Travel Marketing in a Sales Driven Environment

Here’s one of the key issues that seems to pop up in Timeshare.

A couple in their forties buys a “vacation product” they’re very happy with from a salesman who was charming, entertaining and informative.

Then they go home and read the fine print in the “marketing materials” the salesman gave them. These brochures dutifully but confusingly spell out some of the dirt and include the same illustrations that looked so good being bandied around the sales room.

So the couple calls to clarify.

The call center confirms all the negatives, with little or no polish on the reasoning or the presentation. Maybe they make a few half-hearted apologies. Yeah, sorry.  Then the couple does what any good consumer would do: They go on the internet and unleash an unholy screed of fury and resentment.

Here’s why.

The material they return home with was designed to work as sales collateral, literally, as props in the sales show.

It works for sales too. The problem is it doesn’t stand up as marketing material. It unmasks the deal they signed, doesn’t remind the buyers of the cost/benefit ratio over time, and pushes “impulsive luxury now” instead of long term, stable pricing and savings. The words “every year” and “annual vacation” are nowhere to be seen.

Let’s look at what get’s called “marketing” in travel and see if we can fix this.

First, visit the LinkedIn Timeshare Marketing groups. You’ll find only salespeople – talking sales. They do lots and lots of talking about sales. But they’re the last people who will tell you about marketing.

The reason?

Sales people do marketing. In fact, they do it a lot. They do it almost without thinking. That’s a very good thing, because in travel, especially in timeshare, no one else is going to do it. (They’re also aggressive, so be careful in there.)

See if you can can spot the marketing in the illustration below.

Tips for Timeshare Marketing

Most people in Timeshare will tell you that the brochures are the marketing.

In fact, very often you will see the people designing and producing the brochures referred to as “Marketing.”

I’ve even seen companies refer to the “Sales Support” and “Sales Collateral Development” areas as “Marketing” – and you bet, most of these companies don’t do ANY MARKETING AT ALL.

Their sales people do ALL of the marketing. See below.

marketing and travel

Collateral, with pictures, hopefully some figures, and what looks like a lot of pretty places – is designed to support a sales environment, but it’s not marketing. It’s collateral. That ugly word is used to distinguish between sales support props and the stuff that will stand on its own.  A good salesman can sell with greeked lorum ipsum text, and probably any kind of collateral you give her.

As I mentioned in my 10 Rules for Timeshare Marketing, marketing is…

The creation and support of an environment

in which sales are more likely.


By that definition, your housekeepers are likely doing more for your marketing than your marketing department.

Here’s what your sales people are doing, that marketing should be doing:

  1. Welcoming and reassuring leads
  2. Building confidence and a trustworthy image (or repairing your flagging reputation)
  3. Providing free and generous information
  4. Providing insider tips, advice and best practices
  5. DOING THE MATH – Amazing how painful this is to get a marketing department to do. That 15 or 20 or 30 year breakdown of costs is an amazing marketing tool – if it makes sense. Does it?
  6. Smoothing over tough-sell policy restrictions.
  7. Maintaining a relationship long after the sale (I’ve seen lots of sales people do this).
  8. Soliciting and encouraging upgrades and referrals – (that one really sounds like sales, right?)

If you started doing this stuff, your Sales Team probably could do it a little less.

Seducing people by piquing their desires doesn’t do it. (That works in low information, but all travel is HIGH INFORMATION – people research what they are purchasing.) More important, all of these things explain and justify what can seem like crazy restrictions. This is particularly important for vacation clubs juggling a lot of inventory.

Some bigger organizations will come up with detailed brochures (collateral) to cover member services, and often to cover distribution of the small print and the damning details. Very often these materials will misinterpret, or just ignore the key sales points, such as the math, mentioned above.

Marketing should do a better job of all of the above, and it could.

Here’s what Marketing is not:

  1. Point of purchase or impulse purchase advertising
  2. Gloss to cover up for inadequate or dishonest membership services (client services) or operations
  3. Promotions. Sales will do that better. Marketing should be concentrating on reasonable time frame travel and,  having done that, you shouldn’t have excess inventory.
  4. Advertising – just eliminate all of this unless you really are buying space.
  5. Placing collateral in non-advertising spaces. (This is never a good idea anyway).

The switch from designing pure sales collateral to real marketing materials can seem like a radical leap. But it’s certainly do-able if you have the right people on your side.

Keep the following in mind as you work on your marketing for 2014.

  • Essentially, marketing materials need to fill in for the sales role, without closing the sale.
  • All internet sales are passive sales
  • …and should put members, or timeshare owners or travelers into a continual…
  • learning, holding, and education pattern.
  • That means simply more information to make yours a more credible organization.
  • Never push for a sale with marketing. It really ruins the environment you’re trying to create and if there’s no salesman there to fix it, you’re screwed.
  • Work on brand and reputation instead. Let sales and call center do promotions.
  • Very often you’ll see a breakdown where operations or a call center simply can’t meet the promises made by salespeople in terms of reservations or accommodations. That’s exactly the area where a more sympathetic ear from marketing should step in.
  • Marketing has an obligation to continually educate Call Center and the rest of your organization as to not only the stated value of the product – but the perceived value too. This needs to be reinforced across the organization which is to say – all your people need to understand the sales points that were made at the time of the sale – and to re-present them to the rest of the organization on a regular basis. There is simply no other way to make employees into advocates for the larger organization. Have you ever been to a timeshare where the people answering the phones actually agree with the internet review sites?
  • If owners don’t sympathize with hotel management, do they sympathize with the other traveling members? Chances are, current timeshare owners are a lot less likely to blast other current owners. So, push satisfied members, not what is already perceived as inefficient and top heavy management and administration.

The job of marketing is, then, to push happy members, in a way that respects the privacy and rights of everyone, in front of the buying public. Other people, satisfied members and travelers will build your brand rather than contribute to a suffering reputation.

In every case, marketing needs to provide enough information for the use of the timeshare (or your hotel) – well! They may need to exchange it at times but they shouldn’t ever, ever regret having bought it. They’ve got the life of the contract to do that too. So if they do, then marketing – and leadership – have failed.

In closing, the stuff I learned and presented above, I learned talking to salesman – not marketing people. It amazes me how many resort developers – and even marketing people – don’t follow or even know about the basic principles of marketing. But there you have it. Let’s get to work.

Did I leave something out? Let me know in the comments space below.


Photos on this page: DSC_9676 from Flickr © Wikimedia Commons by Garry Tucker, USFWS

the brochures are from Fantasy Travel brochure cover © Wikimedia Commons by aol_1979


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