VIVA LAS TIMESHARE

Agang of Elvis impersonators, appropriate for a Las Vegas extravaganza, introduced Raymond “Rip” Gellein and Howard Nusbaum at the recent American Resort and Development Association Convention & Exposition. The ARDA conference at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino ran from March 26 to March 30, drawing nearly 4,000 attendees and 233 exhibitors to what ARDA President and CEO Nusbaum called the biggest conference in the history of the timeshare organization.

Gellein, the chairman and CEO of Starwood Vacation Ownership, said his second year as chairman of the ARDA board of directors was a trying one, with hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other natural disasters. Nevertheless, timeshare boomed in 2005; Nusbaum said he was “certainly luckier than the other president,” and noted that the time is right for timeshare, particularly now that the oldest Baby Boomers are turning 60.

Nusbaum called new forms of lodging like condo hotels and non-equity residence clubs “the sincerest form of flattery” and noted that their popularity attests to the entrepreneurial spirit afoot in the fractional market. He also said ARDA will continue to fight proposed bed tax increases in markets hoping to capitalize on the timeshare business.

Their remarks segued into a panel moderated by perpetual traveler and marketing guru Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell. Panelists Gellein, Cendant Timeshare and Resort Group President/CEO Franz Hanning, Disney Vacation Club SVP-General Manager James Lewis, Pahio Resorts Chairman-CEO David Walters and Stephen Weisz, Marriott Vacation Club International President, agreed on a number of issues.

Summing up, they said that timeshare must be flexible, growth opportunities are greatest outside the United States, regulation of new entries into the vacation home field is overdue, and the industry must promote itself more effectively.

The Internet is 10 years old and has penetrated 80 percent of U.S. households. Eight of every 10 airline reservations are made online, Yesawich said, and half of all bookings are made online. The online trend will only grow, he said.

The “wind is at our backs,” Yesawich said, noting that at the same time, rising gasoline prices and interest rates and instability in the Middle East could darken the picture. His panelists preferred to keep the discussion on the sunny side.

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