Last of the Independents? InnSeason Resorts Bucks Buyout Trend

As dirt began flying at the base of the South Peak of Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire, in November of last year, you could forgive Dennis Ducharme and William E. “Billy” Curran, president and CEO, respectively, of InnSeason Resorts, for showing a little pride. After all, the company’s newest resort, RiverWalk at Loon Mountain, is the largest to date and comes as many other timeshare developers, and certainly almost all independent developers, have scaled back plans for new construction.

“We’re extremely excited to bring back the tradition of luxurious ‘grand hotels’ to the Northeast,” Ducharme said. “RiverWalk will bring an incredible vacation experience to skiers, year-round visitors, and the residents of Lincoln.” Located on 25 acres along the banks of the Pemigewasset River, the resort will provide easy access to the mountain via shuttle while being just a short walk from local restaurants and shops. Amenities will include a full-service spa, fitness center, restaurant and lounge, game room, heated all-season pool, a one-of-a-kind skating rink, and an owners club with personal storage lockers. Construction of the six-story, 300,000-square-foot resort will occur in three phases, with the first phase (80 units) set to be completed by January 2016.

With sales underway since December, the resort is already 20 percent sold-out, and the pair predicts the brisk sales pace will allow them to begin the second phase in early 2017.

Partners in Timeshare

Riverwalk at Loon Mountain is just the latest project for the duo, who have worked together since 1988, when Curran began supplying tours for the Holly Tree Resort in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, which Ducharme had developed. “He added a second resort in 1993, and since then we have been locked at the hip,” Curran said. “I became the main marketing person for all Dennis’ projects, providing 2,000 tours a week.”

When Curran bought Surfside Resort in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Ducharme helped him with development, and those looser arrangements persisted until they entered into a marketing and sales agreement in 2000, and then built their first project together, South Mountain Resort in Lincoln, New Hampshire, in 2003. In 2004, the pair established InnSeason Resorts to provide management services to what was then six resorts plus three affiliated resorts. About the same time, they founded the InnSeason Vacation Club, a non-deeded, points-based product that gave members additional flexibility, including options for shorter stays.

The roles are clear, Curran explained. “Dennis takes care of all development needs as the builder of hotels and resorts; it’s not what I am best at.” Curran handles marketing and sales. Who is president and who is CEO isn’t really the point. “We’re not really into titles,” Ducharme added. “Neither of us is the big boss.”

A major responsibility they both take on is director duties. “Dennis and I are on the boards of every one of our resorts,” Curran said. Resorts reap the benefits as InnSeason provides resale services and can lend their expertise with renovations and refurbishment projects. “We’re proud to have 50,000 owners,” Ducharme added. “We promise a great vacation for the rest of their lives; we gave our word. By staying involved, we can assure that the vacation experience is one we are proud of.”

Yankee Ingenuity

With locations stretching from the beaches of Cape Cod and to the mountains of Western Maine, InnSeason Resorts undoubtedly remains one of the Northeast’s premier resort development companies. Retaining that position in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, however, required the company to adopt some new strategies.

An alliance with Vacation Resorts International, signed in 2010, has VRI managing five InnSeason owned and managed resorts, plus the InnSeason Vacation Club. InnSeason Resorts, in turn, took over sales and marketing responsibilities at select VRI-managed resorts in the eastern United States.

In 2009, InnSeason inked a deal with Bluegreen Corp. to manage the sales, marketing and operations of InnSeason Resort South Mountain, located in Lincoln, New Hampshire. InnSeason has remained the developer and continues to expand there. They reported that the relationship is working as Bluegreen sold more than $16.9 million there in 2014.

Currently, InnSeason has active sales centers at several locations, including Yarmouth and Falmouth, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; Lincoln, New Hampshire; and Ogunquit, Maine. What they refer to as “elite” inventory is offered through the InnSeason Vacation Club, and the remainder is offered as an RCI Points product. To facilitate resales, Curran has established a road program, where in the sales team visits resorts around New England on weekends. Annual sales, excluding South Mountain, are approximately $13 million, with $7 million of that coming from the InnSeason Vacation Club.

“The InnSeason Vacation Club is the holy grail of our product,” Curran said. “It’s our best, most expensive inventory. We even have direct exchange with Disney Vacation Club, which I think is a testament to the value there.” Five resorts are officially part of the InnSeason Vacation Club, and another 10 are considered DestINNation Resorts, which also have exchange privileges through the club.

Off the Planning Board

For Ducharme, the beginning of construction at Loon Mountain has brought to fruition a long-time dream, as planning for a project at the site of the abandoned Franconia Papermill began in 2004. With the involvement of state and local agencies, including the New Hampshire Division of Environmental Services as well at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, then the 2008 financial meltdown, getting to the groundbreaking meant navigating more than a few bumps, including environmental mediation.

The mixed-use project is the first resort in the area in many years, and will be a major draw to the area, Ducharme predicted. “It will change the face of the town, and help revitalize an area that had been dormant.”

The majority of the units will be fractional shares, with others being sold as whole-ownership. The fractional units will be RCI Gold Crown, and the top two floors, which will feature a higher level of finishes, will be part of RCI’s Registry Collection of elite resorts.

As is the case with all InnSeason resorts, the property’s locale dictates its style. “It’s a bit of New England charm, a bit rustic north country,” Ducharme said with pride. “It will definitely stand out.”