GNEX 2015 Celebrates Record Attendance

gnexAnnual event draws shared ownership industry’s top players

The Fifth Annual GNEX Timeshare Leaders Conference set an all-time record. The event drew 197 senior-level executives from 119 companies across the globe, Feb. 15 – 18, to the Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego, Calif.

GNEX 2015 featured a first-rate lineup of more than 30 panelists discussing core issues that can have a positive impact on the vacation ownership industry moving forward. There were lively presentations and open-forum panel discussions led by some of industry’s most forward-thinking professionals. The conference lived up to its reputation for delivering social events that go above and beyond guests’ expectations, from the thrilling GNEX 2015 Dream Car Challenge to the DAE FLUXX Party at the award-winning FLUXX nightclub and the Wrap Party aboard the legendary USS Midway aircraft carrier. Noted speaker, author and mental toughness coach Jim Madrid served as both a panelist and the conference emcee, deftly handling all the Q&A’s, running the speed networking session, and hosting a one-of-a-kind Perspective Magazine Awards gala and charity auction.

As in past years, GNEX 2015 drew enthusiastic reviews from delegates.

“GNEX keeps getting better and better, with content that is germane to our industry as it is today and with a laserlike look into the future,” said Robert Kobek, president, CustomerCount. “In addition to the well-thought-out venues with incredible networking opportunities, everyone understands why they are there: to learn and do business. There is no segregation among the attendees. Buyers, sellers and guests are all there for the same reasons – content, networking, and social events.” “We made new connections and found new business opportunities every day,” noted Jack Chevrier, vice president, staySky Vacation Clubs. “I would encourage any developer and any vendor to come to GNEX and find the folks you have some synergies with and see what they can do to increase your bottom line.”

“GNEX brings together global leaders to work toward solutions to the industry’s most complex challenges,” observed Gregory Crist, president and CEO, National Timeshare Owners Association (NTOA). “We have truly forged some amazing alliances this year . . . GNEX coming to New Orleans in 2016 is phenomenal in terms of an environment where we can mix education and fun. Any time you can put that together, it’s bound to be a great experience for everyone.” “You have the opportunity to share new concepts with high-level executives and GNEX 2015 Celebrates Record Attendance Annual event draws shared ownership industry’s top players Perspective Magazine March/April 2015 31 learn from the most experienced CEOs and at the same time from the younger, Generation X CEOs, who also have something to say,” noted Erika Garcia, chief executive officer, Marketing 4 Sunset Group.

Fast & Furious
GNEX 2015 got off to a quick start with the Dream Car Challenge, sponsored by VacationCondos.com. Delegates enjoyed the thrill of driving more than $1 million worth of exotic cars around custom-designed tracks. It was a collection that even James Bond could covet, including the Lamborghini Gallardo, Ferrari 360 Modena, Ferrari F430 and 2015 Porsche GT3.

“We were delighted to be a part of an exhilarating event that set GNEX 2015 apart,” says Jon Blackmon, vice president, Operations, VacationCondos.com. “Everyone had a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones, while enjoying the exceptional San Diego weather during a one-of-a-kind event that made for great networking and great fun.”

The next day at the first speaker session, Nico March, senior vice president –investments, The March Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, discussed the state of the economy and implications for the shared ownership industry. March shared a cautiously optimistic outlook on where 2015 will take us.

“We still face challenges on the economic front,” he acknowledged, “and it’s always good to be aware of potential speed bumps. However in the U.S., the stock market is going up, and consumer confidence and spending are on the upswing. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the outlook is positive, as the U.S. heads toward a period of economic growth and prosperity.”

Following March, in the More Profitability Through Inventory Management session, a panel of experts discussed ways to leverage delinquent or developer owned inventory to increase occupancy and revenue. The panelists were VacationCondos.com’s Jon Blackmon; Ramy Filo, CEO, Classic Holidays; and Ken Owens, vice president, Member and Owner Services, GetAways Resort Management.

