ARDA World 2015 is over. (Many attendees’ hangovers linger on, however, as I write this.) It’s time to ponder what we learned. The Opening General Session on Tuesday certainly made a positive Act One. In Act One, Scene One, we greeted this year’s crop of LEAPsters. These are the recipients of an AIF educational program who are sponsored by their employers to undertake a year-long program of study. We applaud the ARDA team for a really great program that is grooming tomorrow’s leaders in the industry.
One of LEAP’s projects was to design an investigative educational session, the Legacy Resort Management Forum, to discuss the top concerns of maturing resort HOAs and managers. Data gathered from a survey of resort managers showed these to be 1) the increasing rate of owner defaults in payment of maintenance fees, 2) the rising costs of maintenance fees and 3) resales. Forum participants discussed possible remedies including resorts offering a variety of activities and services to earn additional revenue; resorts providing assistance to owners who wish to sell their timeshares including crafting a classified ad and finding advertising agencies; permitting owners to stagger payments of their annual fees and communicating more clearly with boards to explain the importance of increasing maintenance fees.
Jan Samson of VRI made an interesting comment about this last point. She observed that frequently a resort’s HOA is proud to announce they avoided increasing maintenance fees, perhaps at the cost of needing to defer maintenance. We agree with her advice to continuously point out to boards the long-term benefit of staying competitive with hotels and other resorts. If this means you must increase maintenance fees, then managers need to educate their constituency about why it is vital to the health of the resort.
Dale Goodman of Goodmanagement said their resorts have a policy of making at least one change every year to keep looking fresh. One year they’ll change the carpeting, another year they will replace appliances, etc. In this way, owners will continue to see more clearly where their maintenance fees are going.
During the general session, ARDA President Howard Nusbaum listed the association’s most recent accomplishments, among which was to undertake a “listening” project to track and answer consumer questions and concerns about timeshare. The association is fully committed to assisting developers’ sales and marketing efforts through the activities of its Reputation Management Department and their achievements are impressive.
Also in the forefront at ARDA this year was The Starwood Vacation Club spinoff from its publicly held parent company. We remember the buzz created when Marriott Vacation Club became an independent entity. Today, that company’s sales and financial viability appear to be stronger than ever. We’re expecting to see similar results from Starwood (or whatever their new name might eventually be). Head of the new independent will be Matt Avril, who has shown himself up to the task many times in the past. It will be an interesting phenomenon to watch.
Another interesting change in the vacation ownership industry lately has been the consolidation of development companies into less than ten major entities, with the emergence of a group of secondary controllers of rental inventory. That’s why Resort Trades has committed itself once more to supporting the organization representing these companies, the Cooperative Association of Resort Exchangers (C.A.R.E.). Linda Mayhugh of Advantage Travel has been nominated to be the next chair of C.A.R.E. and will most likely be inducted during its May 2-5, 2015 conference at the Westin Annapolis. Look to C.A.R.E. to soon discuss a name change to reflect the evolution of this 60-year-old non-profit organization. Whereas formerly, it was made up of smaller, independent developers looking to exchange inventory, C.A.R.E. now is made up of resort professionals involved in moving inventory.
Attendees at the meeting were estimated to be 2,500, with 99 exhibit booths, many of them first-time exhibitors. It is vital to retain these first-timers as active, participating members of ARDA. During a meeting of the Suppliers Council, Chair Jordan Beckner who owns Fiberbuilt Umbrellas & Cushions commented that he did not begin to get full value from his ARDA membership until he started getting involved by serving on committees and councils. We will be following up with many of these ‘newbies’ to share ideas on how to get the most out of their ARDA experience. We need to continue to support the association in any way possible for the excellent work it does for us all.
Tuesday’s general session paid homage to companies that had supported building the coffers of ARDA ROC, the ARDA Resort Owners’ Coalition. Resorts participating in the program request small donations from timeshare owners as part of their annual maintenance fee billing process. The funds are then used to support lobbying efforts in their interest. This process is strictly regulated by Federal law, by the way, before anyone begins to think moneys are going to pad the pockets of the Big Seven or any other company.
Prior to the introduction of the keynote speaker, Jay Baer, a digital marketing expert, we enjoyed an very creative and entertaining video featuring outgoing ARDA Chairman Franz Hanning, president & CEO of Wyndham Vacation Ownership who shared the myriad number of responsibilities imposed on an ARDA chairman. Hanning passed the baton to the newly appointed chairman, Stephen P. Weisz, RRP, head of Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation.
Baer shared some of his insight into optimizing your online world through using smart marketing, which he described as being about help, not hype. “If you’re wondering how to make your company seem more exciting, you’re asking the wrong question,” he said. “You’re not competing for attention only against other similar products. You’re competing against your customers’ friends and family and viral videos and cute puppies. To win attention these days you must ask a different question: “How can we help?”