CPAs Durkee & Combs discuss their business

Lena Combs and Tom Durkee, WithumScott+Brown PA

Lena Combs and Tom Durkee, WithumScott+Brown PA

Your accounting firm: they have their finger on your business’ pulse. They can sink you; they can save you. But, what difference can it make whether or not they know anything about the timeshare resort industry? The answer may surprise you. Does your accountant know your business? If your business or resort is involved in the timeshare industry, that just might be an important question.

It’s certainly one we put to Tom Durkee and Lena Combs of WithumSmith+Brown, PC. (The two CPAs announced the joining of their firm, Averett Warmus Durkee CPAs, [AWD] with Withum the first of this year.)

“A developer or resort operator/manager will find there’s an enormous advantage to hiring a firm with experience in the industry,” says Lena. “First, the resort’s operators will not need to explain the special aspects of handling accounting for a homeowners association consisting of thousands of members. Second, an experienced accountant will know what questions to ask to help associations present a sophisticated financial statement and address the intricacies of tax law that apply to these entities.. We can bring a lot of additional value, given our experience and depth of knowledge.”

AWD became involved in the timeshare industry in 1990 working with four HOAs at Island One Resorts. From there, they quickly picked up other clients in the Orlando area and beyond. As Combs, Durkee and their team worked with their timeshare clients, they came to understand the importance of relationships and loyalty that is so unique to our industry.

“It’s personal with us,” Tom comments. “We get to know the client. We like them; we’re part of their team. It’s not all about making money. We want our clients to understand that we’re involved, from those of us at the senior level, and throughout our team.” Their team includes more than 100 employees who work out of their Orlando and Altamonte Springs offices.

Wouldn’t a close relationship with a vendor be a desirable thing for a resort? Lena thinks so. “We work hard to serve,” she says. “We feel it’s important to deliver on every promise. Certainly, expertise in the space adds value, but added to that, a heartfelt interest makes a huge difference. Our clients tell us we help keep them healthy. We do this by letting them know when there’s a problem. ”

The two mention that they are available to advise resort operators about matters that concern them, even when they fall out of the realm of accounting. “We’ve had occasions where we wound up advising a resort going through a refurb, a special assessment, an insurance loss and claim or dealing with other issues,” adds Tom. “If we can help them find a vendor, or suggest a provider, for example; we are glad to help. Lena and I are always happy to chat on the phone or over lunch if we can help a client think through a challenge.”

Unflinching loyalty carried their company through the recession during which time, they managed to retain their full complement of staff. “We didn’t lay off a single person,” says Tom. “We focused heavily on business development by hiring SharonINK PR & Marketing, for one thing, and appointing an in-house marketing person. We continued focusing on keeping clients healthy and safe. If they’re happy and safe; we’re happy and safe.”

Whenever a resort company seeks to hire the services of a professional – whether they specialize in law, accounting or other specialty – it’s wise to take a look at the overall health and stability of the company. What sets Tom and Lena’s organization apart from others is an inclusive management style that puts them on the Orlando Sentinel’s list of “Best Companies to Work For” each year. “We seek to encourage employees to be self-motivated,” says Lena. “Our firm has been able to inculcate a spirit of collaboration, fairness and teamwork throughout our group. For example, lifestyle enhancement activities are encouraged; our support of flexible scheduling and so much more.”

“There are a lot of employee activities like softball, kickball, and running groups – all organized by the employees, themselves. They are a happy group and we aim to keep it that way,” smiles Tom.

Tom and Lena say they and their team are committed to staying involved in industry by studying the impact of the economic situation on the health of the industry, through their sponsorship as a RCI Affiliate Access Partner, by speaking at events such as meetings of the Timeshare Board Members Association, and by their activities and involvement in ARDA. They have produced an invaluable HOA Benchmarking Study of Florida timeshare resorts since 2008.

“We know the necessity of staying up-to-date on any new accounting standards,” adds Tom. “It’s also of vital interest to us to keep tabs on current trends in the timeshare industry. Helpful in this regard is our service as members of the ARDA HOA Outreach Committee. We are very supportive of industry, striving to keep clients on the high road; keeping them safe.”

