ARDA World 2015 drew timeshare professionals from around the globe for top-notch content, networking and social events. The annual convention, held this past April in the Orlando World Center Marriott, Orlando, Fla., showcased the latest trends, best practices and innovations in the vibrant and resilient timeshare industry, growing in the United States and worldwide.

The mood was upbeat,” said Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO, ARDA (American Resort Development Association). “We had a double-win of great programming combined with a great economy. Everything came together for a terrific conference.”

One of the convention’s highlights was the keynote by Jay Baer, digital marketing expert, The New York Times best-selling author and timeshare owner. Discussing today’s fragmented consumer audience, Baer told a packed auditorium: “You’re not only competing for attention against similar products. You’re competing against your customers’ friends and family as well as viral videos of cute puppies.”

Baer’s solution is “youtility” marketing. To earn attention today, giving away useful information is the engine that drives smart marketing, he explained. Consumers need more information than ever before making purchasing decisions. Baer ‘s advice: “Don’t be a better marketer; be a better teacher.” Provide answers to the questions that will make customers’ lives better, easier, or happier before they even think to ask. Drawing a distinction between “help” versus “hype,” Baer noted that the key to a successful marketing strategy is being useful. If you sell something, you make a customer today. If you genuinely help someone, you create a customer for life.

Timeshare Youtility
Youtility was part of the convention’s overarching theme – “Timeshare in Real Time.” Explaining how the concept works for the industry, Nusbaum said:

“Youtility is about benefits, not features. It’s when you share information on why timeshare is a better way to vacation. For example, we know from our market intelligence that our customers like having onsite dining options, a spa, access to golf and a ski lift as well as a place to rejuvenate, as opposed to cramming all family members into one hotel room. ARDA highlights these benefits in the eye-catching infographics it provides to members, stakeholders and the press. Youtility is also about sharing information on why having a kitchen gives families the freedom to eat on their own schedules, and that makes for a better experience. Timeshare matches the way we live.

Youtility is especially important as we reach out to a new generation of owners,” Nusbaum continued. “Our research tells us Millennials don’t want to be sold something. They’d rather co-create and be part of the process. In developing a product that appeals to young people, we’ve gotten more tech-savvy and smarter in our use of social media. It’s not the place where you tell people how great your company is. It’s where you discuss what’s in it for your customers.”

Business Confidence Is Up
Another convention highlight, the Ask the Leaders Panel, featured CEOs from timeshare companies that included: Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Hilton Grand Vacations, Hyatt Residential Group and Holiday Inn Club Vacations. CEOs discussed ways in which the industry is evolving to meet a younger demographic, new technology, strategies to revitalize legacy resorts, owner education, emerging international markets and the future of timeshare, among other key topics.

Reflecting the optimism of this year’s convention, CEOs noted that timeshare is on a good growth path, having come out of the Great Recession much stronger, with a consumer value proposition that is better than ever. Innovation permeates our business, the panelists said. Wall Street has seen the industry’s resiliency. Today, demand for timeshare is growing around the world. Financing is back, gasoline prices are down and consumer confidence is up. Timeshare is seeing a lot of momentum. CEOs agreed this is going to be a busy summer.The optimism expressed by CEOs was also apparent throughout the conference.

“The mood of everyone I talked to was very upbeat, largely because of the abundance of lending sources currently available,” said David C. Gilbert, president, Interval International. “There were both longstanding industry lenders, such as Capital Source, in attendance and several new lenders, including Capital One, a Fortune 500 company, whose entry furthers the industry’s revitalization.

I was really encouraged to hear about all of the upcoming resort development activity,” Gilbert continued. “A number of Interval’s clients have new projects in progress or planned, including Breckenridge Grand Vacations, Gold Key Resorts, Grand Solmar, Karisma Hotels & Resorts, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Palace Resorts, Starwood Vacation Ownership, Welk Resorts, Westgate Resorts and The Villa Group. The preliminary results of ARDA’s latest research also reinforce future growth. The study indicates that developers expect more than 3,600 new units to be built in 2015 and beyond. The same research showed that for last year there were 2,160 units new units planned.

“There was a lot of positive energy,” Paul Mattimoe, president and CEO, Perspective Group, said of the convention. “Business is on an upswing. With financing back for companies with a good track record and strong balance sheets, everyone was talking about growing their business again.”

“Business at ARDA World was excellent for us,” said Robert A. Kobek, RRP, president, CustomerCount. “CustomerCount has gained traction as the go-to online customer feedback system. Our partnership with RCI, as a member of its Affiliate Access Program, has proven to be very fruitful. At ARDA World, we scheduled back-to-back appointments and walked away with a number of signed contracts. Five years ago, the timeshare industry was cautiously emerging from the recession. This year, new business was back with a roar.”

Good Times
In addition to informative education sessions, ARDA World presented numerous networking opportunities. Exhibition Hall, breaks between sessions and the public areas of the Orlando World Marriott all gave attendees opportunities to come together.

Networking and fun took center stage at Interval International’s Party with a Cause, featuring two-time Grammy Award-winning Kool & the Gang (“Celebration,” “Cherish,” “Fresh”) at the Hard Rock Live Orlando. Delegates sang along and danced to old favorites at this high-energy event that was also a fundraiser for the ARDA International Foundation (AIF).

“It was a tremendous success, thanks to the hundreds who attended and our generous sponsors,” Interval International’s Gilbert said of the event. “We enjoyed entertainment by Kool & The Gang, while ‘partying’ to support the important research and educational efforts of the ARDA International Foundation. We were proud to make a contribution of $70,000 to AIF this year.”

Other highlights of this year’s events calendar included the AIF Golf Tournament, the ARDA Awards Gala, and Breakfast of Champions with Bill Clement, two-time NHL Stanley Cup champion and television broadcaster.

At the 2015 Awards Gala, the trade association presented its 2015 ACE Lifetime Achievement Award to Don Harrill, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, and past chairman of ARDA. Other recipients of this year’s coveted ACE (ARDA Circle of Excellence) were: Wyndham Vacation Ownership; Disney Vacation Club; Breckenridge Grand Vacations; RCI; TrackResults software; Randy Chapin, Grand Pacific Resort Management; Antonio Romero, Starwood Vacation Ownership; Hyatt Ka’anapali Beach; Novaispania Los Cabos; Marriott Vacations Worldwide; Aundralise Diaz de Leon, Welk Resorts; Nicole Beal, Breckenridge Grand Vacations; and Melanie Gring, Global Connections, Inc.

Looking Forward
“The industry is in a good place,” Nusbaum said. “We’ve grown more consolidated, with large well-capitalized players that can create incredible guest experiences. At the same time, entrepreneurism is our DNA. We have niche companies with unique properties in great locations that are operating successfully as independents. All this is good news for American travelers and for the industry. As strong and resilient as we are today, I believe the golden days of timeshare are still ahead.”

Next year, ARDA World returns to sunny Hollywood, Fla., and the oceanfront Diplomat Resort & Spa. See you there!