Monthly Archives: May 2018

4 Reasons Why Blogging is Still Relevant

(Reprinted with permission from the May 2018 edition of Resort Trades magazine.)

By Sharon Scott Wilson

When someone first came up with the use of blogging as a marketing tool, the business world practically swooned. Here was a low-cost solution for connecting with your audience and building relationships. The concept originally surfaced in 1994 when a college student created a website in order to get his writing online. In a few years the term “web log” was shortened to “weblog” and, eventually to just simply “blog.” By 2002, blogging had arrived, complete with its very own search engine, Technorati. (The website stopped indexing blogs and assigning authority scores in May 2014 after its creators launched a separate online publishing and advertising site.)

During the following 16 years, blogging became a veritable Fourth of July celebration. You couldn’t stop the fireworks as ever-greater advancements set an increasingly higher bar. Clever marketers were adding video, introducing landing pages, and floating advertising in front of the viewer, with increasingly more complex gimmicks. But lately, social media is the new darling in online marketing.

It begs the question; is blogging the dinosaur, the buggy whip…the Princess phone? It seems now we are being told to dedicate our best fireworks to our social media platforms. We’re expected to expand our presence on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Exhausted content providers are beginning to wonder. Given the fact that we are operating at top speed and actively using the most current social media tools, are our blog sites really all that useful? Are they relevant?

You bet! And here’s why:

  1. You will optimize your website.

In the mid-90s, I remember being advised that I could outwit Google and boost my search result ranking by adding a lot of descriptive tags and metadata to a website. At the time, we would cram keywords into our copy like a contestant at a hot dog eating contest. Today, that technique would create a blackball situation for your brand, not to mention angering impatient readers unwilling to wade through layers of unnecessary, extraneous copy. True, I still advise you to use keywords when possible, particularly in headlines. The idea is to avoid using nonsensical and obvious ploys.

Instead, today’s SEO experts have learned their lesson: go for quality, rather than quantity. The ideal blog garners a loyal audience, which values your content and will, therefore, share it with others in their community. If instead you use an inauthentic, disingenuous approach, they’ll drop off the radar faster than UFO sightings in Phoenix…which brings us to our next point.

  1. You will connect with “the right” customers more frequently.

It may be argued that creating connections and building a community of followers is what social media is all about. But even the most ardent suitor would need more than 280 characters to properly woo a mate. In order to position yourself as an expert, you need good, solid content. Plus, it’s important to be consistent. You’re not going to build much of a loyal following if you let months go by without communicating. On the other hand, a reader will drop you in a New York minute if you are dishing out self-aggrandizing, boring or purposeless drivel. We’ve all been there: We wait until the last minute and throw up a quickie post that might possibly turn people off, rather than add value. The best way to avoid slamming out a loser post like this is to create a list of topics and put together a schedule for when you’ll post them.

  1. Your archived content continues to attract visitors to your website.

Your blog posts remain on your site and are available to search engine web crawlers, conceivably, forever. You may be creating a ton of content each week for your social media platforms. Hopefully, your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest “Likes” and “Friends” have led viewers to click through to visit your website. Good for you! But for continued longevity, you must build on that by creating an archive of material that lives forever and ever.

Your job is to continue to ‘feed the beast’ so people will find your posts on Google and click to your site to learn more. Not only does this decrease the likelihood of users getting distracted by their Facebook feed or extraneous Tweets, but it also increases the amount of time they remain on your site and comb through your pages – a huge factor in the working of Google’s analytics machine.

  1. Your blog can promote interaction with customers.

Don’t worry if you don’t get a lot of comments at first, or your blogs are only getting comments from spammers. This doesn’t mean you’re not getting read by prospective customers. After all, do you always leave comments after reading an article online? Most people don’t, even if they are keenly interested. Depending on your audience and subject, however, you can hope to get more comments as your audience grows and your SEO rankings increase. Naturally, when those comments do start coming in, you will want to get that two-way street going by responding quickly.

Google Is Our Friend!

Speaking of SEO, I’d advise you to use the web stats tool, Google Analytics. It’s the industry standard when it comes to measuring your website’s performance. It’s free and literally takes minutes to install. Over time as you add more posts to your blog, it will give you a clearer picture of how people are finding your blog and, most importantly, which of your posts are popular so you will learn what kind of content your readers like the most.

