In the daily operation of a resort it’s easy to overlook challenges and obstacles that suppliers and vendors may have overcome on their way to deliver better technology and to provide innovative service. Once they’re in use, even the most ingenious of services may look super-simple.
But as Thomas Edison put it, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Whether it’s an online owners’ portal that handles 90+ percent of what was formerly done by phone, a web-based software transparently handing a developer’s title transfer department processing or the capability of accepting credit card charges for everything from annual maintenance fees to monthly mortgage payments; developing a great idea calls for brains and application.
Anthony “Tony” Knowles, general manager of Paradise Island Beach Club, was appreciative of the results of one of SPI Software’s creations. He recently wrote, “Joining Team SPI Orange with their Owner Connect system was the single best decision that I made in my more than eight years as general manager.”
Most companies aim for Tony’s over-the-top approbation, but accolades in this business may not often be this forthcoming. Perhaps the major key in engendering them is having the right philosophy. “SPI Software’s role is to provide solutions – not software,” observes SPI CEO Richard Corso. “Most people mistakenly associate technology with a machine or software. At its core, technology is the practical application of scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge is accumulated by systematic study and organized by related principles.”
SPI has spent 37 years in the trenches and its senior leadership team has an average industry tenure of nearly 20 years. “Throughout our history, SPI has remained technology leaders in the industry by continuously investing in innovative and powerful technology solutions, such as Owner Connect,” says Corso. “This owner portal is much more than a booking engine. Resort operators can make information available for all owners to view such as events, renovations, usage calendars, new products and services, resort photos and so forth. Information can also be shared ‘privately’ with individual owners including details on rentals, resales, title changes, statement balances, etc.”
“The system was designed for timeshare so it is very easy to use,” adds Knowles, “since it anticipates each question our title department may have. It’s a branded web portal so that customers won’t get confused about using an outside vendor. We’ve been using it for a year and enjoy being able to rely on it so that we are free to attend to our various other responsibilities.”
“The Christie Lodge has been using SPI’s “Owner Connect” web services for two years now,” adds
Christie Lodge Information Systems Manager Vania Sarieva. “We were looking for an easy to use solution that would enhance owner convenience, streamline self-service and would be customizable to the Christie Lodge’s branding strategy. Over the last two years Owner Connect had met our expectations for everything we mentioned! It has proven to be a great communication and account management tool and as an added bonus helped us reduce paper usage and operational costs.”
You can take from this one example: Corso and his team’s scientific approach sets the bar high. Another leading-edge software provider – this one specializing strictly in all-things-title, if you will – is Dave Heine, CEO of Timeshare Pro Plus, says it took not only a bright idea, but several years and thousands of IT hours to produce a series of modules that can be accessed exclusively online. Today, his company offers resort operators software modules named eponymously for the work they do: They are RequestMyEstoppel.com, JiffyDocs.com, HoldMyEscrow.com and Owner to Owner (ownertransfer.com). Each site can be used independently of one another or in combination with other Timeshare Pro Plus modules.
Heine says the idea grew from his experience while operating a national title agency and serving timeshare resort clients. “There just weren’t any other timeshare-specific packages like these,” he adds. (There still aren’t, as Heine has taken the extra step to patent his creations.)
Particularly, resorts, management companies or developers can use the Owner to Owner module when assisting owners with necessary title changes, processing the transaction either in house, or outsourced to a third party agency. For example, Starwood Vacation Ownership (soon-to-be-called Vistana Signature Experiences, Inc.) uses the module to transparently process their title transfer operations for finalization by their internal title department.
“We’ve worked with the Starwood team for a year, now, and they are great partners” says Heine. “They incorporated the use of our Owner to Owner system to process their owner resales. They simply key in the basic information and our system generates all the documents, which they can then send to their title department to finalize.”
Convincing Credit Card Companies
For industry veteran Larry Gildersleeve, the science was two years of research and the sweat has been persistence, both of them in pursuit of enhanced credit card processing for the timeshare industry. The result is Customized Solutions, a division of Gildersleeve Partners, LLC, offering an innovative brokerage approach to providing both lower transaction costs and higher quality processing and data security. “Our research began almost three years ago by talking with senior executives at banks and card processing companies,” says Gildersleeve. “What we discovered was a fairly universal view that the timeshare industry was high risk, with risk assessment being a critical component in pricing their products and services. We disagree with this conclusion, and have successfully developed relationships with large service providers with a much more enlightened assessment of our industry.”
By having multiple sources available, Gildersleeve’s company is able to evaluate the merchant services needs of timeshare companies on an individualized basis, and then offer solutions much like the approach of a commercial insurance broker. Customized Solutions is uniquely able to also offer leading-edge technology solutions that do not require a company to change its current banking and processing relationships. Among the companies represented is ARDA member CardConnect, one of the world’s largest credit card technology providers. “For timeshare companies generating large volumes of new sales, one such solution involving processing down payments on credit cards could potentially generate cost savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” Gildersleeve said.
“Since we introduced CardConnect’s technology to the timeshare industry two years ago, we’ve continued to form relationships with additional companies offering a diversity of experience and expertise in the credit card processing arena. As a result, we have a high degree of confidence we can satisfy the merchant services needs of virtually every company in every discipline in the timeshare industry. And we are particularly focused on the crucial areas of technology and the protection of consumer data.”
The Bottom Line
“The shared ownership industry includes highly driven and competitive leaders engaged in the battle of managing costs – especially for sales and marketing,” observes Corso. “Tiny savings variances not only add up with volume and over time, but can make the difference between a success and failure.
Says Knowles, “I am of the opinion that choosing SPI has decreased my default percentage from 10 percent annually to less than 5 percent, putting less demand on sales and collections. Members are just happier!”
“We needed a system that would alleviate the headache of keeping track of all the documents, reduce the staff time involved and provide better customer service,” says Heather Brandow, senior director of document origination for Starwood Vacation Ownership. It may take some up-front thought and perspiration, but helping resorts stay organized while using a minimal amount of time and expense, providing top-level customer service is what it’s all about.