Canadian Resort Conference considers timeshare reboot

Jon Zwickel, CRDA (right) and Fermin Cruz, of DOA

Jon Zwickel, CRDA (right) and Fermin Cruz, of DOA

TORONTO—The Canadian Resort Conference (CRC 2014), which took place at the Pantages Hotel in downtown Toronto on Sept. 23-24, broadened its focus beyond Canada this year.

Now produced by Perspective Group on behalf of Canadian Resort Development Association (CRDA), this annual event expanded its reach to the wider resort community throughout Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Caribbean and beyond.

The content looked at the Canadian Marketplace, and how to attract Canadians to international destinations. 

As promised, the conference delivered debates with energetic interaction from attendees on pertinent issues affecting the industry ranging from new entrants to the industry as well as veterans. 

The discussions dealt frankly with the changes facing the evolving timeshare industry.  John Small, chairman of ResortCon International summed it up in his opening remarks to a panel titled, “There’s no escaping getting old.” The industry is now dealing with aging buildings, an aging customer base, and aging homeowners’ associations (HOAs).

“Timeshare is losing steam,” Small said. “We are having trouble with our existing client base; emerging markets are not interested; the field is changing for all players, and the biggest challenge is a shrinking number of owners.”

The panel noted that it’s important to analyze inventory, improve the experience at the property level and develop a financial plan to build revenues and lift fees.

“But without sales, there is no future unless we want to sell off units as condos, or turn them into a limited service hotel—and still beat the bottom line,” said David Waller, founder of Waller Law and Legal Aspirin, the only lawyer on the panel.

Robert McGrath, vice president of business development for RCI echoed Waller’s sentiments about sales. “If there is no sales solution, you will not be there long,” he said. “We have to get new blood coming in. The legacy customer tends to transact more than the new customer, and the club business has been impacted.

“Grandma went to the same place at the same time of year; I don’t travel like that,” is the attitude of new customers, he noted.

Some of the solutions suggested by the panel were:

o Supporting homeowners associations with video products, rental support, and looking at ways to maintain the value of the property.

o Looking at ways to legally restructure to survive an aging membership. Most of the time they are talking bankruptcy or a high voting threshold to change.

o Look at what it’s going to cost to sell a property, and address problems so that you can sell with a clear title.

Tara Kreuz, regional vice president, northeast for Wyndham Vacation ownership gave an example of a new resort aimed at aging owners and boomers. The Jimmy-Buffett-themed resort called Margaritaville is located in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Another panel member, Blake Plumley, president and CEO of Heirloom Resorts, said he has been onsite at Margaritaville and that it will be “one of the most phenomenal resorts in the Caribbean. 

“Our view is that business is not what it has always been. The business model of the last 20 years is evolving and dying,” Plumley said.

Cornerstone Award winner

This year, the CRDA Cornerstone Award went to Fermin Cruz, vice president of marketing for DAE (Dial an Exchange), a worldwide vacation ownership exchange service. Now, DAE is working on a product that is specially targeted to legacy homeowners associations—a fresh approach to exchanges with a simple one-fee product. Jon Zwickel, president and CEO of CRDA presented the award to Cruz.