The Evolution of Global Connections

It was 1996. The first DVDs hit the marketplace in Japan. EBay and Ask Jeeves came on the scene and Dolly the Sheep became the first cloned mammal. A gallon of gas ran $1.12, the average cost of a new house was $118, 200 and a postal stamp was 32 cents. And everyone was doing the Macarena. Ah, the good old days.

1996 also marked the year Global Connections, Inc. (GCI) burst on the hospitality industry scene. Tom Lyons, President and CEO, officially opened the privately held company on July 19, 1996 with a singular mission: to give families the opportunity to take affordable vacations. GCI is particularly well positioned in that its umbrella includes its own portfolio of five resorts further ensuring vacation options for its growing membership base.

Today, in addition to its core business as the travel club fulfillment and service provider of Global Discovery Vacations, GCI develops and manages resorts and vacation condominium properties throughout the United States. With its depth of expertise, GCI delivers fulfillment services and benefits for other vacation clubs and some timeshare companies. Based in Overland Park, KS, GCI also offers members and customers robust leisure benefits to satisfy varying vacation experiences and recreational activities.

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Tom Lyons CEO and President

Executive Leadership

At the helm of Global Connections, Inc. is visionary entrepreneur Tom Lyons. Tom’s drive and determination took him from a door-to-door salesman for what was then a buying service in 1975 to President and CEO of what evolved into Global Connections, Inc. a leading travel club and leisure benefit service provider. Managed by a strong core of travel and technology executives, the company employs more than 200 professionals at its corporate office in Kansas and member fulfillment /property management offices in Florida and South Carolina.

About Global Discovery Vacations (GDV)

Global Connections’ travel club Global Discovery Vacations is marketed and sold through independent sales distributorships located in cities across the United States. What makes GDV particularly unique is that its parent company GCI develops and owns resorts in California, Florida, Tennessee and Colorado as well as holding and leasing numerous resort condominium units throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Caribbean. In addition, GDV provides cruise and tour vacations, operates a full service travel agency, a concierge program, and offers a panoply of other leisure benefits.

Frank Zawojski – COO
Frank Zawojski – COO

Unlike most travel clubs with right-to-rent programs requiring the payment of rental dollars each time the member travels, GDV members receive Star Credits. The number of Star Credits needed to confirm accommodations or a cruise depends on size, location and season.

However, what truly differentiates GDV is the lack of required annual fee if benefits are not used in any given year. In fact, members may activate all membership benefits at any time by remitting the current year’s activity fee.

Melanie Gring – VP Strategic Alliances and Public Relations
Melanie Gring – VP Strategic Alliances and Public Relations

GCI truly rises above the crowd of scores of travel club service providers because of key differences such as internal financing for customers, in-house fulfillment of member’s requests from beginning to end, superb member engagement encouraging member use of the product and rigorous training for team members and distributors.

Owned and managed resorts

Dave Dawson VP Resort Acquisitions and Development
Dave Dawson VP Resort Acquisitions and Development

In 2004, GCI purchased its first resort, Sea Shells Beach Club. Since that time, Global Connections has developed or rejuvenated five resort properties as well as owning numerous individual condominiums located in resort areas throughout the U.S. for use within the travel club. Additionally, GCI has expanded its cruise program offering its members the opportunity to vacation on the cruise line of their choice as well as themed cruises specific to the Global Discovery Vacations members.

Rick Washburn – CFO
Rick Washburn – CFO

Global Connections owns properties in some of the most desirable resort destinations in the country. Currently, Global Connections owns and operates Beso Del Sol (Sunset Beach, CA), Beso Del Sol Resort (Dunedin, FL), Sea Shells Beach Club (Daytona Beach, FL), White Oak Lodge and Resort (Gatlinburg, TN) and its newest venture, Lodge by The Blue (Breckenridge, CO). Although not owned by GCI, Bamboo Beach Club (Clearwater, FL) is managed and operated by the company. Its property management division works with resorts all over the continental United States and Hawaii as well as leasing vacation condominiums in Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico.

