VO-Con forum explores the business of vacations

Jon Zwickel, executive director, CRDA addresses the VO-CON conference in Vancouver last month.

Jon Zwickel, executive director, CRDA addresses the VO-CON conference in Vancouver last month.

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VANCOUVER—Jon Zwickel, who took over as executive director of the Canadian Resort Development Association in January, sees 2013 as a year of transition for the association.  

Over the year, with the help of a highly-responsive board, they formulated and implemented a three-step strategic plan—they reviewed every aspect of CRDA’s performance, recalibrated its shortcomings; and rebranded and reformatted the annual conference, now called VO-Con.  

“With that mandate, and with the help of our board, our conference planning committee, and Big Picture Conferences, it took us six months and countless hours … but here we are … delivering VO-Con to you … the leaders of the vacation ownership industry,” Zwickel said.

Zwickel reported that global shared vacation ownership is recuperating and forging ahead.

There are over 5,300 shared vacation ownership resorts around the world, which include more than 497,000 units, he said. These resorts generated over 250 million room nights in 2010. As a basis for comparison, this is the equivalent of every hotel in Canada running 100 per cent occupancy for 18 months.

North America, including Canada, Mexico and the U.S. has the highest concentration of shared vacation ownership in the world with nearly 2,500 resorts and 261,000 units, representing 46 per cent of all worldwide vacation ownership resorts and 53 per cent of all units.

“Again, by way of comparison, there are 8,500 hotels in Canada with 464,000 rooms,” Zwickel said.

“Looking ahead, the worldwide vacation ownership industry is continuing to grow with expansion of existing resorts as well as new developments.”
Attracting millennials

The industry does face some challenges, however, as indicated by a panel with Dave Callaghan, Interval International; Bob McGrath, RCI; Bob Craycraft, ARDA; Chris Thompson, Intrawest and Kevin Walker, Oak Bay Beach Hotel.

One of these is attracting millennials. “If I’m 30 years old, I don’t care about vacation real estate. I just want to take a trip,” said Craycraft. “And I don’t want to go to Las Vegas or Orlando, because I went there with my parents. I want timeshare as a base while I go out to explore the rest of the world. We are selling the experience, not real estate.’

“In-perpetuity is a dirty word,” added Thompson.

The Next Great Resort
Ed Romanowski of Bellstar Hotels & Resorts divided participants into groups to discuss hypothetical design of Canada’s next great vacation ownership resort, using a set of specs that sounded suspiciously similar to Bellstar’s properties.

The resort is to be set in the Okanagan Valley with 150 metres of Lake Okanagan beachfront, close to vineyards, golf and Kelowna airport. It has development approval for 200 resort suites, 25 residences and an amenities building. The four groups discussed sales and marketing, financing, planning and development and the offering.

Groups came up with similar costing—ranging from $65 to $80 million, and creative ideas such as a lighthouse, a marina, a boathouse as the sales centre, wine and wellness offerings, medical tourism and even a medical marijuana farm.

Whistler Vacation Group wins Cornerstone Award

In September 2010, Marlene Scott was among four members of the board of directors of Whistler Vacation Club who discovered a misappropriation of funds.

“Our journey began in September 2010 with one payroll cycle in cash flow and $450,000 in payables,” Scott told the audience at VO-Con 2013. “In short, we were two weeks away from closing our offices and selling off the properties to pay our debts. I call this our ‘Walk of Fire.’”

But rather than give up, the board decided to fight back. Scott summed up the results for the VO-Con audience.

“Our building is undergoing a renewal, zero debt on the building, owners are coming back multiple stays per year, we refined our operations, implemented checks and balances for increased transparency, built back our reserves, implemented reserve accounts and our pre-paid and operating accounts are in the black by over $1.5 million,” she said.

Those efforts won Whistler Vacation Club CRDA’s first ever Cornerstone Award.