News for the Hospitality Executive
Fairfield Resorts Now Has 71 Resorts
with Over 500,000 Timeshare Owners
|By Jerry W. Jackson, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 26--Fairfield Resorts, an Orlando-based time-share giant that got its start with a single resort in the Ozark Mountains nearly 40 years ago, has surpassed 500,000 owners, a milestone for the fast-growing industry.
Fairfield, which opened a sales office in a converted gas station in Arkansas in 1966, has become the first time-share company to pass the half-million mark. It now has 71 resorts in 21 states and territories.
The business moved to Orlando from Little Rock in 1999 when it was known as Fairfield Communities, and the company has seen its fortunes rise with the boom in time-share sales: Ownership of Fairfield units more than doubled just since 1998.
The maturing of the baby-boom generation is fueling the growth, said Franz Hanning, president and chief executive officer of Fairfield Resorts, a division of Cendant Timeshare Resort Group, which Hanning also heads.
"That's our sweet spot," Hanning said of baby-boom buyers. "They have wealth, and they don't want to be tied down to a second home."
Dick Batchelor, a longtime time-share industry consultant in Orlando, said the industry has gained recognition in recent years as a valuable subset of tourism, a sector that stands apart because of its growth and profitability.
"It's a mature industry," Batchelor said, contributing billions to Florida's economy each year. Closer regulatory oversight of the time-share industry in recent years has helped, he said, by overcoming the stigma from decades ago, when consumers had less confidence in companies peddling time shares.
The entry of brands such as Marriott and Hilton, and companies such as Walt Disney Co., has also improved the sector's reputation.
Florida's time-share industry employs more than 35,000 people, with salaries, wages and income of more than $1 billion a year, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study. Time-share owners took about 1 million vacations in Florida during 2002, the study estimated, generating about $2.3 billion in spending that ripples through local economies.
Time shares, or vacation ownership properties, are in essence pre-paid luxury hotel rooms. They offer buyers lifetime rights to a resort, typically in one- or two-week intervals annually, for a set price, plus annual maintenance fees.
But time shares have proved to be more profitable than hotels for a variety of reasons, and major brands such as Marriott and Hilton now have huge vacation-ownership operations.
The higher profitability for time shares is partly because the prepaid aspect boosts returns and occupancy. The PricewaterhouseCoopers study, for example, estimated time-share resort occupancy averaged nearly 82 percent in 2002, significantly higher than the average hotel occupancy of 60.5 percent in Florida that year.
Florida is by far the leading time-share state and Orlando is Florida's leading market, both in resorts and industry clout. In addition to Fairfield, the Orlando area also is home base for other key players including Marriott Vacation Club International, Hilton Grand Vacations Co., Starwood Vacation Ownership and Westgate Resorts.
While the industry has hit rough patches in the past -- Fairfield, for example, went through a bankruptcy reorganization in 1990, pinched by a credit crunch -- Hanning said he sees more growth ahead.
"The business is very resilient," said Hanning, who joined Fairfield in 1982 as a sales associate and worked his way up to president and CEO in 2001. "Even during recessions, we've done well."
Hanning said Fairfield got out of the real estate market to focus on time shares, and the company has strength and brand recognition with the backing of its parent company -- Cendant Corp., a diversified real estate and travel company that owns brands such as Days Inn, Ramada, Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Orbitz online travel agency.
"It's been great for us," Hanning said, referring to Cendant's family of well-known brands. "People feel comfortable doing business with them."
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
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