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The Kemmons Wilson Connection Was a Pivotal Element in
 Deal Teaming Up Orange Lake Resorts with Holiday Inn
By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September  25, 2008 - Holiday Inn, part of the world's largest hotel company, will launch a time-share brand late this year in partnership with Kissimmee-based Orange Lake Resorts, the two businesses announced Wednesday.

Through a licensing agreement, the 1,400-acre Orange Lake time share near the western entrance to Walt Disney World will become the flagship location for Holiday Inn Club Vacations. A full-service Holiday Inn hotel will be added to the property, which is next to Disney's Flamingo Crossings, a planned development of "value-oriented" hotels and shops.

As part of the deal, Orange Lake will continue to own and operate the resort, which includes about 2,400 villas. It will continue to focus on sales and development, while Holiday Inn will focus on brand and marketing issues.

"It allows us to continue to do what we're good at -- the brand management and revenue delivery," said Christian Hempell, vice president of Holiday Inn Club Vacations, which will be based in Atlanta. "It allows them [Orange Lake] to continue to build on their 25 years of success."

During a recent industry panel discussion, Orange Lake's president and chief executive officer, Don Harrill, described his time-share resort as a growing operation that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year. With a mortgage portfolio of $350 million, the company has grown 25 percent in each of the past three years, he said, with occupancy rates consistently above 80 percent.

The company also has three smaller resorts -- in Vermont, Wisconsin and the Florida Panhandle -- each with fewer than 70 villas. But to expand into large markets such as Las Vegas and Hawaii, Orange Lake will need the recognition and marketing heft of a mega-brand, Hempell said. Holiday Inn is the only such brand that doesn't already have a time-share operation, he said.

"By putting these two companies together, we could do things that we couldn't do independently," he said.

For Orange Lake, the licensing agreement provides "an opportunity to be introduced to new families" through Holiday Inn's worldwide reservation system and the company's 40 million loyalty-program members, Harrill said. "That gives us a global platform, but more particularly a national platform, to get our story out," he said.

The 120,000 people who currently own time shares at Orange Lake will have a chance to join Holiday Inn Club Vacations, which will allow them to trade their time-share weeks for hotel rooms elsewhere, Harrill said.

From a historical perspective, the partnership brings together two companies that share the same founder. Kemmons Wilson, who created the Holiday Inn hotel brand in 1952, later established Orange Lake's flagship property. (Holiday Inn is now part of British-based InterContinental Hotels Group PLC.)

The Wilson connection was a "pivotal element of the deal," Hempell said.

For the Wilson family, which still owns Orange Lake, the partnership is a homecoming of sorts, Harrill said.

"Now they're coming back together with the brand that their father created."

Sara K. Clarke can be reached at or 407-420-5664.


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