencers, many of whom had paid for followers and likes, there are now tools to weed out these kind of accounts and work with individuals with real engagement and loyal fanbases. Influencers will have to prove their worth as performance marketing becomes more and more important.
Brands will increasingly be focused on influencers who drive real results such as sales or bookings, as opposed to likes and brand awareness. This is a time where brands can be part of an exciting movement in which they can be at the forefront of authentic influencer marketing. As the Web 3.0 comes into force, this is likely to be based around decentralised networks, privacy, crypto assets, data ownership and digital sovereignty. Privacy is becoming the new connectedness via Messaging Apps and private social media groups and brands can tap into these tools and use them to reach out to potential customers.
Jordan Pellant, Team Lead at UK & APAC Trustpilot presented an interesting session called “Online Reviews: An untapped channel for the timeshare industry”, in which he discussed the importance of online reviews for all businesses from small to large. Customers today have greater choice, have higher expectations and are more empowered. From a survey of 1,700 online shoppers conducted by Trustpilot, one of the most powerful online review platforms, the most important aspect of increasing trust among consumers is a brand’s online reputation. On the other hand, the most significant factor for decreasing trust in your company is when negative customer comments or reviews are deleted.
What is important is to own your reputation, with your website being like your shop window. It is also vital for brand leaders to realise that their brand reputation is available to any customer, all the time. It must be always at the forefront of thinking in today’s world for all brands, especially for those with a significant online presence.
During his presentation, Jordan recommended putting reviews at every stage of the process, such as including a review section on a follow up email after guests have stayed at a resort. Brands shouldn’t try to hide negative reviews or comments though, as this makes them seem untrustworthy. Instead, it is much better for brands to be doing their best to gain positive reviews and then seen to be actively trying to solve any negative feedback. Customer service in reviews is key, so rather than just ignoring reviews, it is very important to follow up and answer them, especially the negative ones.
Ultimately, just like in practically all other industries, the travel and tourism industry is no different, as your potential clients are actively searching for your reputation online. It all starts with what appears on the search engines, so you need to ask yourself, are you happy with what appears? If not it is very important to make the relevant changes, so as to reduce the risk of more negative reviews. Critical reviews should not always been viewed negatively though, as they can be used as a very insightful tool to learn and improve your product and service.
Industry insiders Daniel Bates, Head of Yield Management & Operations Europe at Diamond Resorts, Guy Mantel, Director of Club Operations & Travel at CLC World Resorts & Hotels and Roman Sucharzewski, Vice President of Revenue Management Europe at Diamond Resorts, presented an education session called “Yield Management – Slicing the Pie”. Guy began by discussing the importance of utilising yield management for profitability and members receiving the best service. While it can result in what can seem like unfair prices, it is a vital instrument for maintaining the best profitability.
The timing of yield management is very important so as to hit high levels of occupancy and avoid facing losses. It involves a balancing act though between price and value and is necessary for putting the right people in the right place, at the right time. To be able to drive demand into places that are facing low occupancy, this is done through offers and other tools. Advanced measurement systems and experienced/quality people are vital to get the balance right of offers to avoid low occupancy, but also not cutting prices too much to avoid low profitability.
Daniel followed up by discussing the decline in timeshare inventory as a proportion of resort usage, but the continued importance of keeping members satisfied, due to the guaranteed income from them. This is another reason why yield management is so important, to be able to look at demand from members and to be careful when asking for inventory to use for hotel room bookings.
Roman discussed the move towards shifting timeshare products to hotel rooms and the continuing and growing success of this transition. Around 12 years ago this started for Diamond Resorts with a presence on Booking.com, Expedia and direct bookings. This has now been shifted to many more distribution channels such as OTAs, direct booking, wholesalers, exchange, group bookings and niche offline bookings. The booking process used to be a manual process, but since expanding the number of different booking channels, Diamond Resorts now has invested in an automated booking process. In order to increase direct bookings, the company has been dedicated to building the Diamond Resorts name for hotels. This includes an offline approach with paper brochures for older guests and a synchronised digital strategy, through social media, updated company website and resort microsites.
Chris Emmins, co-founder and Director of KwikChex, presented a key session on “Claims & Enforcement: Getting on the front foot” in which he discussed the fight back that is now being waged against claims companies that target timeshare owners in the UK and Spain.
He reported that some of these businesses have been closed down, with a number of arrests made and people sent to prison.
Unfortunately, as with many scams, a lot of the people being targeted are elderly and vulnerable. What is important to highlight to people, is that with both RDO and EUROC members there are either free or lower cost ways relinquish timeshares, if they really feel they need to, or can no longer afford the product or travel anymore. In this informative talk, Chris showed how KwikChex has managed to engage with the UK and other governmental authorities and is starting to turn the tide against the criminals.
