RCI Adds Another Touch of Technology

As the hotel industry faced a slowdown last year, the timeshare world kept on plugging away and vacation exchange leader RCI was a prime example. A part of Wyndham Worldwide and its exchange and rentals division, RCI added more than 100 new resorts, including 10 under development, and grew its membership by three percent last year.

The reasons for growth are easy to see, as RCI committed more than $10 million beginning in 2008 to develop and implement new online technology, product and service enhancements. RCI TV debuted a year ago at the American Resort Development Association Convention & Exposition, and earlier this month at the ARDA event in Las Vegas, RCI added several new features to go along with it.

RCI entered the mobile marketing world with an RCI TV application for iPhones and the iPod touch, offering a portable version of RCI TV allowing users to view high-quality videos of affiliated properties, the same thing available at RCI.com. Also launched was RCI SnapBook, an application allowing users to capture pictures, videos, voice memos and texts to their iPhones while on vacation and then cataloging the information like a scrapbook.

The debuts follow the January launch of RCI’s YouTube channel showcasing resort videos with links back to RCI.com and to the resort, along with information on the benefits of vacation ownership.

“RCI has been devoted to providing innovative technology and marketing solutions that add value to our affiliated developers and members,” said RCI CEO Geoff Ballotti. “From our new YouTube site with rich high-definition video, which is creating marketing leads for affiliates, to these two new Apple applications, which we believe our members will love, we are committed to developing great content and the best social media applications we can to drive member engagement and lower our customers’ marketing costs.”

Ballotti said during an interview at his company’s booth that it is incumbent on the exchange companies to help reduce developers’ sales and marketing cost as a percent of the total sales cost, a point made earlier by ARDA chief Howard Nusbaum during a general session at the conference. RCI TV—with entertaining and educational videos as well as travel information and professional grade videos showcasing affiliated resorts—is in large part for that exact reason. “That percent (45) is too high,” Ballotti said. “If we can make the sales process more comfortable for consumers, the developer will lower that (percent). The best way to do that is to send them qualified leads. All our thinking is about who are the educated and qualified consumers.”

RCI TV already features 80 resort showcases, and Ballotti says ultimately they’d like to get all 4,000 resorts. In the last 10 weeks, the member site has gotten more than 100,000 visits and the non-member site has received 265,000. The percentage of exchange and rentals transacted online increased from 13 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 to 24 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, an indication the efforts are already yielding results.

RCI also this month introduced RCI Points Platinum, a new premium membership program allowing members to get unique access and expanded benefits. The program gives its members exclusive “first look” exchange access to specially acquired inventory around the world at upscale properties in sought after destinations that may otherwise be very limited. Platinum also provides members with other benefits like advance access to popular theatre offerings and discounts to golf courses and ski resorts.

Dennis Ducharme, president, InnSeason Resorts; Geoff Ballotti, CEO, RCI; and William E. Curran, CEO, InnSeason Resorts

Among many new resort additions already this year, Northeast-based InnSeason Resorts joined RCI and celebrated at a press reception at ARDA. RCI now has more than 4,000 affiliated resorts, 2.5 million RCI Weeks members, 1.1 million RCI Points members and 36,000 members as part of the upscale Registry Collection, a luxury fractional exchange with 160 handpicked locations.

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