Another useful tool to finding effective keyword phrases – those which influence ‘click-through’ rates and are being entered into Google by your prospective customers – is the Keyword section on the site, adwords.google.com. Once you’ve typed in your email address and website on the AdWords home page and clicked on “continue,” you’ll be sent to the “your first campaign” page. On this page under item #2, “choose a target audience,” click on the edit button in the keywords box. Here, you’ll be able to input as many as 20 keywords to gauge their popularity. Use this free feature to help create ‘findable’ titles and content for your posts.

At the risk of appearing self-promotional, I do have one final comment. If you’re in a position to direct your company’s marketing activities and think you’ll handle the blogging, yourself, you may wish to reconsider. Is it going to be worth your time and are you going to be able to do it consistently? Perhaps you have a staff with the intellectual capacity to research, write, post and follow through with the various tasks to optimize your blogging activities. But, before tossing a new, and fairly weighty, additional burden into their in-basket, make sure they have the time and interest to make it a priority. Otherwise, you may be better off outsourcing the planning and performance of your company’s blog.

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Sharon Scott Wilson is a professional writer creating blog posts, feature-length articles and other content for both B2B and B2C readers. Her interests are travel, vacations, RVing and vacation ownership. She manages the PR firm of SharonINK and is publisher of Resort Trades magazine, Resort Trades Weekly (an eNewsletter) and ResortTrades.com. Visit SharonINK.com for more information.

 

Holiday Inn Club Vacations Helps Give Kids The World $305,000

As Seen in ResortTrades.com:

A full field of 160 golfers and celebrities teed it up for the Give Kids The World Celebrity Golf Classic on Monday, April 30 at The Golden Bear Club, a Jack Nicklaus signature course. Presented by Holiday Inn Club Vacations, the event raised a record $305,000 to benefit the Kissimmee, FL based Give Kids The World Village (GKTW). This year’s event was dedicated to keeping the memory and mission of philanthropist and GKTW Founder Henri Landwirth alive. Landwirth passed away on April 16.

The Central Florida nonprofit resort makes dreams come true by providing weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with critical illnesses and their families. GKTW relies on donations from partners, individuals and many volunteers to make magic, and give families time away from doctors and hospitals to just have fun.

Joining the players on the greens were 32 celebrities including professional golfers Richy Werenski, Robert Gamez, Skip Kendall and PGA tour coach Sean Foley; former professional baseball players Ray Lankford, Rickie Weeks and Wil Nieves; UCF Basketball Coach Johnny Dawkins and UCF Baseball Coach Greg Lovelady; former professional football players Ricky Nattiel, Terrence Barber, Kevin House and Jesse Solomon; Charlie Huhn, lead singer of Foghat and country singer/songwriters Rick Monroe and Rob West.

“Without the support of companies like Holiday Inn Club Vacations, our goal to never refuse a request from a deserving child and their family would not be possible,” said Pamela Landwirth, president & CEO of Give Kids The World Village. “We sincerely thank all sponsors, players and celebrities who came out and gave so generously of their time and treasures to help to create happiness and hope for our precious families. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful event. We are incredibly grateful.”

“As a board member of Give Kids The World I see the incredible impact this organization has on children and families. Our company has been a proud supporter of the mission of Give Kids The World since its inception,” commented Stacey Sutherland, vice president of corporate branding and communications for Orange Lake Resorts. “I am overwhelmed by the support from our community, our vendors, celebrities and volunteers that make this event happen. In just two years, we have raised more than $540,000 for the Village.”

The amount raised for GKTW came from local and national businesses and caring people living in the community through sponsorships, foursome fees, drawings, live and silent auctions. Prior to the tournament, a celebrity pairings party and concert with country music singers Rick Monroe, Rob West and Kenyon Lockry was held at the Golden Bear Club.

About Orange Lake Resorts

Orange Lake Resorts encompasses 26 resorts and 7,400 villas in the U.S., with more than 340,000 timeshare owners and 5,000+ employees.