“Focusing on the next generation of owners is key,” Filo said. “We’re selling to members who are brand new to our industry and educating them on our unique strengths, such as the comfort and value of the larger units. Offering creative ways that make it easy for owners to enjoy their vacation ownership experience is also essential. As an example, an HOA can deposit bulk HOA weeks with DAE and sell those credits to its member base or use them as incentives for resale purposes.”

“Renting out delinquent inventory and turning renters into owners is the easiest sell for developers,” Owens noted. “However, resorts need careful inventory management. The trick is to find the right balance, making sure inventory is available to owners when demand is high and using periods of lower owner demand, such as shoulder seasons, for rentals.”

Next up, during the Online Reputation Enhancement session, guest speaker Mark McCullough, senior territory manager – Americas, TripAdvisor, highlighted exciting ways in which the world’s largest travel website is helping companies grow. Look for new services that facilitate reservations directly from the TripAdvisor site and customize travel marketing based on consumer reviews and past behavior. Another new service, Joint Review Collection, helps companies manage their online reputation. McCullough noted Perspective Group is a TripAdvisor Official Partner as the first and only company in the vacation ownership industry to provide this service as a key component to online reputation management.

The day’s educational sessions ended with the popular Speed Networking event, sponsored by MetaMarketplace. This session, which has become synonymous with GNEX, gave each delegate the opportunity to meet other attendees in a rapid succession of two-minute meetings. The fast-paced event is a conference highlight. It took place at the start of GNEX to enable attendees to quickly engage and then develop new business and strategic partnerships during followup meetings throughout the conference.

“I made 25 business contacts,” said Kevin Wash, vice president, Sales and Marketing, weholi, of the Speed Networking event. “It was a really interesting way to meet people on Day One. Then you get to know them better when you see them again socially on Day Two . . . To see the amount of people I’ve seen in 48 hours at GNEX, it would probably take me six months and an awful lot of traveling. This conference has great initiatives that make the networking incredibly easy.”

“The Speed Networking event is my favorite part of GNEX,” said Jeanette Bunn, president and CEO, Travel To Go. “It’s a great way to connect with a lot of
people in a short period of time.”

GNEX is known for its exciting social events, and this year was no exception. The day officially concluded with the DAE FLUXX Party. Global timeshare exchange giant and longtime GNEX sponsor Dial An Exchange hosted a private party for attendees at FLUXX, the national award winning nightlife venue in San Diego’s famous Gaslamp Quarter. It was a night to remember, as attendees chatted with old friends and new over premium cocktails and cuisine against a backdrop of spectacular lighting, themed bar areas, live music, dancing and fun.

Strategies for Growth
The next morning at the first speaker session, NTOA’s Gregory Crist gave a preview of the soon-to-be-released Timeshare Owners Study based on more than 500,000 pieces of verified online content collected throughout 2014. The study, conducted by INTUITION Brand Marketing in partnership with NTOA, revealed a significant rise in positive consumer sentiment toward vacation ownership. With the volume of timeshare-related content steadily rising, the survey underscored the growing importance of reputation management. Among the study’s other key findings were insights on owners’ favorite amenities and the most talked about timeshare features and destinations.

Next up, Blurred Lines took a fresh look at the many product variations available to enhance the vacation ownership experience and boost sales. The distinguished panelists were: Mark Waltrip, chief operating officer, Westgate Resorts; Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO, American Resort Development Association (ARDA); Marcia Rowley, founder and chief marketing officer, International Cruise & Excursions, Inc.; and Robert Webb, partner, BakerHostetler. They echoed the optimism of previous sessions.

“If someone told me four years ago that we would be in the position we are today I wouldn’t have believed them,” Waltrip said of Westgate Resorts’ stellar performance during the past year. “It’s really a testimony to the strength of our leadership and all that can be accomplished when you deliver a first-class product that has tremendous value to the consumer. My advice is to provide extraordinary destination vacation experiences to keep members coming back, and make sure guests who rent stay long enough to get a real sense of the total resort experience.”

