Three Takeaways From ARDA World 2019
The timeshare industry must embrace change.
The news that came out of April’s ARDA World 2019 conference in Orlando, Florida, centered around industry change. Howard Nusbaum, the retiring president and CEO of ARDA, took his final bow on the big stage, passing the torch to Jason Gamel, previously the senior vice president of legal at Wyndham Destinations, who takes over the association this month. Meanwhile, forums dedicated to the next 50 years of timeshare were packed, and a panel of industry leaders and CEOs sat in conversation about the state of the vacation ownership industry (strong) and what they need to focus on in 2019 and beyond (adaptation, innovation, and reputation).
Evolving the timeshare product to meet changing consumer demands and purchasing habits is the number one focus for the industry. “The market has changed 180 degrees,” says Olivier Chavy, the new president of RCI and the Registry Collection. “We need to look at casinos, airlines, luxury brands—they’re not product-focused; they’re focusing on the user experience. We must be customer-obsessed and adapt the RCI environment to what the consumer wants.” For example, ARDA panelists said that when it comes to millennials, it’s important to offer new urban destinations—Austin, Nashville, Portland—and flexible options to spend only a few days at a destination instead of an entire week.
Timeshare industry leaders agreed that revamping customer acquisition in today’s market is crucial and that the industry must invest in technology. The vacation ownership industry should lean on the decades of customer data it has accrued, embrace AI, and build platforms to predict and model consumer behavior. Reaching users where they want to be reached is essential, says Wyndham Destinations senior vice president Maria Ruiz-Hays, from allowing them to book everything on their phones to building sales centers that keep customers in the vacation mind-set.
Another key strategy that the industry should focus on is communicating the positive story about timeshare to consumers and owners. As Mark Wang, CEO of Hilton Grand Vacations, put it, timeshare was a disrupter, the Airbnb of 20 years ago. But with timeshare, unlike sharing-economy services, quality and consistency are always assured—guests know what they are getting. Efforts to reclaim the industry’s narrative began in 2018 with the launch of the Coalition for Responsible Exit, a collaborative effort between ARDA and its member companies to provide greater information on exit options. In 2019 the goal was expanded to include sharing the real stories of timeshare owners and their experiences while on vacation. “We have built a solid foundation with the Coalition for Responsible Exit, but I know there is still much work to do. I look forward to continuing to work with our members to change the industry narrative and enhance the way we proactively communicate our owners’ stories,” said Gamel.