Wyndham Exchange & Rentals CEO Geoff Ballotti talks to Danielle Drolet about the challenges of entry into the US vacation rental industry
What's the biggest challenge for the rental and exchange industry?
It's telling the story of why vacation rentals are such a compelling value and great alternative to staying in a hotel for people looking for a vacation. I think Europeans are very attuned to and comfortable with renting someone else's home for a vacation, but I think Americans worry about sleeping on someone else's bed and using someone else's cutlery.
The challenge from a PR standpoint is how do you talk about the value of renting someone else's house and how do you convince consumers they're better off staying at someone else's house.
How does Resort Quest, which you acquired last year, fit into your brand portfolio?We entered the US vacation rental industry by acquiring Resort Quest. Having spent my whole career in the hotel industry, I was really amazed just how fragmented and small an industry it is here.
By affiliating Resort Quest with Wyndham, we hope to tell consumers who are worried about renting someone else's house and not having it the way they envisioned it that we stand behind it.
How is PR positioned in your business model?The impression made by our PR team is much more powerful than any we might make with a consumer from an ad standpoint. I involve them in absolutely everything we do from strategic planning to internal communications along with, of course, all their external communications work. It's crucial they know what's going on and are in tune with the strategy.
We're always thinking as a team as we market through their eyes in terms of defining the message. I'm a huge believer that everything communicates and so often just the slightest miscommunication is a missed opportunity. The PR team must always have a seat at the table when it comes to the running of our business.
How has social media changed the way you look at the business?
When everybody starts talking about social media, I first think of PR. In my mind, social media is PR; it's PR for the common day. It's really all about making it more pull than push. The way we've marketed for years with e-mail has been a push. We've got a great database – let's explore it, mine it, and market it.
In the past couple of years, we've done a complete about-face on that. We became very aware of how many times we were targeting members or potential vacationers with push messages. Now, it's now all about embracing the pull philosophy. Our members are choosing to connect with us.
How else do you connect with your audience?Web-based video is the place to be. Here's a compelling statistic: there's only a couple hundred million smartphones today in the world, but there are ten times that amount of mobile phones that aren't “smart.” That number will change, which means companies, when we speak about pulling versus pushing content, need to have the content.
If a picture was worth a thousand words a couple of years ago, a video now is worth a million words. Everybody would much rather look at a video than a photo when they're thinking about planning their vacation. Our whole campaign with our resort portfolio on both the exchange and rental sides has been about getting great video content.