Among the panel’s other recommendations:
• Become a lifestyle product. With options for dining, shopping, golf, spa, skiing and more, engage owners with a holistic, year-round program. Let them connect with the brand and get value from their ownership, not only while on vacation, but also through benefits they can enjoy in their daily lives.
• Understand that people go through different life stages (e.g. couples, young families, families with grown children, etc.). Offer flexible customer experiences to appeal to changing lifestyles.
• Given the explosion in mobile usage, look for ways to engage consumers on
their smartphones.

During lunch, sponsored by TrackResults, cofounders Todd Rodgers and Drew
Reynolds invited everyone to be part of the upcoming “Go All In To Help Cancer Survivors Win” poker tournament, taking place at the Orlando World Center Marriott the evening before the 2015 ARDA World Conference. The tournament, hosted by TrackResults, will benefit Send Me On Vacation, a non-profit with a mission to send breast cancer survivors on vacations to heal the mind, body and spirit after completing treatments. The innovative fundraiser will feature poker, craps, blackjack and roulette for ARDA World attendees playing for prizes, bragging rights and the opportunity to be a winner in the eyes of cancer survivors and their families.

After lunch, in one of the highlights of the educational sessions, Reinforcing Stability Through Growth covered growth strategies, from acquisitions to new-builds, strategic partnerships and diversification. This panel of industry pioneers included: Jon Fredricks, president and CEO, Welk Resorts; David Siegel, president and chairman of the board, Westgate Resorts/ Central Florida Investments; Shaun O’Neill, senior vice president, BusinessDevelopment, Concord; Jon Zwickel, president and CEO, Canadian Resort Development Association (CRDA) and founder and president, InnVentures; and
John Farrow, president and CEO, Farrow Commercial Construction.

Panelists saw opportunity in legacy resorts, noting that under the right circumstances (land for expansion, desirable location, sound infrastructure, larger rooms, exciting amenities), refurbishments can be a good way to add value, freshen up a brand, realize increased revenue and create a renewed sense of excitement among owners and guests. Overall, panelists shared the optimism of previous sessions.

“The recession actually helped by making us leaner,” Siegel said. “Now, things are the best for Westgate that they’ve ever been. We’re growing through new constructions and acquisitions, having recently purchased a major casino property in Las Vegas – The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. This is a trophy property where Elvis Presley performed for almost 10 years, and it has enough land to build more villas and enough meeting space to make it the largest convention hotel in Las Vegas. Our sales are up, and demand is strong. People want timeshare. That’s the way they want to vacation.”

Of course, everyone wanted to hear about Tried & Tested marketing strategies. In this session, veteran marketers highlighted traditional and new tactics to drive ownership/membership growth. The panelists were: Marketing 4 Sunset Group’s Erika Garcia; Jim Monoyudis, senior vice president, Sales, Somerpointe Resorts; Richard Hartnett, senior vice president, Sales, Festiva Development Group; Mark Stephenson, chief commercial officer, Classic Holidays; and James Kluetz, president and CCO, Brand Tango. Among their recommendations:
• Adapt to reach Millennials via stylish, interactive resorts and transparent pricing.
• Integrate design and customer service into overall branding.
• Tie celebrity endorsements into fundraising efforts for key charities.
• Dovetail with destination initiatives (e.g. associates dressed in team colors when sporting events bring scores of visitors to town).
• Always make value greater than price.

The day officially concluded with the USS Midway Experience aboard the legendary naval aircraft carrier, now serving as a museum in the San Diego
Bay. Guests enjoyed cocktails on the flight deck as well as tours and flight
simulators before gathering downstairs in the hangar bay for the 2015 Perspective Magazine Awards gala. Winners of one of the industry’s highest honors were announced over dinner before an audience of senior timeshare executives from across the globe. As part of the celebration, a spirited auction raised $30,000 for Christel House, the GNEX charity of choice.

Outlook Is Bright
Leading off the final day of the conference, Investment & Financing Options for 2015 featured a panel of experts from leading investment and lending companies, including Todd Nelson, business development officer, LightStream, a division of SunTrust Bank; Jim Axelson, senior vice president, UBS Financial Services, Inc.; and James Casey, senior vice president/managing director, CapitalOne Bank.