GCI resorts are continually winning awards from the Trip Advisor® Certificate of Excellence Award to the prestigious White Glove Award for housekeeping excellence by the Superior Small Lodging Association, and the coveted Booking.com Award of Excellence. Over the years, the hospitality industry has recognized the company with numerous awards bestowed by the American Resort Development Association (ARDA).

Member satisfaction

With a vibrant social media presence, Global members are not shy about praising their travel club and those people who make it so special. Statements of confidence on Facebook run the gamut of compliments:

  • “Global has the best people in their customer department. Please don’t change a thing!”
  • “It’s nice to actually talk with someone without spending 30 minutes going through computer push-buttons.”
  • “My husband and I became members last summer and we’ve already used it twice, with two upcoming trips. The two trips we’ve already taken have been wonderful and we’re looking forward to using Global for many years to come. “
  • “Being members and owner of timeshares and travel clubs since 1979, we have experienced the best information, treatment and handling of problems with Global. We have put them at the top of the list.”

Reviews like this helped drive the sales of nearly a quarter of a million memberships in the past two decades.

Cathy Wunder – VP Operations
Cathy Wunder – VP Operations

Commitment to Social Responsibility

Perhaps one of the most distinctive crowns that GCI holds is its commitment to Philanthropy. The corporate office supports an internal Committee of Awesomeness (COA), a group of employee volunteers who organize monthly charitable events. Over the years the COA has been instrumental in collecting over thousands of dollars for the local community and the greater Kansas City area over the years. Global Connections does not simply donate money to causes (although it does plenty of check writing), but more importantly commits to the community through grass roots volunteerism.

Global Connections also offers financial and physical support through employee sponsored fundraisers for many organizations close to its employees’ hearts, such as Project Walk, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Harvesters Community Food Network, Toys for Tots, Happy Bottoms, Wayside Waifs, and Hope House. The company supports employee-driven fundraising events at its satellite offices and resorts, including annual fundraising initiatives serving abused and neglected animals through the Tampa, Florida SPCA, annual activities for Florida beach cleanup on Earth Day, Clean The World and Teen Angels. In addition to employee efforts, Global Connections realizes that working in the travel industry provides many opportunities to give back. That’s why it regularly donates complimentary condominium vacations for various local and national charity auctions.

Global Perks Plus

Over its 20 successful years, GCI has morphed into several iterations. What was originally a buying club with travel features, has become a predominantly travel oriented company with a buying club and shopping component. Its latest innovation is Global Perks Plus, a uniquely transparent interface allowing qualified companies to provide reasonably priced vacation options and a variety of leisure benefits to employees and customers. Fully scalable, and easy to customize, Global Perks Plus is designed to support multiple goals including increasing sales, promoting customer loyalty and driving employee retention and motivation. Companies may integrate the user-friendly system into customer loyalty programs in numerous ways. The benefits available to users include resort condominium rentals, cruises, camping, air travel, hotel accommodations and car rentals.

Whether in the hospitality industry or not, companies who use Global Perks Plus may select the specific benefits that interest them with GCI providing the data; or they may use Global Perks Plus ‘off-the-shelf’ and have GCI add their logo.
Into the future and beyond

The past two decades have seen a lot of changes. Global Connections no longer operates from binders stuffed with paperwork to book a condo reservation by hand. The Buying Service still exists, but it is far out shadowed by the travel services and leisure benefits offered by the popular and successful company. Although travel club members can still reach a real person via phone, they also have the ability to book their entire vacation experience and all leisure benefits online. The resort portfolio has grown from the acquisition of one failed hotel to a robust group of five award winning properties and thousands of available condominiums, hotel rooms, camp grounds, travel packages and cruises that continue to make GCI the highest rated company of its kind in the U.S.