Zero-Budget Personalization Makeover, No. 1: A Small Travel Agent

  |  March 21, 2002   |  Comments

A small site rents vacation houses in Italy. Can it get personal with its existing technology? Jack says: Yes.

Thanks to everyone who volunteered for case studies in "Personalization With No Budget." I'll periodically pick one or two sites to feature in this column. This week, I chose one currently not personalized at all: Summer In Italy, a rental agency for several properties in Italy. The site was produced on a very low budget, and it's ripe for personalization and eCRM. This week, I'll discuss some low-budget ideas that would have immediate impact on the site.

When I strategize CRM initiatives for a company, I look at four key areas: acquisition, personalized services, share of wallet, and loyalty/retention. I'll use these areas to frame my ideas for Summer In Italy.


  • Activity-Based Vacation Packages
  • I'm betting most people who rent a villa in Italy probably don't know a whole lot about the locations they are going to visit. Summer In Italy provides resource links to information about the various villages where its properties are located. I've got another idea. Think about what you're selling: a dream vacation. That's more than a house, more than a village. You're selling an experience. Create several "Dream Vacation" packages, each geared toward a different experience: Wine-Lover's Week, Gourmet Food Week, Athletic Getaways, Relaxing Getaways, Nature-Lover's Vacation, and so on. Each of these packages would be tailored toward a lifestyle or activity. They would include recommendations on which properties to stay at and offer an itinerary of things to do in the surrounding area. Itineraries could be just suggestions coupled with appropriate contact information for the local sites. I'm proposing this site become not a one-stop reservation line, but rather a resource to connect a group with the appropriate destination.

  • Invite-a-Friend
  • Because most of these villas have an occupancy of more than two people (some up to eight), the likelihood is several couples or friends will rent a house together. The site already has a "send a postcard" feature, which means the infrastructure for sending email already exists. Add an "organize our getaway" feature that allows the organizer to research which places the group might be interested in. Then, the organizer can automatically send email to the rest of the group with vacation ideas. An "our getaway" section would contain suggested itineraries, information about the properties and surrounding areas, and maybe even a forum so the group can discuss the pros and cons of various properties and itineraries.

  • Refer-a-Friend and Testimonials
  • I have a hunch that word of mouth is essential to the growth of a small travel company. For one-time dream vacations, acquisition is particularly important. I recommend two approaches. A refer-a-friend program allows people who have already vacationed with Summer In Italy to send links to properties and activity-based itineraries to people they know, along with comments on the trip they took. An incentive, such as a discount for the recipient and a discount on the sender's next trip, might work well here. A testimonial section would be great. The site currently has a rotating box of quotes, but a full section would be better, especially if quotes were grouped by property or itinerary.

    Personalized Services

  • Individual Itineraries
  • Once a group has booked a vacation, each member should have an individual log-in at the site and should be able to view all information specific to his group's trip, plus a customized itinerary of things he wants to do while there. A side benefit is that in addition to everyone receiving his own itinerary, the group can get a printout of how many people want to pursue various activities while they're on vacation. This would make the inevitable "OK, how many people want to do X today, and how many people would rather do Y?" less of a chore during the vacation.

  • Email Tips and Reminders
  • Before the vacation starts, each group member should receive an email with her itinerary, along with helpful hints on what to pack, a weather report for the duration of the stay, and other useful information (such as emergency phone numbers, local tipping practices, etc.). Summer In Italy already has a fun newsletter that it sends out with general tips and information. Personalizing it is the next step.

    Share of Wallet

  • Local Tour Packages
  • Summer In Italy should connect clients with local guides. The group would pay the tour guide itself, but Summer In Italy would get a referral fee. Also, each group member could receive emailed information on local events, stores, and promotions based on expressed interests. Each of these deals would benefit Summer In Italy, either in referral fees or cross-marketing opportunities.


  • Survey and Photo Albums
  • After the vacation, Summer In Italy should email each group member, asking her to complete an online survey and provide a testimonial and encouraging her to set up an online photo album. To keep costs down, Summer In Italy could partner with a photo site, such as

  • Planning Another Trip?
  • At some point after the vacation, Summer In Italy should send a message to group members telling them about other properties with similar itineraries. For instance, if a person signed up for the "Wine-Lover's Week Itinerary," the email would let her know about a similar itinerary in a different part of Italy featuring different local wines. Of course, letting people know about other itineraries they can explore is a good idea, too. As mentioned above, this email is the time for the refer-a-friend program.


    These suggestions all require legwork, deal-making with local tour guides and venues, and programming and database work. But... no new technology is required. That should keep costs to a minimum, while providing a lot of immediate value for current and future customers.

    Until next time...


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    Jack Aaronson

    Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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