By Kelley Ellert
Most industries have seasons that come upon them where they feel busier than usual and for the timeshare industry one of those seasons is annual meeting season.
As we embark on fall when many resorts slow down and give the staff and management time to plan an annual meeting it’s a good time to reflect on how to make your annual meeting go smoothly. So, this month I spoke with Pam Cordell, Senior Vice President of Operations for National Hospitality Group about how to make an annual meeting effective and enjoyable.
“The number one thing I always stress to people is the importance of transparency,” said Cordell. “The more information you can provide to owners, in the most straight-forward manner the better it is for everyone.”
When planning your annual meeting it’s wise to keep transparency in mind, but what would benefit the meeting even more is practicing transparency and communication throughout the year. According to Cordell, a lot of resorts are better served when they do more frequent updates throughout the year such as projects going on and photos. Then the annual meeting is more able to effectively be a brief operations update where the owners are already familiar with the things going on.
“When you keep your owner based updated throughout the year when the annual meeting comes it’s much for informational and allows for opportunities for enjoyable updates, informed discussion and talking about moving forward,” said Cordell. “You spend less time stuck in the weeds on things that happened six months ago.”
Since most people only visit the resort once a year, it’s natural that they would be curious about what is going on at a place so close to their heart throughout the year.
“I advise updating your owner based on a variety of things – the good, the bad and day-to-day situations that they could find entertaining. Anything from a beautiful sunset, to new landscaping to a special assessment and the details surrounding it is going to keep them engaged,” said Cordell.
If you believe that owners aren’t listening when management communicates with them I would argue that they are. It’s fascinating to watch the email open rates and engagement on Facebook posts that are directed at resort ownership.
To communicate with owners get creative, pay attention to where the owner base responds the best and the context of the message. You can utilize tools such as print mail, social media, website updates and email.
Websites are one area where communication is easy, secure and available to practically everyone. Owner specific documents such as newsletters and budgets can be protected behind owner-only passwords and general fun stuff can be put on social media so all audiences from owners to potential renters can see it.
According to Cordell annual meetings are something that typically owners only show up for if there’s a problem such as a special assessment or major construction, but if resorts made a genuine effort to encourage people to attend and make it a positive experience then that ultimately keeps them more engaged in their vacation interest. And engaged owners pay their maintenance fees, plain and simple. It benefits the resort to have an engaged owner base.
A couple ways Cordell recommends making annual meetings a positive experience includes adding in fun activities and presenting the financial information in a way that is understandable.
“We have our own industry lingo that we speak to one another that owners may not understand. Since owners are from mixed backgrounds it helps to speak to everyone in an easy to digest way,” said Cordell.
She recommends limiting the financial summary to one page so that it is easy to read and gives a full picture understanding of everything. Keep it simple and easy to read by breaking it down into five to seven main expense categories and a few income categories. Grouping expenses such as legal, fixed, insurance, etc. will give an overview without overwhelming owners with the details of every transaction. Management should have the complete breakdown available for questions, but overwhelming attendees with all of it is too much.
Another way to increase engagement is to make it a big owner get together. If annual meetings became something to look forward to and not just a business meeting it makes a big difference. For example, one of the resorts in the National Hospitality Group management family puts on a fun BBQ every year and around 150 owners typically show up and enjoy themselves.
Cordell encourages resorts to talk with their vendors and see if they can sponsor or provide prizes for giveaways.
Try to make the meeting fun. Make it a big owners party. Do a cookout or a luncheon. Do giveaways – work with your vendors to see if they will provided prizes. You want owners to look forward to it.
Overall, annual meetings are work. They require planning, time, coordinating and money, but when done well they can be something that owners look forward to attending and keeps them engaged. And as stated earlier – happy, engaged owners pay their maintenance fees.