A Place at the Beach, a VRI Americas-managed property, is idyllically located on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast in the town of Atlantic Beach, home to the wild Shackleford ponies, near Morehead City and a mile from the wreckage site of Black Beard’s ship. In addition to its superb ocean views and resort-styled amenities – which include outdoor and indoor pools, tennis courts and a game room – the property is unique from a management perspective because it welcomes timeshare owners on a weekly basis, as well as whole owners who live year-round in a separate building on the property.
This requires property management services for two entirely different sets of guests. Similar to other timeshare resorts, about 4,000 owners check-in and out with housekeeping performing weekly cleanings and budgets managed by the HOA. For the 181 whole owners, management oversees everything outside their doors, including amenities, hallways, parking lots, and even delivering their personal mail.
Explains Walter Hancock, General Manager of A Place at the Beach, “Because our whole owners live here full time, we see them on an almost daily basis; they have become part of the fabric of the property. From a morning poolside gathering to a friendly afternoon hallway conversation, their presence on the property is simply a part of our day. We also conduct a bi-weekly morning meeting (“Coffee & Conversations”) to brainstorm and talk about new happenings and things they’d like to see. When we initially conceptualized these meetings, we were concerned about an open-forum format. But no issues arose, and we all look forward to these meetings as a way of connecting with our owners on a more personal level.”
Since it was first opened in 1982, A Place at the Beach has gone through multiple renovations to keep it in great condition. A total refurbishment was completed about five years ago with the work done in various phases to ensure that guests could continue to use their vacation time. Hurricane Florence in September 2018 left 148 units water damaged and totally destroyed the resort office. The renovation was completed over the course of five, normally very busy months and the new office opened in June.
In explaining his love for his job, Walter adds, “I joined VRI Americas in 2017 from the hotel sector of the hospitality business. Since then, I’ve been highly impressed with the company and how it’s managed. It’s exciting to be a part of a culture where it feels like what we do really matters. For a fairly large organization, it has a true family atmosphere. My staff and I have access to all VPs and our COO with just a phone call or email. As long as I’ve been in the business, I’ve never seen this type of genuine interest and access from everyone companywide. In essence, we are much like a big family. At the resort level, we care about each other’s career growth and the resort’s growth, but also each other’s families and wellbeing.”
A Place at the Beach on Atlantic Beach, N.C. was purpose-built in 1982 for both timeshare and whole ownership usage. The 279-unit property contains a mix of 98 fixed-week timeshare units and 181 wholly-owned units in varying sizes within two three-story buildings. The RCI-affiliated property has been managed by VRI Americas for the past three years and is staffed by 21 management professionals, who efficiently operate the property under separate timeshare and whole ownership budgets.
Who’s Running the Show
As GM, Walter Hancock guides all aspects of the condo resort property. He created and manages an annual budget to include a reserve plan, capital improvements, and daily operations. Recent projects include the refurbishment of 148 units post Hurricane Florence, developing a property drainage plan, and the construction of a new resort office.
Walter has 19 years of hospitality experience, serving as supervisor of maintenance for over 1,000 rental properties in Emerald Isle. For eight years, he was GM of the 110-unit Islander Suites, winner of Best Hotel on Crystal Coast for three years during his tenure. He also served as GM of Palm Suites/Bluewater, implementing new standard operating procedures for the property under new management. Walter earned a BA in Leisure Service Management at Mount Olive University in North Carolina.
Walter’s senior resort management team includes Front Desk Manager Aaron Blanks and Maintenance Manager Henry Safrit. Aaron previously served three years as a housekeeping manager. She has been in her new role for three years and continues to grow, with a bright future in hospitality. Henry has been with the resort for nine years. He admits that he knows every nook and cranny of the property inside and out. Says Walter, “It’s a true asset to have someone on staff who knows all there is to know about an older resort.”
Staffing Challenges. Management has collaborated with the board to ensure the resort is a place where people want to work. They have accomplished this by offering competitive salaries and benefits. Although retaining staff in any vacation destination is always tough, they have made the commitment to select associates who will grow with them and the company.
Employee Recognition and Development Programs. Each time an employee’s name is mentioned in an RCI comment card, the employee receives a $50 gift card. They also provide frequent lunches and anniversary-type celebrations for long-term employees. According to Walter, competitive fun is another way to recognize employees, while keeping them engaged. Every year, the staff paints scenes on clear holiday ornaments, which are then displayed in the lobby as part of an annual competition. Owners and guests vote on the best design and the winner receives a gift card.
To help associates grow in their careers, VRI provides online courses on a variety of topics, ranging from Excel to customer service. The resort is also considering an internship program for hospitality college students.
Place at the Beach participates in the Fill Your Bucket List Foundation by providing vacations to people who are terminally ill and have a beach vacation on their bucket list. They have also teamed up with local restaurants and local limo companies to try and make these vacations a most memorable experience. The resort offers 24 paid hours annually to encourage staff to volunteer for a local charity where they believe can make the most impact. Habitat for Humanity, a soup kitchen, and a women’s shelter are other staff favorites.
About VRI Americas
Headquartered in Lake Forest, California, VRI Americas, which encompasses Vacation Resorts International and Trading Places International, provides resort and homeowners’ association management services to the shared ownership industry. VRI Americas has regional offices in Hyannis, Massachusetts; New Bern, North Carolina; and Salt Lake City, Utah; and manages more than 120 resort and club locations in North America for more than 275,000 owners. The company has built its success as a team dedicated to “Perfecting the Art of Hospitality” for over 35 years.
Marge Lennon is owner of Lennon Communications Group, Inc., in Fort Myers, Florida. She can be contacted for more information at (239) 482-3891 or by e-mail at Marge@LennonCommunications.com. www.lennoncommunications.com