Ken McKelvey, Chairman of ARDA-ROC, Jane Gilmartin, Member Relations Manager of EUROC and Nigel Howells Vice Chairman of EUROC and Chairman at Craigendarroch Owners’ Club Committee, presented “EUROC: Giving timeshare owners a real voice.” To start off this useful session Ken described the situation in the US in which there are 1.5 million members of the Resort Owners Coalition, representing around 20% of total US owners. He talked about how the mission of ARDA-ROC is to enhance member’s experience of timeshare, and how developers and members working together is better for everyone.
Jane described the progress at EUROC so far, where there has been a busy five months since the organisation was formed with its new objectives and website. The aim is to be totally self-funded by 2020 and they are 50% there currently which is fantastic for a new organisation. They had great success at their first seminar for resort owners’ committees held recently in Birmingham, where there were 65 people in attendance with owners’ representatives from the UK, Spain, Denmark and more. There was a great deal of positive feedback from the day. The highlight of that seminar was an owner who introduced his children to attendees during his presentation, and talked about how much he and his family loved their timeshare holidays.
Nigel talked about how beneficial the Craigendarroch Owners’ Club Committee considered EUROC to be, with its 4,000 owners from all around the world. He encouraged member committees to join EUROC and suggested it was a no-brainer, asking why wouldn’t you join? In answer to an audience question regarding British bias to EUROC, he pointed out that the organisation was fast becoming international with members joining through their Club Committees from all over the world.
There was also an update on RDO’s legal and enforcement activity entitled “All things legal” from Paul Gardner Bougaard – Chief Executive, RDO Ltd, Eugene Miskelly – General Counsel, CLC World Resorts & Hotels, Jose Miguel Echenagusia – Vice President Legal Services EMEAA, Interval International and Rob Webb – Partner, BakerHostetler. During this session, the panel brought us up to speed on developments in the areas RDO is most engaged in at present.
This covered the latest position on the lobby to deal with the over rulings on timeshare by the Spanish Supreme Court, the progress of this year’s enhanced enforcement programme and the myriad of legal issues delegates find themselves dealing with.
In the final interactive session of RDO10 “The Next Chapter” a panel of industry insider experts took an honest look at where we are as an industry, and helped to consider what was needed to move forward to that next chapter. There was Jason Gamel, President & CEO of ARDA (American Resort Development Association), Paul Gardner Bougaard, CEO of RDO Ltd, Lee Dowling, Managing Director EME, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Darren Ettridge, SVP Resort Sales & Service EMEAA, Interval International, Robin Mills, Vice President Business Development EMEA, RCI Exchange, Jose Puente Orench, Solicitor, Gomez-Acebo & Pombo and Spanish Legal Counsel to RDO.
This was a lively discussion with a number of different viewpoints discussed and some interesting and at times challenging questions posed by delegates in the audience. To start off Jason mentioned how consolidation in the US has happened extensively over the last 20 years. All major developers (and smaller developers too) are switching up marketing a lot. Paul added that he now sees a positive outlook for Europe for the future with the recent new developments, especially in terms of fighting back against false claims and with the creation of EUROC.
Lee discussed how personalised experiences for the guests are becoming so important in the industry to attract new customers to timeshare. He also mentioned ecological aspects of travel are becoming increasingly vital to consider and that this is a way for guests to give back. Darren suggested how the demand for holidays continues to grow, so even if there is competition from AirBnb and others, the number of people travelling keeps increasing, thus offering many new potential guests. Robin also feels that the outlook for the timeshare industry is bright. Jose added that people, including delegates themselves are travelling in a different way and this definitely needs to be addressed. With just a few clicks on a computer or mobile phone, flights and accommodation can be booked.
Following their opening remarks, delegates in the audience then asked a number of insightful questions to really get the panelists thinking. These included “What are the biggest challenges in terms of legal issues?”, “How can we attract new guests who have already tried the product (such as adults who tried the products as kids on family holidays)?”, “Have we lost our innovative edge and are we underestimating what the customer expects?”, “If we were launching timeshare today, what would the product look like?” and “How can we improve in the future?”
The overriding feeling from the panellists was of positivity and that the timeshare industry has a long and successful future ahead of it, as long as brands continue to innovate and adapt to what modern day travellers are looking for. They also argued that timeshare developers should play to their strengths in terms of offering amazing service, location and features, not try to outcompete Airbnb and also aim to uncomplicate the different products in the future, rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
RDO would like to take the opportunity to thank Don Carlos Leisure Resort & Spa for their hospitality. The accommodation, staff, food and drink and overall atmosphere were all second to none. We would also like to extend our thanks to to the conference working group who once again did an outstanding job.
We would like to offer a big thanks to this year’s Platinum sponsors, Interval International & RCI. Also, our thanks go to Light Enterprises for producing the opening film. We are extremely grateful for all the support that our sponsors offer to the event each year which wouldn’t be possible without them.
You can find a round-up of RDO10 on the dedicated conference website, which contains the opening film, wrap film, delegate brochure, and photos.