ARDA President & CEO Jason Gamel shares his views on the timeshare resort/vacation ownership industry in the period of COVID-19.

Galvanizing an industry long characterized by resilience and reinvention, it’s no surprise that ARDA has thoughtfully dissected its strategic plan during the pandemic, coming into 2021 with a tight and powerful agenda. With newfound courage to say “no” to non-essential initiatives, Jason Gamel, ARDA’s president, and CEO, recently shared key (and difficult) decisions made while navigating almost a year of travel lockdown during a Resort Trades, “Lunch Bunch” Webinar.

While Gamel’s “Focus Five” has continued to change since taking the helm in May 2019, the scope and priorities within the pillars have gotten crystal clear. He and his team took to heart the feedback garnered from countless listening tours with industry leaders and rethought much of the operation from top to bottom. Gamel expressed his huge admiration for his team’s creativity, resourcefulness, and willingness to “flex”, finding meaningful new ways through his “Focus Five” to bring members, media, and lawmakers together.

1: Advocacy Playbook Evolves

The Legislative Affairs team quickly realized in March 2020 that their “tried and true” rule book was out the window. Overnight, they had to redefine how to lobby and educate government officials during a worldwide pandemic, without the distinct advantage of being face to face. “While this was a bit of a wrinkle,” Gamel says wryly, “the team quickly fired up an impressive virtual game plan and leaned on decades of deep political ties to get the job done. It was our solid foundation and long-standing relationships that were key for getting legislators on Zoom calls with our members and helped advance our mission for the membership. In this way, the pandemic actually opened new doors for us and expanded our reach exponentially.”

Then bake in a historically tense Presidential Election. The team had to prepare for all possible outcomes at the Federal and State levels. What if the administration turns over? What if it doesn’t? What does the chessboard look like of anticipated cabinet picks and regulatory leaders? Depending on which party won, what new policies might be enacted that would impact our industry? A lot of long-term complex scenarios to strategize while contemplating the daily challenges of:

  • COVID-Protection Needs: Tracking on a state-by-state basis of travel related COVID restrictions as well as efforts to protect businesses through limitations on liability for COVID-related lawsuits.
  • Minimum Wage Increases: Numerous states passed legislation raising the state minimum wage starting in January 2021. This is certain to affect many resorts, developers, and other timeshare resort related businesses during already difficult economic times.
  • Increased Pressure on Visitor Taxation: With local municipalities needing to make up for the billions of dollars lost during the pandemic, the team is armoring up to fight unprecedented property tax valuations.
    Needless to say, the team is in hyper-gear as they elevate the industry’s voice and economic needs.

2: A Fresh Knowledge Check

The ARDA International Foundation (AIF) produces the research that fuels the association’s advocacy efforts, public relations campaigns, and gives ARDA members powerful statistics to make some of their most critical business decisions. The insights are foundational in the development of a compelling and factual industry story to educate Capitol Hill and Wall Street while attracting prospective buyers. Stories that convey timeshare’s evolution, substantial economic impact and the product’s deep emotional connection with 10.1 MM owners.

The AIF, realizing the need to provide real-time consumer feedback related to the COVID-19 pandemic, partnered with a real-time provider of relevant data – The Back To Normal Barometer. Crucial during a worldwide crisis, having fast and insight-driven statistics has helped industry leaders light the way for a healthier future. As consolidation deepens and publicly-traded companies continue to grow, this form of intellectual capital is more important now than ever.

As Gamel reflects, “timeshare, with its many product iterations, has been at the forefront of innovation since inception and we need to get recognized for it. There have been a lot of imitations through the years with boats, jets, and house exchanges claiming ownership of this space. We have to create a new dialogue and remind the business community where these concepts began”.

3: Technology With Digital-First Communications

Technology is a huge driver for ARDA’s future persona. Gamel has a not-so-secret dream – to be so cutting edge that members take notice and say, “I want what they have”. ARDA is quickly gaining technological steam by implementing advanced technology in the office (ARDA’s offices were undergoing a Zoom transformation well before this pandemic began) and innovating with digital member directories, a new online Legislation Tracking tool, Inside Look newsletters, and the digitally-produced Developments Magazine.

Social and digital advocacy with timeshare owners remains a top priority, particularly with the initiatives it leads on behalf of the industry including the soon to be launched Love My Timeshare campaign and work for the Coalition for Responsible Exit. Both efforts rely on cutting-edge social and digital strategies to reach target audiences across the globe.

Love My Timeshare, a first-ever 3-month social media blitz aimed to gain national attention is a collaboration between developers, Brand Tango, a division of Lamark Media, and Digital Ignite. The campaign will provide timeshare owners with a positive and engaging social campaign to follow and share how and why they use their timeshare and what keeps them coming back year after year. The sharing of stories, photos, testimonials and tips remind us of the positive power that timeshare brings to the travel community and vacationers across the globe. This initiative joins another ongoing program sponsored by ARDA-ROC – Responsible Exit – where owners who are looking for their safe and free or low cost exit options are connected with their developers and associated resources.

4: Events to Change With the Times

ARDA’s new event mantra is “Meetings YOUR Way”. ARDA has been building its interactive programming, offering an inspiring array of meeting options (online, hybrid, face-to-face) so members can comfortably stay connected to their professional network. On the heels of a first-ever virtual WIN Conference featuring the winning US Women’s World Cup Coach, Jill Ellis, excitement grows for ARDA’s Spring Conference: “Timeshare Together”. Taking place June 6-10, 2021 at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes in Orlando, the event will be decidedly more intimate than previous years but no less impactful. Participants will enjoy general sessions, keynote speakers, key governance committee meetings, an awards celebration, and networking sessions – in person or via streaming video – all following CDC healthy and safety guidelines. Register today at www.ARDA.org/events-awards.

5: Be Fiscally Sound While Delivering Membership Value

Not knowing what the world holds, Gamel had to make tough calls to reduce staff and pause non-essential initiatives that didn’t fulfill an immediate strategic objective. He did so knowing that the association would be less effective if it tried to be all things, to all people, particularly as they uniquely straddle real estate and hospitality universes. “Every single one of our modest 19 person-team stepped up to learn new skills and committed to doing more with less”, Gamel proudly exclaimed, “and we’ve been able to expand our digital prowess without touching our reserves.”

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

While Hospitality has definitely experienced a traumatic earthquake, ARDA and its industry leaders are tackling 2021 with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. Timesharing appears to be well-positioned to recover at a faster pace than traditional hotels or cruising. Gamel reported according to The Back To Normal Barometer, “ 42% of owners plan to use their timeshare in the 1st half of 2021 and another 42% plan to take their next timeshare vacation for June – December. “ Why?

• Leisure travel is a priority for families
• Pre-paid nature of product
• Spacious units with kitchens and private laundry, conducive to social distancing
• Pent up demand to go on vacation

Timesharing has been good to us for over 50 years and it continues to find new ways to “surprise and delight us.”

Wendy Poe is a Customer Experience executive and recognized timeshare industry expert, honored to have led some of the most celebrated Marketing, Brand Communications & Customer Success teams in America.