BLUE MOUNTAINS — VO-Con 2018, a conference for the Vacation Ownership Industry, held at the Westin Trillium House Sept. 25-27, brought owners, influencers, developers and governments together to strive to ensure the industry remains relevant and responsive.
“Getting the Deal Done” was the title of one of the first panels, consisting of Barry Landsberg, Accor Hotels; Anne Larcade, Sequel Hotels & Resorts; Dianne Hounsome, The Cottages at Port Stanton; and Duane Lee, Vacation SafeGuard.
Hounsome said there are both opportunities and challenges in the Canadian market today. “There's the opportunity to promote Canadian product to Canadians. Last year was our 150th, and this was an opportunity to sell. Ours is a cottage-alternative product. We can push buttons — telling people they have chance to own in their own country. That does resonate with people; it's an opportunity for us.”
“I'm an optimist; it's a great time for the industry,” said Larcade. “The cost of housing is so expensive — the median house price in Toronto is $1.3 million, while in Vancouver it is $1.5 million. It's time to pivot in the industry, to sell the experience.”
The industry has changed a lot since its inception: in the 1990s, the average age of a vacation owner was 51 years old, while today it is just 39. Millennials are ripe for travel — experiential travel around the world. That means vacation ownership packages have to be more flexible than they used to be, said Larcade.
Just about all of the speakers used the word flexibility — from Accor's Landsberg who is involved with large international resorts such as Fairmont Heritage Place in Acapulco, Telluride and San Francisco; to Hounsome and Larcade whose smaller properties are in Ontario cottage country.
Selling methods have also changed — there's a need to use technology more and a need to educate the customer.
“The biggest thing to making owners happy is inclusion,” said Hounsome. “We created an advisory board and show them every single number, including reserves and maintenance fees. If there are changes, we write letters to the owners. The more you can include them, the better.” By creating the board and having regular meetings with owners, The Cottages at Port Stanton have had no delinquencies and very few resales. “That's the easiest way to have goood resales,” she said.
“It's important to be guest centric,” said Larcade. “It's critical to understand what guest experiences, amenities and technology they want — that are relevant to that customer. In larger developments, they are working to educate those customers through webinars and meetings. If you have close relationships and meetings, you avoid a lot of grief down the road.”
“There's a difference between getting the deal done in North America versus internationally,” noted Landsberg. “North American developers and management companies are a lot more sophisticated in the space regarding breadth of product. There's a lot of comfort and knowledge in North America. There's a lot of exposure to large management companies such as Marriott, Hilton and RCI. Outside North America, there's more excitement, but it takes a lot more selling and information to get that sale.”
Jon Zwickel's role to change
At the conference, CVOA president and CEO Jon Zwickel announced that he would be stepping down from his position, but that he would serve on the board of directors.
One of Zwickel's achievements was to forge an alliance with the Hotel Association of Canada, by signing an MOU to promote common interests.
“HAC looks forward to a continued relationship with
CVOA and working closely with the new president and CEO,” said Alana Baker of the Hotel Association of Canada, who participated in the advocacy panel at VO-Con 2018.
“It was a pleasure to
work with Jon and we wish him all the best! We are also pleased to hear that
Jon will still serve on the association’s board and look forward to continuing
to build the momentum that we have already collectively achieved as an