Getting it Right: An Interview with Loren Gallagher, President and CEO of Vacation Resorts International and Trading Places International

Following their purchase by Interval Leisure Group, Vacation Resorts International and Trading Places International, two of the industry’s leading resort management companies, moved into a common headquarters in Lake Forest, California. Loren Gallagher, who serves as president and CEO for both firms, recently sat down with Resort Trades to discuss best practices in resort management and how the two companies are benefiting from the chance to compare techniques and systems.

RT: How is it working to have two, previously competing, companies share one headquarters?

LG: We quickly realized that we had a great opportunity to conduct side-by-side comparisons of our differing business models. For example, we studied how each team prepared for association board and annual meetings. We adopted the best ideas of each company, and we now have a “best practices” approach to our meeting preparations. Our board members benefit because the meeting work product is extensive, complete, and delivered timely and our post-meeting follow-up is carefully documented and reported. This process reduces the length of board meetings and facilitates more fluid decision-making by board members. VRI and TPI share a common set of values that govern our work flow and work product. Although our approaches were different, we shared a common goal – to serve our owners and boards in a timely, efficient, and thorough manner. Our senior leadership teams are highly experienced and veterans of the timeshare footprint. This collective experience is routinely applied for the benefit of our board members and timeshare owners

RT: You mention the importance of good, regular communications. What specifically do you mean by that?

LG: Sometimes we become so absorbed by our daily work that we overlook the critical importance of communication–with our owners, our boards, and with one another. We must recognize that consistent communication with our board members regarding even mundane aspects of our management efforts improves their ability to become effective decision-makers during board meetings, and they greatly appreciate it.
It is also important that we routinely recognize our employees’ achievements and success stories. Our corporate growth and the addition of new team members have required us to find new ways to share information.
We have developed an internal “best practices” communication policy that combines the old with the new. Sometimes, an email is simply the wrong method–you just need to pick up the phone and call someone. Direct communication is often preferred because it is more personal than sending an email. “Direct” includes, at times, a quick telephone call and, other times, getting up from your desk and walking down the hall to discuss a key topic with another team member. Direct communication reduces the possibility of mixed message that often accompanies an email.
In a busy work environment and a sense that “everyone needs to receive my message,” the number of daily emails in the “In” box can quickly become excessive. We encourage our team members to stop and think before hitting the “send” button. Is this email necessary? Do I need to copy everyone listed in the original distribution? Does the sender expect me to respond at all?
We take our owner communications very seriously. We continually train our on-site teams in principles and techniques of customer care and service. We conduct special sessions each week at our managed resorts where owners and guests can meet and greet the on-site management team and explore answers to all their resort and vacation program questions. We take full advantage of every regularly-scheduled association owner mailing to include information and “extras” that will further enhance the vacation experience.

RT: It seems every resort in the industry is facing the same issues, one of them being an aging owner base. What are VRI and TPI doing to help resorts deal with this?

LG: It has been difficult for us to observe the aging of our owners who have been happy timeshare owners for the past several decades but who have reached a time when they can no longer enjoy their vacation. In some instances, we have developed site-specific resale programs. In other instances, we’ve created policies for adoption by the board that authorize the transfer of title to the association and that relieve the owner from the continuing maintenance fee obligation. This is a complicated challenge, not just to VRI and TPI but to the entire timeshare industry. Although we are finding solutions on a limited basis, we are fully engaged and committed to finding broader solutions. In the interim, our senior executive group will continue to proactively work to limit the “transfer company” challenge that has plagued our industry in recent years and taken unfair advantage of our aging owners.

We are sensitive to chain-of-title issues and encourage our boards to adopt a reasonable deed-in-lieu of foreclosure policy. Some board members will argue that the association has no need for more weeks in its name if it can’t sell the ones that it already owns. The weakness of that decision rests with the high cost of foreclosure once the owner loses the willingness to execute a deed-in-lieu or can no longer be found. These policies typically require the owner to be current in payment of maintenance fees and pay one additional year of maintenance fee to qualify for deed-in-lieu consideration. We understand that many aging owners are unable to sell or gift their timeshare and face the temptation to simply abandon it. Our “best practice” is to work with this owner to find solutions.
We are very focused as a company on resale solutions and have created very successful resale programs on both local and regional levels. And, we have raised the bar on our resale strategy sessions to include the possibility of making legal adjustments to historical governing documents to create greater vacation flexibility with much improved appeal to today’s timeshare consumer. More than ever before, it is time for the industry, and VRI/TPI, to “think outside the box” and that is an area where our teams truly excel!

RT: Are there any areas where you think VRI and TPI are getting it right?

LG: That is a loaded question, right? Admittedly, we’ve learned many important lessons in our 30+ years of timeshare management focus but I can now state unequivocally that we get a whole lot more right than we get wrong! Our best practices all boil down to one simple truth: people who trust us with their dollars deserve to receive the benefit of their bargain. If we don’t smile when they arrive, we have failed. If we don’t provide a clean room, we have failed. If we don’t continually educate our owners how to get the most from their vacation ownership so they understand the opportunities, we have failed.

The best practices are ones that ensure that our owners receive the full benefit of the vacation bargain they purchased. Great service and friendly smiles by resort staff can often make up for aging room décor, floor plan, and size. In this age of social media, unthinking staff can hurt your resort’s reputation in an instant. Now, more than ever, we have to get it right the first time.