Orange Lake Resorts, a leader within the vacation ownership industry with more than three decades of proven success, operates the Holiday Inn Club®. The Holiday Inn Club Vacations® brand was created in 2008 through a strategic alliance with IHG® (InterContinental Hotels Group), one of the world’s leading hotel companies. The Holiday Inn Club Vacations flagship property in Orlando, Fla., located next to the Walt Disney World® Resort, was established in 1982 by Holiday Inn® founder Kemmons Wilson. The timeshare brand includes 26 resorts across 13 states. For more information on Holiday Inn Club Vacations or to book reservations, visit hiclubvacations.com. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/hiclubvacations or Twitter at twitter.com/hiclubvacations.

About Give Kids The World Village

Give Kids The World Village is an 84-acre, nonprofit “storybook” resort located near Central Florida’s most beloved attractions. Critically ill children and their families are treated to weeklong, cost-free vacations, complete with accommodations in whimsical villas, transportation, donated attraction tickets, meals, and much more. Since 1986, Give Kids The World Village has welcomed more than 160,000 families from all 50 states and over 75 countries. At the Village, these precious children learn that dreams really do come true, as they and their families are immersed in joy, hope, and non-stop fun for a few unforgettably happy days. This extraordinary, life-changing experience is Give Kids The World’s gift, made possible only through the generosity of dedicated corporations and countless individuals. For more information, visit www.givekidstheworld.org.

Media Contacts:
Brian Martin
Orange Lake Resorts
407.395.6925
brmartin@orangelake.com

Emily Wagner
Give Kids The World Village
407-396-1114, ext. 4519
EmilyW@gktw.org

Our Future in the Timeshare Industry: Only the Paranoid Survive

Tradition dictates that each ARDA World convention presents a “Meet the Leaders” session during which prominent developers provide an ‘in-the-trenches’ view of the state of the industry. This year attendees heard from Maurizio Bisicky, COO of Anantara Vacation Club (headquartered in Thailand); Michael Flaskey, CEO of Diamond Resorts [and a frequent contributor to Resort Trades, by the way]; Jon Fredricks, President & CEO of Welk Resorts and Tom Nelson, President & CEO of Holiday Inn Club Vacations.

The session moderator, ARDA President and CEO Howard Nusbaum, led a frank discussion about topics ranging from what is the most pressing legal and regulatory concern in the industry today, to how is the consolidation trend affecting the industry. In answer to the former, the replies were unanimous: Fredricks had coined an acronym for the thorny issue of cancellation/lawyer/relief company issue, “GOOYTs” for “Get Out of Your Timeshare” activity. The entire room appeared to groan in agreement. Nelson observed that the constant barrage of aggressive ads from lawyers, wannabe lawyers and other sharks offering to help hapless owners was upsetting to the public and, particularly, to owners who were being prompted to question their purchase. Flaskey admitted to seeing a dramatically rising incidence of default. ARDA is certainly seeking answers, but while the GOOYT activity is mean-spirited and, in the opinion of resort shareholders, unethical, it may be that it skates too close to the outskirts of the law to be successfully challenged.

Consumer Protection: Fair & Balanced?

Nusbaum observed that the consumer protection laws affecting sales and marketing practices are continuously being changed over the years and he wondered if the group found them reasonably balanced or running a little off-kilter.

The panel agreed with Tom Nelson who said he felt they were more balanced than ever since there has historically been so much pressure over the years for timeshare developers to ensure consumers are well informed. Nelson said Holiday Inn’s policy is to have buyers review and sign off on each of 20 points of an owner clarification document. Fredricks mentioned that Welk Resorts’ policy is to videotape closings if owners agree, which is becoming a common practice.

In Asia, a handful of developers feared the introduction of unfair consumer protection. In response,  Maurizio Bisicky said, the group launched a trades association in the region that will function like a ‘mini-ARDA,’ as he put it. The idea is to help control the introduction of legislation in the various jurisdictions through educating regulators rather than risking overly aggressive action.

Industry Shrink From the Survivor’s Viewpoint

Consolidation remained a hot topic again at this year’s convention, as it has previously. Where once there were dozens of independent developers, now there are much fewer, said Howard. Is it good for the industry? Mike, Tom and Jon see the trend as being positive when larger, more financially stable developers acquire smaller, possibly under-collateralized, resorts and add services, including refurbishment, management and prospective buyers.

