Millennials, Mingling and More Sales in 2014 ARDA Northeast Regional at Portsmouth, NH

Tradition was broken at the recent ARDA Northeast Regional meeting. Everyone who gathered at the Portsmouth Sheraton on the morning of June 2 expected that we would each be asked in turn to stand and give our name and company, as we have done for the past 20 years or so. But when Chairman Dennis Ducharme took the podium, he announced that we were going to dispense with the introductions, since virtually everyone knew each other.

Familiarity is both the blessing and the curse of the Northeast Region. The annual gathering is one of the most convivial of the ARDA season, since so many of us have known each other for years and, in many cases, decades. Cocktails, dinner, and breakfast are always a pleasure, a time for catching up not only on business, but on families, old friends, and debating the relative merits of the Yankees and Red Sox.

The curse is that the reason we see the same familiar faces is that there have been few new entrants to the New England market over the past decade. My own state of Connecticut has long been the timeshare finance capital of the world, but there is only one timeshare resort within its 5,543 square miles. Seasonality is always an issue, and the price of waterfront parcels on the Connecticut shoreline, coupled with restrictions on high rise development, render product cost prohibitive for most parcels.

Generating tours is also a challenge for most New England developers. In many regions, resorts are located where crowds congregate, such as Orlando and Las Vegas, and prospects are plentiful year-round. Most New Englanders want to escape the crowds and vacation in the mountains or along the naturally beautiful and lightly populated coastal areas. Peace, quiet, and seclusion are wonderful for re-energizing and rejuvenating, but not for generating hundreds of tours each week.
New Englanders are a stoic lot, however, beginning with the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth nearly 400 years ago, and developers who have endured and prospered in the region, people like Joe Berry, Bill Cutillo, Bob Newsome, and Dennis Ducharme, have built their business model around the unique nature of the Northeast. They don’t expect sales results like those in Orlando, and they run their businesses effectively within the region’s parameters. They are not just timeshare developers; they are in the hospitality business, with a full range of products in addition to timeshare sales.

Mark Twain supposedly said that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, but had he been in Portsmouth on the evening of June 1, he might have changed his mind. The temperature was in the 40s, the wind was blowing a gale off the ocean, and a cold rain was falling.

But that was outside, and the next morning we were inside, where the sessions began with a presentation by Darla Zanini on ARDA’s 2015 State of the Vacation Industry report, which contains the results for 2014. The news was good, for sales were up, as were most other metrics. Darla then introduced Simon Jaworski of Leger, who shared his company’s research and gave particular insight into the millennial market. I’m not sure I got all of it, but I gather that putting an ad in the newspaper is not the best way to reach millennials. I also learned that social media spreads news instantly, which is beneficial if your news is good but problematic if your guests have a bad experience.

Tara Bergeron, John Funk, and Miles Gifford spoke about trends in the timeshare industry, and the final panel of the morning featured moderator Dennis Ducharme (at least I think it was him—without the introductions I was a little lost) and panelists Rich Muller of VRI and Dave Callahan of Interval International, who talked about ways in which Homeowners Associations have been able to sell reclaimed inventory.

ARDA Northeast is like a family, and families have genealogical histories. Having been in the timeshare industry for many years, I have in several instances worked with the children of developers I knew in my early years, but when I shook hands with Doug and Justin Cutillo, I realized that I was now talking to a third generation, having spent many years as a lender to their grandfather, the late Ralph Cutillo, founder of Steele Hill Resort in Laconia, New Hampshire. The younger Cutillos have been involved with the management of Steele Hill for a number of years now, and last summer, their father Bill decided to take a month long vacation. The boys could get in touch if they needed anything, he told them, but he would not call them.

A couple of weeks went by with no contact and Bill had mixed feelings of pride that his children could cope without him and a touch of regret that perhaps he was no longer indispensable. Finally, the phone rang. What was the matter, Bill asked? How could he help? Well, nothing was the matter, but it was Father’s Day and the boys wanted to wish Dad well.

That’s the way we are in New England. We’re self-reliant. We carry on through the generations. We deal with cold snowy winters, short summers, and challenging tour flow. But every June, we gather to network, learn from each other, renew old acquaintances, and find out what’s going on with ARDA. It’s a time we look forward to each year.