Florida is home to 25 percent of all vacation ownership resorts in the United States, with nearly half of them located in Central Florida. This makes Orlando the perfect place for timeshare industry leaders to convene, April 12–16.
A record 3,000 attendees from 35 countries will share best practices and network with peers at the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) World Convention and Exposition at the Orlando World Center Marriott.
“Orlando is headquarters to a large percentage of our members, all active in the tourism community,” said Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of ARDA. “In addition, the timeshare industry has a bigger economic footprint in Florida than any other state.”
An advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., ARDA works with the government on legal issues related to vacation ownership real estate, hospitality and consumer finance.
Regulatory issues are included on the convention’s agenda. In Florida alone, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, have each submitted timeshare legislation that merits discussion. “But our key focus will be on how to best meet consumer demand for immediacy in sales, service and loyalty,” said Nusbaum.
Nationwide, the timeshare industry generates approximately $68.7 billion in total economic output, employs more than 473,000 in full- or part-time jobs and generates more than $8.5 billion in taxes.
Florida was one of the first places for the vacation ownership concept to gain a foothold. In the beginning, industry history was shaped by colorful entrepreneurs. Some of the companies they founded still exist, but bigger corporate names now dot the timeshare landscape.
“The industry’s become more consolidated with large, well-capitalized players,” said Nusbaum. These include Disney, Four Seasons, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood and Wyndham. “With enormous brand equity and integrity at stake, they spend a great deal of time and expertise to find out what consumers really want.”
In a nutshell, they now want more. “Today, there are so many more tools for customers to make instant value comparisons,” said Nusbaum. “We can no longer rely on a prescribed, 90-minute marketing presentation to educate a prospect―it’s just too rigid.”
That’s especially true for millennials. “They don’t want to be sold something,” said Nusbaum. “Millennials prefer an interactive dialogue with someone who looks like them.”
Once you get their attention, millennials find the concept of shared vacation ownership attractive. “In many ways, we pioneered the idea of a shared economy,” said Nusbaum. “We’re the Zipcar or NetJets of the vacation industry.”
From an economic perspective, industry leaders say timeshare owners often spend more money in the tourism community than typical hotel guests. “They usually stay longer and, since the per-unit cost is fixed, bring more people to stay with them,” said Nusbaum.
And as time passes, there’s less “vacation inflation” to eat into their wallets. “With the annual cost of their vacation accommodations preset, timeshare owners often have more money left over to spend,” said Nusbaum. “So having vacation ownership units in the mix of hospitality options can help bolster the economic health of any tourism region.”
It can also help even out the peaks and valleys of demand. That was never more apparent than immediately following previous economic downturns.
“While Orlando’s hotel occupancy dipped to just above 50 percent after 9/11, timeshare occupancy was 88 percent,” said Nusbaum. “And in 2009, hotel occupancy in Hawaii was barely 50 percent while timeshare occupancy was 91 percent.”
The most recent recession did have its negative impact on the industry. “For 20 years, we enjoyed double-digit growth,” said Nusbaum. “But when Lehman Brothers failed and lending capital disappeared in 2008, sales dropped by 40 percent.”
To combat that slump, timeshare leaders focused on marketing to customers with greater financial security. By 2013, that strategy had paid off with a return to double-digit growth. Now an $8 billion industry, 9.1 million households own a vacation timeshare. Surveys indicate a consumer satisfaction rate of 83 percent.
“More than 50 percent of all sales last year were to people who already owned a timeshare,” said Nusbaum. “That product loyalty makes me believe the golden days for our industry are still ahead.”