By M.A. Baumann H&MM Florida Bureau - November 1998
National Report-It wasn't long ago that when the word "timeshare" conjured up images of a less-than-glamorous industry-in some instances a downright seedy business. However, today the timeshare industry's biggest hurdle is no longer image, but rather human capital.
Timeshare companies-now referred to as vacation ownerships-comprise more than 5,000 resorts in 81 countries. The industry for years has been tapping into traditional lodging venues for bright and talented managers, but with a drum- tight labor market, now timeshares also are looking outside the industry for key players to help lead their booming businesses into the millennium.
According to Chris Larsen, director of communications for Washington-based American Resort Development Assn., industry leaders universally agree that employment deficiency tops the list of critical issues plaguing the business.
"Talented people at all levels are at a premium, especially at the midlevel," Larsen said.
Current conditions are favorable to attract solid candidates from both inside and outside the industry. Capital is available, approval ratings are sky high and respected hotel brands have added credibility and awareness to this lucrative and complex industry, Larsen said.
"We're doing a lot of things, trying to announce to the world that this is an industry that's time has come," he said. "You're going to see people moving from ancillary businesses to timeshare at the midlevel and highest levels."
Sheldon Ginsburg, managing director of Shell Vacations in Northbrook, Ill., said employee shortages is indeed the "single toughest part of our industry today. There is no problem finding property or capital, but trying to find capable people [is difficult]."
A timeshare pioneer, Ginsburg entered the business in 1978 when it was considered a "blue-suede-shoes industry. Now it is one anybody can be proud to have his or her family in," he said.
Shell Vacations' recruiting strategy for its 11 properties includes employment ads in the Wall Street Journal as well as tapping into fresh talent from unrelated industries such as real estate, banking and foodservice.
"[We have to] train people and make people aware of the industry-that in itself will bring good people to the industry," Ginsburg said. "A good sales or marketing person can make 200 percent more [in the timeshare business] than in any other area of hospitality."
Jeffrey Adler, president and co-c.e.o. of Orlando's Vistana, said finding upper- and midlevel professionals is a critical issue facing the industry, but once they're in, and learn the complexities of the business, they usually don't leave, he said.
"We spend a tremendous amount of time training and developing our people," Adler said. "There's not a lot of challenge to retain employees once they come into the industry. It's a very dynamic and fast-growth business. It's an exciting story once they get here and touch it."
Vistana utilizes search partners, hotel schools and a worldwide intern program to target potential candidates. The firm also brings in hoteliers at all levels from the traditional hospitality industry. Vistana's alignment with traditional lodging brands has enhanced its status as an established vacation-ownership leader.
Adler said career opportunities at Vistana are wide open, particularly in the sales-and-marketing arenas.
"They can earn a terrific income and learn terrific sales skills," Adler said. "There is a constant need for good managers. We're growing 25 percent a year. There is tremendous opportunity."
David Matheson, Vistana's vice president of public relations, said Vistana also is actively recruiting outside of the industry, particularly for positions that don't require industry-specific knowledge. "We're recruiting for engineers, construction and accounting [positions]- basically those professions where the knowledge is transferable to this industry, but not specific to this industry," Matheson said. "We found sitting down with these people that didn't know this company, they certainly appreciate the opportunities that a young public company can provide them, especially one that is in a fast-growth mode such as ours." For instance, the company recently hired a senior level executive from Pepsico to head up Vistana's human resources.
L. Nicolas Gray, president of Boca Raton's Bluegreen Corp. echoed the sentiment, saying the "bench strength of this industry is shallow." Formed in 1993, Bluegreen boasts more than 20 resorts in the southeastern United States.
"To date, we haven't had a problem finding good people," Gray said. "By percentage, we are in the top two or three as far as growth development. This says a lot to potential candidates. The people in our company-we're well-known and highly regarded, we have a solid track record-people want to be associated with a winner."
Gray said the company traditionally has found success recruiting in the car sales, insurance and education industries. He cited high monetary rewards, upward mobility and the sheer challenge as appealing reasons to get into this business at all levels.
"For the most part [midlevel managers] come from outside the industry," Gray said. "But we've also been fortunate to find sales managers with industry experience." Once hired, employees attend the Bluegreen Institute, the educational arm of the company, where they learn the industry, corporate culture and plot their career paths.
Industry leaders hope to create a greater awareness of the industry's rewarding career opportunities through hotel schools and universities.
"As this industry grows, more people at the college level will learn
about it and will make a conscious effort to get into the timeshare
business rather than straight lodging," Ginsburg said. For
the first time, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas is offering a vacation-
"We're also working with [other] colleges to develop curriculum at the universities," Larsen said. "We want smart, talented people to consider this as one of their options."
Management staffing is an ongoing challenge, particularly in low unemployment locations such as the Caribbean, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, said Bob Gentry, chairman of the American Hotel & Motel Assn.'s Condominium/Vacations Ownership Committee, and vice president of Eastern Resorts in Newport, R.I. Gentry said the vacation ownership topic will be in the spotlight at the upcoming AH&MA fall meeting in New York. Here, c.e.o's from six major hospitality companies will gather for a first-ever general session on the state of the vacation-ownership industry. In addition, the Educational Institute will launch its first textbook focusing on condominium and vacation ownership.
"I see this [session] attracting midlevel managers," Gentry said. "It's
going to peak the curiosity of those on the traditional [hospitality]