Sharing time, pleasure and profits

Pali Badwal, MD, RCI India, highlights how RCI has been able to stay ahead of time in the vacation timeshare industry – BY HUNED CONTRACTOR

RCI holds a leadership position in vacation exchange, offering the world’s largest vacation exchange network and providing first-to-market innovations, and unrivalled products and services to enhance the vacation ownership experience. Through its exchange programme, RCI® Weeks, RCI helps its members take the vacations of their dreams and explore the world through nearly 4,500 affiliated resorts in over 100 countries. Members can also enjoy other great deals on travel, cruises and rental opportunities, as well as a host of other travel and lifestyle benefits through the RCI Platinum® membership tier. Excerpts from the interview:

After having taken over, two and a half years ago, what are the fresh ideas and synergies introduced by you that have helped RCI shake off its stagnancy?
I would say it is a combination of two forces. On one hand is the consumer member and on the other is the developer. If you work on the latter first, it helps with energizing the former. From my earlier experience of working with developers in Europe, my recent visits to resorts to inspect and understand them was to get clarity about what should be built to match the changing taste of the consumers. It is very important today to know not only what to build but also where and what to build, which includes the styling and preferences of the consumer. The Indian consumer has a certain desire for typical things when it comes to staying at a resort. For instance, a vacation somehow means going to a beach resort. And that’s why Goa ranks so high on the list. Then there are some who will prefer hill stations, as for example Ooty, Coorg, Munnar or Manali. In that case the expectations are set.
Our role is therefore to understand these expectations and deliver accordingly. The question is how do you arrive at a perfect understanding of these traits and aspirations? In our case, we have regular interactions with our members wherein we get their feedback to know what they want out of a holiday, what are the destinations that are most popular, etc. We can then move the market through our developers and suggest them where the properties must be built. There are many aspects involved. Would a consumer prefer a location where he or she can fly to? Or would a drive make for a better experience? We are very passionate about all such details and we want to translate all these things into giving the consumer a wonderful time.

So how does the marketing of all your resorts work?
We have a resort categorisation system based on member feedback, translated into scores. All member resorts are affiliated. The moment a member completes a vacation stay, he or she gets a comment card, also sent in the digital format, which is filled in and returned. The inputs are collected from all the resorts and the scoring is in terms of hospitality, location, service, and other factors. Essentially, it is a way of knowing for sure how each of our members has experienced the stay and this is marked in terms of gold, silver, standard, and so on. This is important feedback both for us and for the developers to build future resorts. It also helps in deciding the pricing at each resort.

Does this imply that the ranking for each resort will keep changing?
Yes, that is the case because there are many reasons for which the members’ scoring may fluctuate. For example, the service at a particular resort may slip from gold to silver because of the unforeseen situation of the general manager having quit the job or several of the housekeeping staff having left for other pastures. Or it could be that there is some refurbishment work going on at a resort that may have inconvenienced the members. Therefore, a constant scoring pattern is essential to keep in touch with what is happening at the various resorts and then work out modalities to ensure improvement.

Does it help build a better rapport between you and your partners?
It definitely does because this kind of feedback is very transparent. They get to see the same members’ comments as us and so we are on the same page. Also, it helps create long-term relationships. Toshali, for instance, was our first affiliated resort back in 1992 and they are still with us. It is important for a timeshare vacation company to maintain this kind of relationship to build trust with members.

In terms of business competition, what is the status of the timeshare companies as compared to the traditional hospitality industry?
There is certainly a lot of overlapping now, driven by the competitive edge each one of us wants to maintain. If you are a 100 per cent timeshare player, your competition to some degree is the traditional hotel. However, most developers in India operate in a dual capacity where they also have a timeshare element along with the traditional holiday hospitality element. So in that sense, most are hand-in-hand and they do both. Orange County is a great example of having sold thousands of timeshare memberships but it also operates at the luxury end of the market.

How would this compare to say North America or Europe that have 100% timeshare properties?
It’s still mixed over there but they have more players that focus outright on timeshare because their business model has been built up on a complete timeshare-centric platform.

From an Indian business perspective, don’t you think owning a 100% timeshare property is very risky? What if there are no bookings?
I think it depends on where in the cycle is your investment. Take Orange County. They effectively built their resorts by selling timeshare. So they were at the embryonic stage at the beginning of the cycle and then it comes down to whether you want to expand your footprint, expand your resort or whatever else is it that you may want to do. It’s not as huge a risk because of the money you gain from the upfront payment made by business houses like us for the next so many years. In India, this may typically be for 25 years.

How does business model with your partners work?

First of all, there is the affiliation fee that our owner would pay us. The next financial component is the fee paid by a member. The member then transacts directly with the RCI because the owner has sold the timeshare. It’s all very transparent.

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