Resort Trades advertisers have found it to be a challenge. On the one hand, resorts with better bottom lines can now refurbish, expand and enhance their services, which means increased purchasing. On the other side of the coin, many have found that their old standby contacts have disappeared or been reassigned. As one senior Marriott executive observed, you typically still have a number of decision-makers at the various properties. However, she observed, now you frequently have personnel changing their roles and the manager with whom a vendor previously worked may no longer be the supplier’s most appropriate connection. In our advertising sales calls, we are finding that the most successful advertisers are the ones who consistently appear in each month’s issue. They’ve found it’s no longer healthy to rely on their current book of business. “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive,” said the late Andrew Grove, former CEO of Intel.

The Paranoid Are Watchful

Paranoia is what prompted the early American Land Development Association, supporting retail land developers, to morph into the American Resort Development Association. The early timeshare developers recognized the need to protect the nascent industry from scammers and miscreants. They also were early adopters of research, conducting studies to track consumer interests, financial performance and regional variances.

It’s healthy paranoia that calls for the AIF (the ARDA International Foundation) to conduct and advance industry research. Research is a tool to wave in front of authorities when they question whether or not to tax our business model, for example. Or, in Maurizio’s case, an irrefutable resource to prove the industry’s value in emerging markets.

The financial and demographic data from the Foundation’s research is what tells developers what their consumers want and which expenditures are worth the investment. Research is the tool that helped Welk Resorts determine it could sell luxury villas with private pools to well-heeled owners who desired and could afford exclusivity. It’s what made Fredricks recognize the value of hiring a Chief Fun Officer and provide activities such as the ability to create your very own superhero.

Research helped guide Diamond to earn an 89 percent satisfaction rate through personalized customer service. Studying customer preferences helped lead them to begin presenting concerts featuring acclaimed artists, such as country singer Cole Swindell. “Our decisions are rooted in data-driven analyses,” says Mike Flaskey. “Psychographics has affected the company’s sales volume to achieve $374 million in vacation ownership interests.”

AIF’s research has helped the industry respond to the public’s call for flexibility with points, short-term ownership products and short-term stays. Research helped Anantara discover that “three point two nights is the magic number.”

Continuous Disruption; Continuous Growth

In her May 2018 Developments article, “The Evolution of Timesharing: Four Decades of Amazing Growth,” Marge Lennon said, “In the early timeshare years, the current buzzword ‘disrupter’ (think Amazon, Uber) had yet to become popular. But timesharing clearly was a disrupter to the vacation home and hotel industry. It made the dream of owning a vacation home financially possible–albeit for only a week–without the hassles of maintenance. After families began vacationing in two-bedroom luxury condominiums, the ‘plain-Jane’ hotel room lost its luster, thus impacting the hotel industry as well.

Initially, the hotel industry had considered timesharing a fad that would soon pass, but the ‘fad’ soon morphed into a transforming trend. In less than two decades, the timeshare industry sustained double-digit growth–unparalleled by other industry sectors for this period of time, bringing together the real estate, travel and hospitality industries in a combination that ultimately revolutionized American’s vacation habits.”

What we see nowadays in the industry are a handful of publicly owned and private developers still investing in new resort projects.  More and more, creative travel companies are selling prepaid vacations without the encumbrance of a deeded interest, not timeshare. The industry continues to morph and change.

What About My Future?

If you’re a professional working in this industry, you’re probably asking yourself, “What about me?” I’d urge you to take heart if things appear to be tumultuous to you right now. We are, indeed, in a state of flux. It seems our industry has been threatened time and again throughout the past 40-to-50 years and, yet, smart people find solutions. Creative answers are found.

People will always need vacations. Just like we need music, art, theater – we need joy in our lives; people need to feed their souls. After all, things that bring us joy are why we work so hard.

This industry always seems to be able to offer creative solutions. Where there’s a need on the part of the consumer, there will be those among us who perceive of this need and create a solution. We’ll just need to change our model. We’ll have to become the Uber or Lyft as compared to the taxi. We’ll need to be the horseless carriage, the electric light bulb, the cell phone.

 

ARDA World 2018 – Must-See Sessions

The first not-to-be-missed event taking place during the ARDA World 2018 May 6-10 convention at Caesars Palace isn’t necessarily instructional, but it’s for a good cause: It’s the 5th Annual TrackResults Poker Tournament supporting the cancer-survivor organization, Send Me On Vacation. The extravaganza’s adventure, jocularity, and camaraderie begin at 8:00 pm in the South Point Casino and continue to 11:30 pm (and if legend holds true, far beyond). So click HERE to register.

