Taking membership to new heights: how Panorama is setting trends in travel distribution and personalisation
For research development, PACE Dimensions conducts interviews with industry leaders to build thought leadership on strategically important topics, sectors and markets. This article draws on a recent interview with Olivier Chavy, president of Panorama. He tracks changing trends, emerging membership cultures and the need for flexibility in future business planning.
Mid-2020 wasn’t the time for fundamental business change for many organisations, however for Olivier Chavy, president of the recently developed Panorama, it was time to embrace what he terms the “new world in front of us.” Created in July 2020 – a matter of months into the Covid-19 pandemic – Panorama is the business managing the exchange and membership travel brands of Travel & Leisure Co., including RCI, the world’s largest vacation exchange business, and the newly launched Panorama Travel Solutions.
“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to listen and understand new consumer behaviour that had been emerging,” Chavy explains. “The core business of RCI remains, and our new travel expansion strategy allows us to offer more value to RCI members as well as grow our business beyond the timeshare industry. Early 2020 gave us the chance to decipher what was normal from what was a distraction, to get under the skin of the behaviours and expectations of the market, and to adapt.” Panorama offers discounted travel to closed-user groups – such as membership-based associations and organisations and large employers, looking to drive engagement and loyalty from their base.
Re-thinking membership: consumer trends travel and hospitality market changes
Today, Panorama takes advantage of what Chavy terms “Primeification,” where we all have memberships and subscriptions to access the communities and services we love. Chavy notes that in the first few weeks of the pandemic he realized he had nine memberships with automatic payments going out that he had never queried before. “As well as apps like Strava that I was continuing to use in this new normal, I was also happily paying out monthly for a flight tracker app when I couldn’t fly anywhere. The Panorama travel clubs allow consumers to access great travel deals by paying a monthly or annual membership fee. They get special rates and discounts that are not accessible to the wider public, making it highly attractive.”
For example, some major credit card companies are offering travel discounts from Panorama as a card holder benefit. Instead of just accruing points, the credit card gives membership to a service that offers travel packages and discounted rates from popular brands. Not only does membership deliver access to great rates, they get a one-stop-shop service from an expert travel guide that can help them with custom travel arrangements, cancellations, amendments and queries. In a pandemic, when travel is uncertain and at times challenging to navigate, this added value is highly prized.
In what Chavy calls a ‘rollercoaster’ period, when travel trends have been highly unpredictable, it has been smooth organisation that has really sold the concept. He explains, “Having someone to call to help plan for scenario A, B and C is really important right now. Flexibility is a crucial factor when it comes to travel planning during the uncertainty of the pandemic. Those who are members of a group or organisation working with Panorama get everything they need from one place.”
Listening and understanding: getting under the skin of the new consumer behaviour impacting travel buying decisions
Today, consumers consider more than just price when making travel decisions. They are looking for unique experiences and want to be fully immersed in the dreaming, planning and booking process with easy access to robust content and travel experts to guide them.
“For over 45 years RCI has been the category leader in timeshare exchange” said Chavy. “We invented the concept and have continually innovated and diversified to stay ahead of our competition. This has allowed us to find new territory and new ways to grow and be relevant. We have call centres around the world to provide first-class personalised service, and our business is built on meeting the individual needs of members. We have acquired and developed a state-of-the-art booking platform and have broadened our travel products but importantly, the structure and DNA for what Panorama has become was already there and it wasn’t a complete reinvention. We are building upon our core competencies and it’s an exciting new territory and a new journey with huge potential.”
But Chavy urges caution for anyone planning ahead in the travel and hospitality industry by relying on looking to the past. He outlines, “When we look at what were travel trends years ago, we are being distracted from new behaviours and expectations of the market today and tomorrow. The pandemic has allowed us time to understand some of the issues that were creeping up on our sector and to adapt, but it also is a highly uncertain time. Some of the market trends we’ve seen in the last year may not be here to stay.”
Read more: A few of the trends and insights from a recent webinar ‘Five things about the travel and hospitality industry’s recovery you need to know’
The new loyalty: personalization over hotel and airline points
Pre the pandemic, Chavy noted that travelers were becoming less and less loyal to brands and more so to experiences. Data shows that consumers were less concerned about collecting hotel or airline points, as they navigated the multiple options available to them, and began to make travel decisions without any tug towards a brand loyalty scheme that was no longer meaningful to them. “This change,” highlights Chavy, “was healthy for the travel and hospitality industry and has forced reinvention. It was heading in this direction pre-2020, and now that points associated to the frequency of travel are simply no longer fit for purpose with life right now, the shift has been accelerated.”
Changes in direct booking, distribution channels and loyalty schemes have all shaken the market over the years. “Thinking differently and changing how we attract and reward our customers has knocked the travel and hospitality industry into a new era. Personalization is far more significant than loyalty points. Consumers are used to trawling reviews and content when it comes to planning travel, but Covid has brought new consideration factors into the mix. Travellers want to be able to discuss their options and take reassurance from a peer community who has similar interests and circumstances to them. At Panorama we are building these much needed social sharing tools in addition to fun rewards and badges that embrace the gamification trend, alongside personalized offers and services that together will enable the membership associations and affinity partners we work with to drive meaningful engagement and loyalty.”
Market analysis highlighted to Chavy that ‘Primeification’ — or ‘Netflix syndrome’ as it also gets referred to – was a major consideration for travel and hospitality businesses looking ahead. In fact, Panorama’s success to date is in part due to its foresight in how travel distribution is changing. Membership and subscription-based business models are rising in all sectors, from food and drink to fashion, fitness and motoring. New benefit bundles from some airlines are based on a subscription and replace previous frequent flyer approaches, albeit far from mainstream in this sector just yet. For the consumer, membership is part of how they live their life and engage with brands. And for Chavy, it’s this ability to be a core component in subscription spending that brings so many opportunities. He sums up, “We have so many niches, from sports associations and classic car clubs to credit card companies and CEO organisations, and it’s exciting.”
Avoiding distractions: flexibility to move forwards in a new travel landscape
While Covid has brought mass challenges, there are also changes in how businesses operate and function that give new options. Chavy notes an example of a conference he wanted his leadership team to attend, something that would have been logistically impossible if everyone had to get there in person. Instead, attending via Zoom can work for an international business in multiple time zones without causing disruption to other areas of business continuity.
The impact of hybrid and flexible working also remains up in the air. Media reports note trends of people taking longer trips and working remotely around both leisure and business travel. But with so much uncertainty, no one really knows what real life trends are any more, and what has been ‘managing through’ the challenges of lockdowns and restrictions. Panorama saw a snowball in travel bookings earlier this year as rules eased and people rushed to see families and loved ones. However, Chavy is very aware that it is difficult to predict how long term this peak in an eagerness to travel will remain.
The market has been growing, pre-Covid, 4-5 percent a year and even cautious forecasts for the future show increases over the next 40 years. But none of these figures come without serious red flags. “Anything we think of as definite right now, could in fact be a distraction,” heeds Chavy. “We’re stepping back and surveying the data, but the truth is we don’t really know. There have been drastic changes in our market due to Covid, and rather than focus on individual changes we’re instead trying to ensure that we can adapt with flexibility to what comes next.” When it comes to the new world, Chavy sums up, “We need time to figure things out.”
To delve into trends across different sectors of the travel and hospitality industry, PACE interviews effective business leaders who highlight their latest insights, and share a view on the opportunities and issues. For further information on PACE Dimensions research capabilities please click here.