Wyndham Destinations: putting the world on vacation through digital disruption
No longer a luxury for the few, the travel and tourism sector has become fiercely competitive. With so many options on offer, shared vacation and timeshare models are growing in popularity. Renowned as the largest vacation ownership and exchange company worldwide, Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific has sought to streamline its services and provide an experience like no other. Having experienced steady growth across the Asia Pacific region, the business is set to open a new office in Clark, the Philippines, where up to 160 staff will move to its new premises in mid-2019.
Harnessing a corporate and global mission to ‘put the world on vacation’, Wyndham’s extensive footprint now spans the entirety of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and southeast Asia, encompassing close to 60,000 owner families. To support its continued growth, increase its accessibility, convenience and ongoing appeal, its digital infrastructure has been significantly transformed. Senior Director of IT, Clive Hawkins, explains that it has been essential for Wyndham to make its services not only practical, but intuitive to engage its diverse audience and remain a leading player in the market.
“If you look at Amazon's shopping cart system, it's not an attractive site but is very efficient and easy to use. I think that people put far too much investment into the aesthetics of a site rather than functionality, which is key. However, personalisation is now very important. You're not going to get very far with marketing campaigns which are purely shotgun approach. You need to tailor that message and understand who your target audience really is,” he says candidly.
Taking a deep dive into Wyndham’s digital capabilities, Hawkins has developed key partnerships with technology leaders in order to transform its service offerings. Building on its longstanding relationship with Salesforce, the company has deployed its Platform as a Service (PaaS) technologies, enabling Wyndham to centralise its services, remove any redundancies and manage applications without having to pay increased maintenance costs.
“We invested in Salesforce and built a fairly large marketing tool with them. This went live last year and since then we've been gathering speed and moving more and more systems into Salesforce,” says Hawkins. “It's an effectual tool and has been very beneficial from a speed perspective because we’re not redesigning and building security platforms and menu structures because everything is already there. We’re using our centralised database as a repository, where we’ve got prospects, owners, staff and suppliers all stored there.”
The partnership has led to an improvement of “at least 66% in overall efficiency,” where everyone “can now see the benefits.” Following its success, Wyndham is now undertaking user acceptance testing (UAT) for a campaign management engine, which will enable the business to ‘slice and dice’ its leads within the database. “We have roughly nine million leads who we contact, but this will allow us to segment them based on different criteria, which we have also built in Salesforce,” adds Hawkins.
“One of our biggest challenges was that our lead database comes from various different sources and often a lead for us may be a phone number and a first name. We then might have another record that is for T. Smith and a different phone number, but then we could have another record for Tom Smith and an email address, with no way to link those people and understand it is the same person. Then a fourth record may come in that links the previous three and we can gain comprehensive data, which can be manipulated to make it work for us.”
Hawkins is not only seeking to overhaul Wyndham’s service offerings, but onboard new technologies to ensure operational efficiency and gain an edge over the competition. Taking a closer look at its back-end services and IT service desk, robotic process automation (RPA) is being explored as a means to boost quality assurance rates, particularly in areas which house a number of repetitive tasks with multiple touchpoints. Expanding its Citrix platform and replacing desktops with thin clients (or lightweight computers) will also promote accessibility and reduce ongoing maintenance costs across the business.
Understanding that end-users are demanding seamless connectivity across its hotels and resorts, Wyndham has also partnered with Australia’s largest telecommunications operator, Telstra, in order to install fibre connections at multiple sites across the country, as well as backup 4G technologies. This has greatly improved the corporate network connectivity as well as the guest experience in resorts. Furthermore, upgrading its phone system to one supplied by Canadian telecoms giant Mitel will also bring a multitude of advantages. Set to complete in March this year, the multifaceted project presently covers up to 650 staff, tackling relatively complex interactive voice response (IVR) systems per department, multiple HUNT groups (used to enable the distribution of phone calls from a single telephone number to a group of several phone lines), integration with diallers and much more.
“Having a new phone system will bring new tools, such as linking mobile and desk phones. Staff can answer via desk or mobile, and transfer the call from one to the other. It’s a nice feature for management teams who move around. We will also be able to offer the callback facility to callers,” says Hawkins.
From mobile apps to wearables, technology continues to disrupt traditional industries and ways of working and has led to a significant shift in consumer expectations. Making the decision to fully digitise the processing of sales contracts, Wyndham has sought to provide ultimate flexibility and accessibility to its end users. “Invariably, if someone buys a timeshare ownership from us, 50% will also borrow money from us as well. The sales contract is therefore not just a deed of sale, but an application for a loan, which is incredibly detailed,” explains Hawkins.
“We have not only digitised the contract but have automated the loan decision process. Through the use of tablets, we use DocuSign to digitally capture the signature for the contract as well, which is quite a slick beast. Aesthetically it's an attractive system and is used by the sales team so had to be somewhat intuitive so that they would enjoy using it. A sales rep or consultant will also be on hand to provide support.”