Panelists were enthusiastic about today’s lending climate, sharing the following insights and observations: Although borrowers must meet stringent credit criteria, the availability of funding has never been better. Banks are bullish on construction deals, and there has been an explosion of options for consumer lending. Despite the stronger economy, many consumers are still living with a “2008 mentality.” However, banks are as safe now as they ever have been. Consumers should go on vacation and get over their fears.

Next, the When Hotel Chains Become Timeshare Developers session focused
Perspective Magazine March/April 2015 35 on the benefits of introducing a vacation club into an existing hotel brand. The experienced panel of industry professionals featured: Eliana Jones, corporate marketing director, Unlimited Vacation Club by AMResorts; staySky Vacation Clubs’ Jack Chevrier; and Jude Carrillo, principal, Core Business Consulting, Inc.

“Vacation clubs should be set up so everyone wins,” Ms. Jones advised. “They
create new revenue streams for hotels and increase customer retention, as a
defensive strategy against competitors who have vacation clubs of their own.”

“We saw a real opportunity to market to the 90,000 arrivals per year in the
properties we manage in Orlando, providing an in-house source for tours,” Chevrier explained. “The ease of marketing to satisfied guests already at our hotels has proven to be a huge benefit. Vacation clubs offer real advantages for the hotels in the staySky portfolio, as well. Part of the money from timeshare sales can go toward upgrading inventory.”

Addressing another topic of great impact to the industry, Re-Imagining Legacy
Resorts looked at options available for first generation resorts as they age. The esteemed panelists were David Waller, founder, Waller Law and Legal Aspirin; Fermin Cruz, vice president, North American Business Operations, DAE USA; NTOA’s Gregory Crist; and Peter Moody, director of business development, Equiant. They offered a full gamut of insights and recommendations, covering everything from dealing with rising delinquencies to breathing new life into legacy properties and turning them once again into vibrant resorts.

Given the profound effect corporate culture can have on an organization’s
productivity and bottom line, the next session looked at What It Takes To Implement Corporate Culture. The distinguished panelists were: Sarah King, executive vice president, Human Resources, Wyndham Vacation Ownership; Jim Madrid, president, Advanced Corporate Technology; Pacho Bedoya, director, International Sales, prAna; and Shutopa Das, MS, corporate director, Learning and Organizational Development, Welk Resorts. Among their insights and recommendations: Corporate culture must ultimately deliver a Wow! experience for the customer. The values of the leadership drive corporate culture. Recruit people who support the vision of what you want the culture to be. Think global but act local. In other words, be flexible and understand that what works in one country may not work in another. Recognize that employees are at the core of your corporate culture. Create an inspirational workplace, where your culture and employees can thrive. The final educational session, Customer Profiling, provided a fascinating glimpse at the future of marketing. The panelists were CustomerCount’s Robert Kobek; TrackResults’ Drew Reynolds; and Paul Mattimoe, president and CEO, Perspective Group. They explained how new technology can help timeshare companies boost marketing ROI with customized messaging based on a customer’s known preferences and past behavior.

“People trust reviews more than they trust ads,” Mattimoe pointed out. “That is why compelling content is so important as the halfway point between advertisements and reviews. Toward that end, customer profiling is a valuable strategy that saves people time by delivering content that is relevant and interesting to them.”

Panelists highlighted some of the latest profiling tools available, including: 1) Facebook’s robust filtering and analytics capabilities that let marketers reach a small, targeted audience for significantly higher conversion rates; 2) new TripAdvisor features that facilitate reservations, while also helping companies align their offers closely to travelers’ likes and interests; 3) solutions that use survey insights to tailor communications automatically to customer preferences; and 4) software that integrates information from a partnering company’s database with data from external sources to target customers with greater precision.

Get ready for GNEX 2016, expected to be the largest of these conferences yet. The not-to-be-missed event takes place at the luxurious Ritz Carlton, New Orleans, La., Feb. 2 – 5, during Mardi Gras season. So register early to secure accommodations. Early Bird Delegate Registration rates are available
now at gnexconference.com.