How have you seen the region change in recent decades?
When I first moved here in 1992, Orlando was really weighted toward the southwest portion where the theme parks were and it was a smaller tourism town, but a lot of big firms have moved to North Orlando [such as Deloitte and ADP]. You’ve [also] got Lockheed Martin here, Siemens, Tupperware, and a lot of professional firms and tax firms and, as a result, a lot of diversified managerial and entry-level talent in this market. The [Orlando] tag phrase is, “Orlando. You don’t know the half of it” and it’s really true. Once you get into north of downtown, you wouldn’t even know you were in the tourism capital of the world—you’re in just another community, a great midsize town.
What has your experience been finding talent here?
The labor market here is very strong and the overall business environment is good for the housing market, which is helpful for people who are relocating. It’s not hard to argue to move to a 75-degree state in November with beaches at a maximum of 50 miles away from any one point. And obviously the tax environment is strong because we have a low tax base in Florida, so people really do like to move here.
Are you connected with the local universities to fill your talent pipeline?
Absolutely. University of Central Florida is one of the largest universities in the nation, so there is a lot of talent there. It’s a commuter school as well so you get a lot of students who are family members who have grown up in this community. The university itself is generating a lot of diversified talent, with curricula that are very diversified. I’ve spoken at the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management. They’re generating a lot of talent to the timeshare sector as well as the broader hospitality sector.
How does the Wyntern program prepare the next generation of talent for work in your industry?
Wyndham Destinations is all about vacations and our business is the first thing that attracts top internship candidates. Our Wyntern program offers development in a variety of channels: from on-the-job training and related project work to cultural, relational and personal development. This format enables students who go through the program to experience a well-rounded professional immersion that will prepare them for success in the future. Offering more depth than a traditional internship program, we enable Wynterns to understand the larger operational picture, while learning more about their personal work styles and how they can work best with others.
How has the support from the business community been helpful?
When your industry generates 45,000 jobs and half a billion of state and local taxes, you want to be able to discuss the issues that matter. I have had a lot of discussion with state and local officials about what the local community needs and how to grow it in the best possible way, and I’ve felt tremendous support. In our work with the Orlando Economic Partnership—we had never been involved before and we joined this year—it’s really that conversation and community involvement that’s been helpful, for example, how to support local philanthropy better, what we need to grow our labor pool, to increase innovation. We’re the second largest publicly traded company in Orlando. I’m not going to say that’s a mandate, but it makes us want to be a leader in the community as a resident, and the community is looking to support us and help us grow.
What are some examples of how you’ve found government receptive/helpful?
As the largest vacation ownership and exchange company in the world, our reputation as a trusted brand is built on the relationships we have with our customers and we are committed to their best interests. Most recently, our legal team has been aggressively pursuing fraudulent third-party exit firms through legal and regulatory means to prevent unscrupulous resale companies that aim to mislead or deceive timeshare owners and, in many cases, damage their credit and cost them thousands of dollars in “fees” for illusory timeshare exit services. We have met with numerous Attorney’s General and federal agencies individually and with the industry trade association ARDA [American Resort Development Association] to discuss a number of issues affecting the industry, including timeshare exit companies. We have found these entities are particularly receptive to information about how exit companies are harming timeshare owners and how the government may be able to assist the industry to combat these bad actors. In Tennessee, for example, an attorney working with an exit company lost his license to practice law as a result of a regulatory investigation. We have also worked with local Better Business Bureaus to educate them on how these firms operate and so they are better educated as to the services that they provide, or fail to provide, to timeshare consumers.
Why is it so helpful to be in such close proximity to all the other major players in your industry?
Orlando is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations – it makes sense that so many leading vacation companies are based here in Central Florida. The ability to connect in person drives collaboration, enables us to leverage best practices across the industry, while also drawing from a strong pool of industry knowledge. The timeshare industry is unique in many ways, from how our prospective owners learn about the product to how we are regulated. Regardless of the unique offerings of our brands, all of the major players share a responsibility to improve our customers’ lives through vacations – and we are united in our commitment to timeshare owners.
What is your strategy for continued growth in 2019? Have you added any new goals for this year?
We are building on strong momentum, continuing the same focus for 2019 that we’ve had since the spin. To drive top-line growth, we are focusing on tour growth by building on the relationships with our marketing partners, like Caesars and Margaritaville, and by extending or opening new markets such as Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon. We also continue to increase the mix of new-owner sales, providing a future pipeline of potential upgrade sales. In terms of the bottom line, we are working to drive increased efficiencies and cost opportunities as we bring together our Vacation Ownership business and our Exchange and Rental capabilities. We also continue to use our strong free cash flow to return capital to shareholders.