|By Jerry W. Jackson, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 20, 2005 - Starwood Vacation Ownership is the dean of Central Florida's time-share resorts, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the company's Starwood Vistana Resort at Lake Buena Vista last week . But longtime Chief Executive Officer Raymond L. "Rip" Gellein Jr. is looking to the future.
The company is building across the country, including Hawaii, and soon will announce plans for a resort in Mexico. And the potential horizons extend well beyond that, Gellein said recently during an interview in his office at Vistana, near Interstate 4 and State Road 535.
"We're not yet in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, South America," Gellein said. "The big story is the [industry] penetration rate is still dramatically low." He noted that "outside the U.S., [the time-share industry] is not well-known or understood," providing opportunities for educating consumers about the benefits of "buying" a lifetime of future vacations at fixed prices.
But vacation-resort sales still have lots of potential inside the United States as well, said Gellein, who predicted "at least 10 or 15 years" of continued growth. That's because baby boomers are at peak earnings and just beginning to retire with extra income and active lifestyles, he said.
Growing financial sophistication by savvy consumers, Gellein said, also portends continued "fractional" sales of everything with high capital costs -- from planes and boats to vacation homes. By splitting costs into fractions, part owners share the benefits and expense.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the big hotel company with chains such as Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis, bought Vistana in 1999 for nearly $400 million in stock and cash. At the time, Vistana was publicly traded on its own and performing well. In the 1980s, it went through a rough patch when its owner at that time, General Development Corp., went bankrupt for reasons unrelated to the time-share business.
Today, known as Starwood Vacation Ownership, the company has about 2,000 employees in the Orlando area, its top market, and about 4,100 nationwide. Gellein has been with the company since the beginning in 1980, when it converted its tennis and condo resort to the time-share model, which was a relatively new concept at the time. His former co-CEO and partner, Jeff Adler, retired earlier this year, but Gellein said he has no immediate plans to do so.
"I'm here as long as I'm having fun," he said, noting that the
time-share industry has lots of interesting components, from finance
and development to hospitality management, sales and marketing.
Almost four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, frequent fliers are still complaining about long lines at airport security checkpoints and inconsistencies in the screening process.
The mandatory drills to remove laptop computers from cases and shoes from feet are among the more annoying aspects of travelers having to bare themselves to the Transportation Security Administration, according to a new survey of passengers issued last week.
The poll of business travelers, conducted by the Business Travel Coalition, found that 77 percent of respondents said they support a voluntary "registered traveler" program in which they would be pre-screened in return for getting through security more quickly.
The TSA is trying out a registered-traveler program at a handful of large airports -- Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Washington.
The coalition supports widespread deployment of the registered-traveler program. But the TSA version being tested has produced mixed results at best.
A privately run program is scheduled to debut at Orlando International Airport this week.
Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper, contributed to this report.
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