Pictured, from left to right, W. John Funk, Joel McTague, Robert Kaplan, Bob Ackerman
With a COVID-19 vaccine on its way, HOA’s may see a shift in consumer confidence; timeshare boards will need to proceed with cautious optimism while continuing their commitment to safety protocols that make their resort a perfect choice for travelers. During the December 17, 2020 Timeshare Board Members Association (TBMA) webinar: The Year Ahead: Cautious Optimism, panelists discussed their approaches to the complexities of communicating new policies, developing contingency planning, and implementing new technology during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The TBMA panel included: W. John Funk, Attorney, Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell, P.C.; Joel McTague, Attorney, Frank, Weinberg & Black, P.L.; Robert “Bob” Kaplan, Board Vice President and General Counsel, The Rushes, Wisconsin; and Bob Ackerman, Vice President Sales/Partner, Rental Network Software Corp.
Conveying new policies
Communication is key when it comes to disseminating regulations during the shifting circumstances we are dealing with. Funk recommends sending an email to outline requirements and expectations, followed up with a phone call, and finally going over rules and regulations again when owners and guests come to visit in person. Consider issuing a penalty and fine if a guest does not adhere to rules.
McTague agrees on finding the best way to connect. “Go above and beyond,” he said. “Send a letter if members are letter-oriented. Text messages, videos, and all other ways of communication to help assure that the message gets through.”
But sometimes passing information on to owners is difficult. Kaplan said that some owners don’t have email, and others that don’t always read it. “You say, ‘The pool is closed.’ They say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know.’ If you read the email you’d know,” he said, adding, “I don’t think you can over-communicate, but be mindful that people don’t always read the communications.”
It’s challenging to anticipate what may happen. McTague said, “Everything changes almost on a daily, let alone on a weekly basis. Meet with counsel, your financial advisor, and insurance professionals. With constantly changing regulations that aren’t quite clear, a lawyer always needs to be involved.”
A big concern for Funk is illness. “What happens if one of your staff members gets sick?” he questioned. “Think ahead about different kinds of scenarios that are going to develop. For example, if somebody gets sick in the resort, does the resort have to shut down? Does the resort make arrangements for guests to be tested? What are the resources for a guest or staff member? We’re at a time where hospitals and medical workers are strained to the limit. What arrangements do you have so guests can get needed services? COVID is presenting a very complex environment to resorts. Contingency planning is absolutely essential. At the end of the day a resort wants to be able to say it employed best practices and did everything possible to protect guests.”
But contingency planning can be a real challenge in a very rural area. Kaplan pointed out, “You don’t have the medical resources available if something happens to a guest. We’re out in the boondocks then all of a sudden COVID-19 happens. We need to have a better crafted disaster plan.”
While implementing new initiatives, resorts should also be reviewing their technology platforms. Ackerman believes that procedures need to be in place to protect data, back it up twice a day, and secure information in a data center. “Procedures need to be written down, understood, and agreed upon that it’s going to be a safe environment,” he said.
Having a technology specialist onboard is what Funk recommends. “The more people you have using systems and depending on systems, the more you need resources to deal with individual problems,” he said. “In my law practice, it’s not unusual to not be able to get into a system. Then you have to call a specialist. Your tech specialist is an important member of the collaboration team these days. You can’t be effective going through these technology platforms unless they’re safe and reliable.”
Social media is a huge part of technology platforms—and it’s both a blessing and a curse according to McTague. “It’s a great way to monitor legitimate complaints,” he said. “But on the downside, you also have the ability for owners to vent on issues that really aren’t issues and make problems up. It can become a runaway train, and the social media effort can get highjacked by a handful of owners.”
There are also the problems of not having internet access at all. Being in a rural area, Kaplan mentioned there is only one internet provider. “When our internet goes down, we’re between a rock and a hard place,” he disclosed. “Guests are unhappy they can’t access the internet. It makes it difficult for employees.”
Ackman stresses the importance of keeping documents “behind the wall.” He’s seen it often—small resorts that don’t have IT help with posting on their websites may inadvertently leak too much information— thereby exposing minutes of meetings and an annual budget that need to be private and protected,” he said.
This article is a summary of the TBMA Conversations Series Webinar—The Year Ahead: Cautious Optimism on 12/17/2020. You can request a recorded video of this webinar by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.