Going forward in 2016, Tom and Lena are excited about joining the Withum team. As time passes, Combs and Durkee expect to discover and exploit the synchronicity between members of the old AWD firm with their new, larger organization and the opportunities that provides.

Sharon Scott is publisher/managing editor of Resort Trades and CEO of PR/marketing firm SharonINK. Scott is an American Resort Development Association (ARDA) registered resort professional (RRP represents The Trades as the ARDA Resort Operations Council’s Sole Media Partner and is an ARDA Chairman’s League member.


The Colebrook Chronicle’s 8th edition entertains and informs.

Colebrook Principal Bill Ryczek

Colebrook Principal Bill Ryczek

The Colebrook Chronicle’s 8th edition entertains and informs.

Bill Ryczek and his team always manage to inject a note of humor while covering important and interesting information about the timeshare industry and their own particular interest as a lending institution. They’ve themed their eighth edition of the ultimate insider’s newsletter, The Colebrook Chronicle, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue.”

“In our lineup of articles,” reads the Editor’s Note, “we have something old, if he will pardon the label, in industry veteran Herb Hirsch; something new, dynamic young Patton Hospitality CEO Will Horton; something borrowed as discussed in Bill Ryczek’s article on hypothecation loans; and finally, we have beautiful Blue Water Resort in Nassau.”

“There are a couple of other articles that don’t fit the theme, and we utilized the old trick of getting your attention by using a photo of a beautiful actress who is only peripherally connected to the subject matter.” The photo is of Herb Hirsch, together with Bo Derek, circa 1985. To find out more, check out the January 2016 edition of the newsletter on

Still Time To Support Send Me On Vacation with a Year End Contribution

Cathy Backus (right) attends SMOV Think Pink Bermuda Cruise.

Cathy Backus (right) attends SMOV Think Pink Bermuda Cruise.

Send Me On Vacation — a philanthropic group supporting breast cancer survivors — teaches us that vacations have the power to profoundly change the lives of breast cancer survivors. Send Me On Vacation provides survivors with a vacation experience that serves as a catalyst, bridging the physical treatment of cancer with the emotional healing process needed for complete recovery.

The group has just completed a Think Pink Bermuda cruise on NCL in October and is hosting a second cruise beginning on November 30th to Mexico on Carnival Cruise Line. During the stay in Bermuda, SMOV conducted two workshops at The Bermuda Cancer Center for more than 40 local survivors.

The last cruise was amazing, says SMOV Founder, Cathy Backus. “It totally exceeded my expectation. We had 35 people onboard and spent 7 days facilitating workshops, transforming survivors into Mermaids and memorializing the moment with a photo shoots.”

The cruises are the organization’s hallmark program called “A Mermaids Journey.” They provide a much-needed vacation for SMOV recipients and an opportunity to engage in programs that accelerate healing. Once a year the Mermaid’s Journey experience is offered as an empowerment retreat to the public to assist women in connecting to their inner mermaid. Thanks to Sponsor-donated accommodations the money collected from attendees goes toward fundraising. Last year the event was sponsored by SFX Preferred Resorts and Vidante.

Make a donation online at or email to donate a week or air miles.

DORS–Christel DeHaan’s efforts to save futures!

Can we find a woman to admire more than our own beloved Christel DeHaan? I don’t think so! Read her letter to me:

One of the most gratifying aspects of my role as Founder and CEO of Christel House is sharing student success stories. Our kids around the globe are accomplishing great things and their lives are being transformed.

On June 5, we celebrated another milestone – this time for adult students in our Dropout Recovery School (DORS) program. On that day, twenty graduates – aged 18 to 56 – received their high school diplomas, including a mother and son.

Our students’ stories are unique, and their reasons for having dropped out of high school vary. But, all demonstrate important qualities that point to their future success, including a strong work ethic, determination and perseverance.

I applaud their courageous efforts, and thought you would enjoy this short video of our graduates telling in their own words what Christel House means to them.


