The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to the timeshare industry, resulting in resort closures, staff furloughs and owners unable to use their prepaid vacation time. Imagine the challenges during this time of serving 365,000 owners who vacation at 7,900 villas in 14 U.S. States. We asked John Staten, President and Chief Operating Officer of Holiday Inn Club Vacations Incorporated (HICV), to share how the pandemic impacted the company and learn how it not only survived the pandemic but is currently mapping a post-pandemic recovery.
Explains John, “One of the main lessons we learned was that communication is key at every turn. While this isn’t a new concept, it was certainly reaffirmed during this challenging time. We utilized emails and social channels to communicate important updates to our team members, owners and guests. Throughout the pandemic, our messaging became more frequent and pragmatic. New information related to resort amenities, activities or services became available on our website’s Resort Updates page, developed to create a single source of information on the latest resort developments. Maintaining total transparency is crucial in building trust and dealing with an unprecedented and ever-changing situation.”
Added John, “I believe a family culture thrives in times of crisis: Our teams banded together, even while they were physically apart. In late-March and April, many team members shifted to working remote, a very different dynamic from what they were used to. Naturally, there are concerns shifting a majority of your workforce to an entirely new structure, but our team members fully embraced the ‘new normal.’
While working apart (and simultaneously dealing with many changes among their own families), teams grew closer together. They found creative ways to bond – from virtual happy hours and Zoom spirit weeks – and tirelessly worked to help our Company through resort closures and the reopening process. They also learned it was important to stay agile as they continued to find the processes that allow information, innovation and approvals to flow quickly. An agile team can make a huge difference, especially in times of constant change.”
Resort/Sales Office Closures.
Out of an abundance of caution and in response to various local government orders, they temporarily closed their resort network at the end of March. Sales centers closed and reopened in conjunction with the resorts. Following a staggering reopening approach, all HICV resorts have been open since mid-July. A resort did not open until health and government officials lifted restrictions in the local area and were in support of resumed travel, and HICV’s new standards and procedures around safety and cleanliness could be fully implemented.
Resort closures forced the Company to furlough a significant group of team members. Fortunately, they were able to bring many of them back as resorts reopened, but not all. During this time, all team members enrolled in a Company health insurance plan – whether active or on furlough – continued to receive their benefits while the resorts were closed.
They continuously shared key updates and information – such as resort closures and reopening dates – with owners and Club members in a variety of ways, including phone, email, social media and our company websites. A Resort Update page was placed on their consumer website to provide a quick overview of the current situation.
Concerning annual fees, they provided greater flexibility to owners who experienced financial hardship due to the Coronavirus. For 2021, they are establishing annual budgets through ongoing discussions with HOA boards, taking into account all the factors affecting costs under this “new normal.” Concerning potential delinquencies, they have seen many members who were initially late starting to become current, making them optimistic about their resiliency. Their internal research team discovered that Holiday Inn Club members are in an overall better financial state during the Coronavirus pandemic when compared to the general population.
After the resort network reopened, HICV provided a variety of offers to Club members to encourage new bookings and provide greater flexibility when planning a stay. They waived all booking fees and returned all points for canceled reservations, automatically extended points that were expiring this year to next, and gave the whole member base additional bonus points this year to encourage travel.
For fixed- and float-week owners, HICV gave a week back if their week was affected by resort closures, provided the entire owner base three comp days on top of their ownership to encourage travel, and waived all cancelation fees.
Resort Improvements during Downtime. HICV teams used the unexpected resort closure time to complete various maintenance and deep cleaning projects that would be difficult or costly to execute if guests were on the property. They used the closure to make significant progress on a restoration and renovation project at our Holiday Hills Resort in Branson, Missouri. Last year, the resort was hit by a serious hailstorm that damaged many of the buildings. During the closure, they restored and replaced the damaged roof and building sidings, installed building and unit signage, and spruced the resort with fresh coats of paint.
Long-Range COVID Impact to Resorts. “We believe this pandemic has reinvented travel, how families vacation and the way we work, added John. “With more companies supporting remote workforces, the lines between travel and work will intersect more regularly than we’ve ever seen. The trends we’ve experienced since reopening our resorts are behaviors we don’t foresee going away anytime soon.
There is now a higher appeal for wide-open spaces. Whether due to local restrictions or an individual’s comfort level, families are more focused on activities and destinations that emphasize being outdoors. Families now prefer staying at resorts with an expansive property that can provide different outdoor activities. They want more than just a great pool. There has been an increase in usage of outdoor amenities like golf, horseback riding, on-property trails, and watersport rentals. Also:
- Families are continuing to choose destinations that are within a reasonable driving distance from their home over locations that would require air travel.
- Full-size villas with kitchens are more desirable than a traditional hotel room as they provide greater flexibility and functionality to families that would rather not go out to eat.
- The demand for contactless options is here to stay. From booking to check-out, guests will expect contactless services throughout their entire stay.
- Current trends are pointing toward an increase in weekday demand, likely due to adults working remotely and children being in virtual school.”
- Post-COVID. Concluded John, “With the change, there is always a need to innovate. Communication and action will remain crucial in building trust with owners and guests, who may have new concerns and priorities about traveling. We developed Safe Travels, a program that ‘checks all the boxes on the higher safety and cleanliness standards. Recently, we’ve launched a new blog, Checking In, where readers can find destination inspiration plus helpful travel tips.
Looking ahead, we anticipate a continued focus on digitizing and transforming our marketing, sales, and customer relationship operations so consumers can interact (and even transact) with our brand through seamless digital platforms. There’s still uncertainty surrounding when we will truly be on the other side of this pandemic, but I believe opportunities will be plentiful for those who can respond swiftly and move to capture the upside that will surely come. I anticipate that organizations will move with more fluidity to planning and executing than we’ve ever seen before. Brands that remain agile to the changes around them will thrive.”
About John Staten. Since joining Holiday Inn Club Vacations Incorporated as Chief Operating Officer in March of 2019, John Staten helped launch the Company on an accelerated trajectory toward its growth goals, with key initiatives to heighten customer centricity and digital transformation and greatly enhance the Company’s 100-year partnership agreement with IHG. In September 2020, John was promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company.
John has nearly 30 years of seasoned experience in launching and growing businesses from venture stage to public companies, along with unique expertise in developing strategy, mobilizing organizations into action, and driving change while leading teams of all sizes, from startups to companies with more than 7,500 employees. He has raised over $500 million in the capital, successfully executed an initial public offering (IPO) on Nasdaq, and developed cutting-edge Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies. Previous roles include Chief Operating Officer for Kaplan Higher Education and Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Netspeak Corporation. John is a graduate of the University of Florida, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from its Warrington College of Business, Fisher School of Accounting.
Marge Lennon has been writing about the timeshare industry since 1978. She welcomes ideas for future Resort Trades stories. Contact her at Marge@LennnonCommunications.com