This year’s annual convention has several educational sessions that I think will be of particular interest to resort operators and managers. Below, I’ve listed some that caught my eye. But first, I want to address resort team members who plan on attending ARDA World, directly.

Please, please visit the ARDA Marketplace and thank the vendors for their support of the Association. With the consolidation of resort developers into just a few companies, our suppliers need you to give them a shot at your business. And if you use a supplier or vendor who tells you, “I don’t need to show up with an exhibit,” CHASTISE them! They are taking your business for granted. They are showing you disrespect by not helping support your continuing education.

The same can be said of advertising in Resort Trades magazine. This is a free-to-you publication supported only by advertising. The publication strives to print the most relevant and timely resort management-oriented information. And, in truth, the Resort Trades team works to give you a monthly magazine (namely, twelve times a year) that is by you and for you almost as a labor of love. As their advertising base shrinks, so does their viability. So, if you want to see this specialized publication survive, tell advertisers “I saw you in The Trades.” And tell your suppliers you would expect them to support your education and the well-being of your company by being an advertising partner. Here’s a link to Resort Trades’ media kit.

Now, For My List of ‘Compulsory’ Sessions

Monday is devoted principally to committee meetings and a two-part “Fundamentals of Timeshare.” The day’s general session officially kicks off the convention and is to be headlined by keynote speaker Robert Stevenson. Robert is a global speaker, best-selling author, and an expert at building a high-performance culture, improving efficiency and accelerating growth. Sponsored by RCI, the session is from 3:30 pm until 5:00 pm (perilously close to Happy Hour!).

Scheduled for Tuesday:

9:00 am – 10:15 am, Twitter Alert: Trump and Timeshare. The current administration brings both opportunities and potential challenges. One fact is sure – things are changing! Hear a panel of experts discuss changes to legislation, tax codes and labor laws. Moderator: Sandra “Sam” DePoy, ARDA-ROC. Speakers: Blair Larkins, Bockorny Group; John Lehrer, Baker & Hostetler LLP; Steven Suflas, Ballard Spahr LLP.

Unfortunately, a time conflict exists for another 9:00 am – 10:15 am session that appeals to most resort professionals: “Modern Going Mobile.” Today’s customers initiate more transactions through mobile devices than traditional websites. A mobile experience is expected. Attendees will discuss resort apps, mobile security and more with industry experts. Moderator: Barbie LaMothe, Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. Speakers: Federico Beyer, Royal Resorts; Oskar Diaz de Leon, Welk Resorts; Tom Meyer, Hilton Grand Vacations Inc.

There are a number of interesting sessions taking place concurrently in the 1:30 pm – 2:45 pm slot. Among them are “#MeToo and My Corporate Culture.” How has the #MeToo movement affected corporate cultures within the timeshare industry? Find out as experts discuss what challenges exist, what changes have been made, and what you can do next. Moderator: Barbara Wilcox, Holiday Inn Club Vacations. Speakers: Amy Bellman, Fidelity National Timeshare; Jonathan Canger, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp.; Tracy Ward, Welk Resorts.

Also being discussed during this time period are “Optimal Fishing Holes: Guest Feedback” and “To Russia, With Love: Hacking Alert.” The latter session promises to discuss ways to protect your data and prevent hacking.

From 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm, one particularly interesting session for those companies developing alternative products or operating internationally is “Rethinking Finance: Resales, International and Beyond.” Explore the challenges in financing for international projects in places like South America or the Carribean, and for non-traditional projects such as resales, travel clubs or RVs. Moderator: Bill Ryczek, Colebrook Financial Company, LLC. Speakers: Debbie Ely, Vacation Club Loans; Scott Preston, Preston Arza LLP; Chris Hughes, Monterey Financial Services.

Schedule conflicts for this hour will once again be a problem as who wants to miss “Legal Hot Topics at Home and Abroad,” “Your Members are Talking…Are You Listening” (yes, another look at social media) or “Inspect What You Expect: Quality Assurance for Employee Programs”?