How Garden & Gun Came Back, And Now Thrives – Folio:

Garden_Gun_logoA Q&A with Rebecca Wesson Darwin of Garden & Gun.

Source: How Garden & Gun Came Back, And Now Thrives – Folio:

As Publisher of Resort Trades, this article published in Folio (the B2B periodical for those involved in the business of publishing magazines), caught my eye. Garden & Gun not only has an unlikely title (not mention being somewhat unappealing to me, personally), but was launched in 2007 and yet made it through the recession. Rebecca Wesson’s response to how they survived was that they marketed themselves through the Internet. Another interesting point made in the article is that the publisher is extending the brand beyond traditional media and into areas like events and ecommerce.

These ideas are applicable to the resort world, as well. First, from the viewpoint of the resort operator wishing to promote sales, occupancy, rentals and resales; and second, from the standpoint of vendors and suppliers to the industry. Look for ways to use the Internet to attract buyers. Like Jay Baer teaches in his book, Youtility, “Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype.”

How can you get the most from ARDA in 2015?

Lena Combs

Lena Combs, CPA

I asked my clients at Averett Warmus Durkee (AWD) CPAs how they plan to get the most from their participation in the Washington, DC-based timeshare trade association, the American Resort Development Association (ARDA). One of the firm’s partners, Lena Combs, says she and another partner, Tom Durkee, are fully committed to another year of service to the to the timeshare industry through volunteer work with the Over the years, the two have increased their participation by taking on an ever-escalating workload, which now includes four ARDA committees.

“I find the HOA Outreach Committee very interesting,” says Combs. “Its programs are focused on providing resources and education to legacy resorts. Another committee I particularly enjoy is the Meetings Committee, even though it’s hard work. We meet three times a year and spend many, many hours working on formulating content for the annual convention educational sessions, both before and during our meetings as a group.”

“Participating in ARDA’s leadership requires attending meetings several times a year, speaking at industry conferences and writing articles about our area of specialty for Resort Trades, Developments magazine and other publications,” adds Lena. “But it’s well worth it as we grow our own knowledge and expertise while helping improve the business environment for the industry.”

Tom serves on the Finance and Research committees. These two have learned that greater involvement in the trade association gives them access to decision-makers from the major development and management companies. A supplier looking to do business with this select group of professionals can expect to increase networking opportunities by participating in ARDA committee and council meetings.

Carrie Vandever appointed social media director

Carrie Vandever, Resort Trades Social Media Director

Carrie Vandever, Resort Trades Social Media Director

February 2, 2015 – Resort Trades, the news journal mailed to a nationwide subscriber base of almost 7,000 resort professionals, and its online news source – – are pleased to announce the appointment of Carrie Vandever as Social Media Director.

Vandever has been instrumental in building an online presence for that receives almost 5,000 unique visitors per day and indexes over 11,000 pages, or 86+ gigs, of data. She was one of the earliest social media experts in the timeshare industry when she operated the company’s previous site,

“ and our social media sites are updated throughout each day with relevant, timely news,” says Resort Trades Managing Editor Sharon Scott. “Carrie’s work is essential to our commitment to keep our readers informed. In turn, this ‘socialization’ provides our advertisers with the ultimate avenue to educate resort managers and developers about their products and services.”

“ has amassed a unique archive of information that is unparalleled in the industry,” adds Publisher Tim Wilson. “We have stored every press release and print edition that has been posted or printed since 1997. Given this tremendous volume of materials,’s archives are undisputedly the most complete repository of the industry’s history in existence and include biographies of industry pioneers, the famous “Women in the Industry” series, supplier/vendor information and much more.

About Resort Trades
The Trades was established in 1987 and distributes approximately 7,000 print copies monthly to every U.S. vacation ownership resort, to a voluntary subscriber base of resort professionals of all walks and at all the industry’s important conventions and conferences. Along with the publications online social media activities and, the entire enterprise adds value to the industry as a whole with an enormous volume of informative content to assist resort operators in running their properties more efficiently, raising revenues more effectively and making better-informed buying decisions.
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