By George Leposky
Legacy resort board members and managers shared their properties’ reopening status during a Timeshare Board Members Association webinar on June 4, 2020. They described a broad spectrum of owner and guest activity—from totally closed to practically full.
The webinar enabled participants from across the U.S. to compare notes and discuss best practices. Shep Altshuler, TBMA president, noted that the organization’s educational activities are continuing, virtually, through blog posts and webinars despite cancellation of its in-person spring and fall 2020 conferences. “Every member of our community should contribute blog articles,” he emphasized.
In preparing to reopen a resort, Altshuler said, “act on advice of legal counsel and professional advisors. Be sure you are in compliance with your governing documents and state statutes. In a time of crisis, contingency planning and safety protocols are a must.”
He acknowledged that although COVID-19 remains a concern, “taking a risk is essential to entrepreneurship. You are at risk when you open in an unsure environment. Take measures to minimize risk and maximize the potential for long-term success.”
Following is a summary of participants’ comments:
Robert Townsend, general manager, Beachcomber Inn, South Lake Tahoe, CA: We’re still closed. California is being strict about non-essential travel. Our county supervisors in El Dorado County are petitioning the governor to let us open up, but we have a small hospital in the [Lake Tahoe] basin, and he’s concerned about bringing the virus in. Meanwhile, two miles away in Nevada, the casinos are opening.
Fireworks shows and summer concerts around the lake have been canceled, and so has a big auto show in Reno.
We’ve used Paycheck Protection Program loans to keep resort staff on, and we’re continuing with renovations. We remodeled one unit that was in dire need, we’re on phase two of office renovations, and we’re resurfacing the pool. Our pool is next to a big public park. Kids come over the fence to swim there. We’re trying to figure out how to keep people safe.
Ron Harrington, president, St. Tropez Vacation Condominiums, Ocean City, MD: We’re a 20-unit resort. After the governor relaxed restrictions, we opened May 22. The first week, five units were occupied by renters, five by owners, and one by an exchanger. The second week, we had 11 owners and one exchanger. We need rental income, and hope the rentals pick up.
We have a very small pool. We’re trying to figure out whether to open it or not. When guests are in the pool and it’s invaded by non-owners, it’s difficult to police. We’re considering making appointments for an hour. That will cost a lot of money to monitor, and then we’ll need to sanitize everything after people leave the pool.
Bob Ackerman, vice president of sales/partner, RNS Timeshare Management Software, Bradenton, FL: Every state has different rules [for reopening] right now. It’s difficult to keep owners, guests, and exchangers highly informed about what they need to do—whether to bring masks and other safety items. Also, they want to know what’s going on in town. Many of the bars and restaurants aren’t open yet. Resorts need to post these items online on a weekly basis.
R. Scott MacGregor, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Lemonjuice Solutions, Orlando, FL: We’re seeing demand, but it’s variable. Drive-to markets are picking up faster than fly-to markets. The mid-Atlantic region was slow to pick up in the beginning, but now there is rapid demand and booking for summer rentals. In central Florida, our rental pickup rates are way below other markets. Owners want to come back, after July and into the fall—60 to 90 days out—but they’re tentative about making reservations with all the restrictions in place.
Tim McLaughlin, director business development , RCI, Orlando, FL: We’re seeing short-notice bookings, and bookings now exceed cancellations, but we still have summer inventory on the shelf. One third of our customers are jumping in, one-third are waiting, and one-third say they will never do it again.
Wyndham has reopened in Florida and South Carolina. There’s a lot of demand. We’re helping people who have lost vacations with anything a resort wants to do, through use of inventory and developer bonus weeks. We’re also helping resorts manage their inventory to maximize cash flow, crunching data and establishing proper values for rentals, saying here’s what we think rentals could do in this market. In addition, we’re helping resorts with ARDA rules on sanitation.
Michael DiPaola, resort manager, Sea Club IV, Daytona Beach Shores, FL: We’ve offered a $99 rescheduling fee to owners who don’t want to come until fall. Now 75 percent of our ownership is in, and through the summer we expect 75 percent to 90 percent owner occupancy, but we haven’t yet opened the rental doors.
Joel Gaertner, board member, The Rushes, Baileys Harbor, WI: We shut down for seven weeks. We’ve given those owners the chance to pick another week in the next year and a half. That has gone over really well.
Paula DiPaola, board president, Magic Tree Resort, Kissimmee, FL: We’re prescreening owners and guests, asking them to sign a waiver in advance, and taking their temperature and sanitizing their hands on arrival. We had an association attorney draft the waiver to make it user-friendly. It lists all the people in the party, and can be signed by hand or electronically. The waiver also gives us a good opportunity to talk with incoming guests about bringing masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies, and to have a dialog about their safety and the safety of team members at the property.
Our pool has never closed. We have no challenges. We had 10 people at a time in the pool for a month. Now we’re back to 30 people.
Jay Bagwell, board president, The Sandpiper, Lincoln City, OR: We’re in communication with owners through a private Facebook group, and mass mailings through Facebook to all owners who aren’t part of the group. We post pictures, keep things quick and relevant. We have to get more people interested in being part of our timeshare system. The traditional mechanisms are waning, but the new generations are interested in travel clubs. We’re doing short-term sales to people who have full access, and at the end of five years they can walk away or extend it. Maybe the net result is we’ll get more people involved.
Please stay in touch – share your experiences. Send us 500-word articles and high resolution 1mb photos for the TBMA Blog to firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Leposky is editor of TimeSharing Today.