Scheduled for Wednesday:

Wednesday, May 9, has us up and at ’em at 8:45 am – 9:45 am with “The kNOws” of Communicating with Customers and Prospects.” Dive into the legal considerations related to communicating with prospects and customers. Discussion points will include new spam laws, privacy issues, TCPA and FDCPA updates. Moderator: Luke Smith, Taylor English Duma LLP. Speakers: Ed Chansky, Greenberg Traurig, LLP; Ron Naves, Welk Resorts; Jenny Perkins, Ballard Spahr LLP; Stratis Pridgeon, Wyndham Vacation Ownership

Conflicting time-wise with this session is” Safety First, Even on Vacation.” We hear stories daily of theft, fraud and terror threats affecting travelers. Learn to develop and implement a preparedness plan and ensure the safety and security of owners, guests, and team members. Moderator: Tony Mendez, MasterCorp. Speakers: David Brown, Grand Pacific Resorts; Duane Finley, Bluegreen Vacations Corporation

But if you should miss this one, perhaps you can catch up later from 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm at the “Disaster Preparedness Forum.” When disaster strikes, it’s crucial to know how to react on the ground as well as in the public eye. Join us for a critically important and timely forum where a panel of industry professionals will share their real-life knowledge and experience. Topics will include dealing with the immediate and long-term effects of disasters, communicating with both the press and with guests, and managing displaced owners. After the panel, table leaders will facilitate breakout discussion groups for further engagement opportunities. We encourage you to come – you can never be too prepared. Moderator: Stephanie Sobeck, Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp. Speakers: Kelly Brady-Snyder, Grand Pacific Resorts; Stephen Escher – Diamond Resorts; Erin Pagán – Hilton Grand Vacations Inc.

Prior to the forum, Rob Webb, Baker & Hostetler LLP moderates a 1:30 pm – 2:45 pm panel on “Timeshare Relief.” Exit and relief companies are a huge challenge in today’s timeshare resale market. What is the industry’s response, especially on the scam front, and what are exit alternatives for consumers? Speakers: Maria Kalber, Diamond Resorts; Wes Kogelman, BuyATimeshare.com; Cullen Williams, Holiday Inn Club Vacations. This one will be standing room only, so come early.

Of particular interest to resorts dealing with HOA Boards will be the 3:00-4:15 pm session, “Who’s on Board? How do resorts find qualified owners who are willing serve on the Board of Directors? Come learn the best practices of recruitment, application processing, onboarding and educating new Board Members. Moderator: Dale Goodman, GoodManagement. Speakers: Tye Deyo, Vistana Signature Experiences; Kim Fries, Bluegreen Vacations Corporation; Jan Samson, Vacation Resorts International.

See ya’ in Vegas, Baby!

I’m not usually the type to casually call people “baby,” but perhaps the thought of a fun week in Vegas brings it out in me. I’ll be wandering around the Exhibit Hall, most likely. So, please be sure to say hi if we see one another at ARDA World 2018.

–Sharon

 

Saving Money on Your Orlando Vacation

orlando vacation meal planningReprinted with permission from Bay Tree Solutions: Meal Planning Can Save Money on Your Orlando Vacation.

A visit to Orlando without a day spent in one of the area’s amusement park seems out of the question to many families. But others who have ‘been-there-done-that’ may decide to skip the park and choose, instead, to lounge by the pool, play a round of golf, or visit one of the city’s many attractions.

Whatever entertainment you may select, an Orlando vacation can be a pricey undertaking. One travel expert recently observed, “How much money will you need in Orlando? $236.00 is the average daily price for traveling in Orlando. The average price of food for one day is $50.00 per person. The average price of a hotel for a couple is $216.00.”

Something may be off with my math, but when I add $100.00 for food for two, plus $216.00 for a hotel room, the daily price for an Orlando vacation appears to start at $316.00 just for room and board! Realistically, you’re going to need to plan on spending more than that if you’re to take advantage of visiting America’s biggest playground. How can you shave a few hundred off these initial basics, you might ask?

For starters, you can greatly reduce the cost of a hotel room by acquiring a vacation ownership, or timeshare, unit. This comes with the added bonus of affording you dining and kitchen areas, which leads us to our next tactic: Make a detailed meal plan for each day of your trip.

