ARDA’s New Leadership & Policy Forum Returns to Beloved Venue
Held November 13-15, at The Fairmont Washington, DC, ARDA’s fall conference had a new name, the Leadership & Policy Forum, but a familiar location. Attendees were delighted to be back at the Fairmont, which has hosted more than 20 such meetings in the past. “It’s great to be here,” said Alana Wittig, AVP, director of business development at Fidelity National Timeshare. “It’s so convenient, and it just feels like we are back home.”
Day one kicked off with meetings of 12 ARDA committees. Lisa Seigert Free, RRP, managing director and general manager of The Christie Lodge OA, attended the ARDA-ROC Board meeting. “Ken McKelvey, our chairman, led us through updates on financials, state legislative issues, customer service and the ARDA International Foundation, which were provided by ARDA staff members,” she said.
After that productive day, the Welcome Reception, sponsored by RCI, brought everyone together as old friends were greeted and new connections forged. Trustee, AIF board and ARDA board members then went on to the Trustee Foundation Dinner at the Perry Belmont House nearby. “The venue was an amazing historic location well-picked by ARDA staff for such a wonderful gathering of industry colleagues and friends,” said Bill Guthrie, co-chair of the hospitality and leisure team at Foley & Lardner LLP. ““I was so happy to have been able to be part of the event.”
In addition to more committee meetings, day two provided attendees with the opportunity to hear from leading experts across government, business and Wall Street. The Wall Street session featured top analysts who provided their perspective on vacation ownership. “It’s a great industry both for investors and consumers,” said Chris Woronka, director, senior equity analyst – hotel/lodging REITs and leisure at Deutsche Bank. He also mentioned how experiences on the vacation rental market are leading consumers to look for a branded experience in the future.
In another session, FBI agents riveted the crowd with their description of following a timeshare exit scam’s money trail across the United State and Canada to telemarketing agents working at locations across Mexico. They also explained what law enforcement agencies are doing to combat such problems and how timeshare companies can protect their owners from becoming victims. Next, Julia Pollak, chief economist for ZipRecruiter, shared her insights on the labor market, wages and other important economic trends. One trend she highlighted is the potential for AI to play an important role in training new employees faster and more effectively.
“The most important part of any ARDA gathering is the opportunity to connect with industry colleagues and discuss pressing issues impacting the industry,” said Frank Goeckel, SVP – strategy, acquisitions and government affairs, Travel + Leisure Co. “The committee meetings are always productive as we focus on growing vacation ownership and serving our owners. In addition, the Washington D.C. conference allows us to hear from policy makers who can give us insight through a national lens.”
The Closing Reception, hosted by Interval International, capped off Thursday’s activities, with attendees eagerly discussing the day’s learnings. Anyone who left before Friday missed the dynamic speech given by Michael Steele, former chair of the RNC and a former Lt. Governor of Maryland. Now a political analyst at MSNBC, Steele grabbed everyone’s interest with his insights into the 2024 election, providing historical context to buttress his arguments. “In the complex landscape of contemporary politics, the application of common sense is often overshadowed by partisan agendas, polarized ideologies and sensationalism,” he said. “However, harnessing the power of common sense and political decision making is not just beneficial, it's imperative for the well-being of our society.”
As attendees headed out, they had a lot to think about. “I thought this ARDA meeting was important as we saw how everyone in our industry is coming back together after the last few years to discuss how we can provide the best possible experiences and services to our owners and customers.,” said Gordon Gurnik, Sr. EVP & chief operating officer, Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. “It is good to see how many passionate people there are in our industry talking about how we can shape the future of timeshare to be the best it can be for consumers now, and for generations to come.”