The Cost of Customization

WHEN I CONDUCTED THE INTERVIEWS FOR THE WYNDHAM WORLDWIDE STORY that is featured on the cover of this issue, it felt as if I were visiting old friends. I'd covered the two companies that constitute the new Wyndham—Cendant Corporation and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts—extensively in a former life for another publication, and both companies were quite creative and competitive in the way they kept up with market trends. Editorial Director Ruthanne Terrero on location at World Travel Market in London, with John Sotirakos of Porto Zante

One thing that I recall in particular was when Wyndham launched its ByRequest program. At the time, it was (and still is, for that matter) one of the most innovative customer-centric programs ever. Through the use of technology, the company enables its employees to record guest preferences in a database that other hotels in the system are able to access. As a result, if you show a preference for a certain type of pillow or beverage at one hotel, you will be offered the same thing at the next Wyndham you visit. The success of the ByRequest program comes from the fact that people love to be recognized and remembered.

In the hospitality business, it costs nothing to recognize or remember a guest. Certainly you can build an expensive technology infrastructure that will house all of this data, but these days there are a number of programs available to travel agents that will help them recall what their clients like—and what they don't like. If you don't have the budget for them, the good old-fashioned index card and pencil works pretty well, too.

However you do it, it's the execution of guest recognition that costs virtually nothing. In the case of Wyndham's ByRequest, if they put a good bottle of white wine in your room when you arrive, knowing that this is your all-time favorite treat, your delight factor upon entering the room goes off the charts. If everything else in the room is to your liking, management has hit a home run by spending $25 or so on a guest who will become a client for life because he or she is thrilled to be acknowledged.

As travel agents, you can thrill your clients in similar ways if you think it through carefully. One brilliant suggestion I just heard: A travel agent who sent a family on a vacation knew that the child in the group tended to cry a lot. She informed the driver of the car picking them up at the airport that the child in question liked chocolate lollipops. The chauffeur supplied the treat to the whining traveler, who promptly sat still for the rest of the drive. The cost to the agent was nil, while the pleasure for the parents, who were paying for the trip, was priceless.

People want to be happy, and it often doesn't take bells and whistles to wow them. You just have to do your homework.

Luxury in Greece

By the way, I'm pictured here with John Sotirakos, president of Porto Zante Deluxe Villas (, a luxury resort on Zakinthos Island in Greece. I met with him while I was at World Travel Market in London last month. If you are entertaining the idea of customizing a trip for a client, Porto Zante can do it. The resort will arrange to fly your client via private plane from Athens. They'll also find a nanny to watch after little ones or a chef who will cook up some fine cuisine for your vegan client. Heads of state have stayed at this beautiful property (the windows in the top suites are bulletproof for extra security). John's resort is family-run, born out of his father's love for the hotel business. I suggest you check it out if you want to send your client off the beaten path in Greece.

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