One couple writes, “We would often have a big breakfast, snack for lunch and then sit down for a nice dinner. So, we really had only two full meals per day.” Since most Americans typically have lighter fare for their midday meal, this routine would not be a sharp departure from their norm.

Judy S. from Syracuse says, “We own a week at the Sheraton Vistana Resort. It’s just my husband and me, so we’re very flexible. We’ve used our exchange privileges to visit several of the other Vistana properties in Hawaii and Arizona. So we learned that before we go, it helps to put together a shopping list that includes items for a full breakfast to have in our condo each morning and an easy one-dish dinner for most of the evenings. That way we can grab a quick sandwich on the road for lunch. When we stay at the Orlando Vistana, we’ll typically dine at one of the onsite venues a couple of times during the week. Sometimes we’ll just order a pizza or a burger from the Tacky Tiki Bar & Grill and have them deliver it.”

“We’re a family of four so we plan our budget down to the penny,” says Sarah E. from Columbus, Ohio. “We’re owners at Summer Bay Orlando by Exploria Resorts, in Kissimmee. We just love it there! For one thing, the apartments are huge and very modern, with trey ceilings and bright summery colors. But the kids love it here because there’s so much to do. There’s a lovely lake where they can go out on paddle boats or go fishing. There’s every kind of entertainment including canoeing, swimming, miniature golf, tennis, a fitness center and a game room, which is great for those rainy days. Our little one is still in diapers, so it’s great to have a washer and dryer right in the unit. Because the kids are little, we don’t go out to restaurants very often. I feel right at home in my huge kitchen at Summer Bay and can keep our expenses really low.”

“Each summer we get two units close together at Parc Soleil by Hilton Grand Vacations Club for our annual reunion,” says Marge K. from Bad Axe, Michigan. “Having a kitchen while on vacation is perfect for us. The kids can eat whenever they are hungry, without the hassle of leaving the resort or even leaving our condo. Plus, there’s plenty of space in either unit for the whole group to gather each evening. We find it’s much more affordable and comfortable to stay at a timeshare resort, rather than at a hotel. Without our kitchens, there’d be eleven of us eating pizza on a bed. Yuck!”

Sarah observes that she ordinarily visits the nearby Publix supermarket on the way to the resort. “We are usually a little tired from traveling by the time we get to Orlando. So, for the first night we pick up two rotisserie chickens, a ready-made salad and maybe chips or a potato salad. That way we’ll have an extra chicken the next day. We’ll buy cold cuts, bread and mayonnaise to tide us through lunches for the first few days. My children are content with cereal for breakfast, although, lately, I’ve been treating them to French toast. So we add that to the basket, plus drinks and desert treats. After a few days, we get into a rhythm of playing outdoors or participating in an activity in the morning, grabbing a sandwich for lunch, and then spending the rest of the afternoon in the pool. We wait until the fifth or sixth day before visiting Walt Disney World or Universal Studios. I think part of the fun is the anticipation.”

“Because we have such a large group, we make a pretty detailed plan,” says Marge. “We have some teens in the family and, boy, can they chow down! So before we even pack a bag, my sister and I sit down together and plan each and every day. This helps us justify adding a few more excursions during our week. For example, one year we visited Ybor City, which is a colorful, historic village full of art deco appointments. It was founded in 1885 as a base for cigar factories and you can still watch through a shop window as an artisan works his craft.”

“We don’t really plan too far in advance,” says Judy. “We’ve come to the Sheraton Vistana Resort for several years and we’ve worked out an easy-to-follow routine. Right before we leave home I make up a shopping list of easy-to-prepare things like frozen entrees, veggies and deserts. Publix has a wonderfully convenient delivery service. They’ll even deliver liquor so my husband and I can have our ‘Vacation Margueritas’ in the evenings. I have to admit it; I am really lazy when I’m on vacation. The Publix is located right there, but I don’t want to waste time grocery shopping. So I place my order online and they’ll deliver it to the unit.”

The ability to stay in a condo with all the appliances and conveniences of home gives you a head-start when it comes to saving money on vacation, wherever you go. And with a little planning ahead or, even with not-so-much planning ahead, you can cut reduce your dining expense by as much as 50 percent or more! After all, more money in your pocket means more opportunity to explore and experience adventures with your friends and family.