Believing voice control technology to be part of the ongoing evolution of traditional keyboard and touch screens, Wyndham has collaborated with Agiles Australia in the development of its first voice chatbot. This will very shortly be accessible through the Wyndham app, end users can gain information regarding their Club, where its capabilities will become further personalised as it becomes increasingly utilised. “Agiles is a small young startup company and have been very easy to work with. They're an exciting bunch and they’ve got other ideas that they're trying to get off the ground in the Australian market place,” adds Hawkins.
“I think voice is really going to take off. You've got the Amazon Echo, Google Home, Cortana with Microsoft and Siri with Apple, and they've all become stronger and stronger. If you don't adapt to innovation then you get left behind and if you follow the curve and you're at the back end of the curve your investment is going to be very similar, but people will think, ‘Well about time’ or, ‘You've finally caught up.’ Whereas, if you don't want to be on the bleeding edge, but want to be somewhere near the front, if you can be one of the first people to deploy innovation in your particular vertical then people are impressed and view the company not only as progressive but vibrant.”
Set to go live imminently, Wyndham will launch phase one of its voice box, which houses fairly simple questions and answers regarding Wyndham’s service offering. However, phase two (set to go live in Q3) will enable the technology to provide more granular data, such as an owner’s available credit, loan balances and monthly payment amounts. Lastly, phase three will focus solely on providing exceptional hospitality.
“You’ll be able to say, ‘I need another pillow’ and the voice box will say ‘Have you tried looking in the cupboard above the bed?’ If not, we’ll be able to send a message to housekeeping and say, ‘guest in room 123 needs another pillow,’ and we can tell them that a pillow will be bought to their room shortly. We're also hoping to interface it with the internet so guests can ask questions, such as the best places to eat nearby and so forth," explains Hawkins.
Experiences like no other
Another area being worked on, and will hopefully be live before the end of 2019, is beacon technology. When a timeshare owner arrives at a club hotel or resort, Bluetooth beacons will be able to sync with their mobile phone and alert the front desk staff. Once the technology recognises the owner, bespoke information can be provided, such as cultural landmarks, places to visit and much more.
“It’s increasing the owner experience, is a great opportunity and increases efficiency. The same happens when they walk through reception, where we know who they are, which room they are staying and so can be greeted accordingly throughout their stay,” says Hawkins.
Looking towards the growth in Chinese tourism both inside and outside of the Asia Pacific region, Wyndham has also embraced digital payment options, such as Alipay and WeChat pay, as digital and mobile wallets are becoming the leading payment methods in the region.
While the business has embraced new technologies, securing such services has become the single biggest risk across Wyndham’s digital infrastructure. Housing a global security platform, the business is continually looking to ensure all data remains protected. Hawkins uses Marriott Hotel and Resorts’ recent news as a prime example to explain that “you can never be fully secure, but to always look at ways to remain ahead of the curve.”
“Because they're in the same vertical, it's a wakeup call if we needed it,” he says thoughtfully. “We’re always fighting with end users because everybody wants to use the latest app, share data and be on social media, and all of these things are risk vectors that. From an IT perspective, we've got to be mindful. They say that the average penetration takes at least 12 months to spot. It took Marriott four years, but it's not unusual and is in fact very, very common. You then have other things to worry about, such as shadow IT, where people in the business - for all the right reasons, are not necessarily doing the right things and placing vulnerabilities out there which need to be eradicated.”
This has no doubt fed into Wyndham’s consistent commitment to develop its employees and equip them with the necessary tools to not only inspire innovation, but take the business to new heights. Recently recognised as one of the Best Employers for Diversity by Forbes, the business has looked to support local communities on a global scale. Hawkins has recently explored a possible partnership with Griffiths University in southeast Queensland in a bid to provide project-based internships to local students as a key example.
“We've previously held internships where people have worked here for 12 weeks, but these project-based internships will last as long as the project. We would propose some interesting ones which would be ‘nice to have’, but if they are unsuccessful it's not something that we would have otherwise invested in,” he says. Building such partnerships with educational institutions would enable students to gain significant experience and an understanding of the industry, and the controls and project practices Wyndham has in place, providing advantages for all.
“I was hoping that we could run also series of projects with the same interns. The longer that someone's with us the more they have to offer,” adds Hawkins. “They’re able to understand the business, and if they are working on multiple projects, they can see how they cross correlate. From a university perspective, it's a good feature which they can advertise. From the student perspective they get real life experience and some of them may get a job at the end. Even if we don't have an opening, we can give a good reference for a job somewhere else. The benefit to Wyndham as a company is that students can work on ideas, which otherwise may not come into fruition.”
Such is the success of Wyndham’s IT transformation, Hawkins was officially recognised as Senior Employee of the Year at the end of 2018, alongside Employee of the Year and infrastructure manager, Brad Byrne. A prestigious award within the Wyndham Destination Asia Pacific company, such acknowledgement reflects Hawkins’ continued desire to remain at the top of his game, while adopting best practices and building a culture that thrives on innovation. Wyndham will remain focused on providing personalised vacations, with numbers steadily increasing each year. Strengthened through collaboration and bringing new ideas to the table, Wyndham will soon be on its next phase of growth, where technology will fully underpin further possibilities to fully ‘put the world on vacation.’