DAVENPORT — This has been a busy time for An Flamand.
The owner of USA Vacation Homes in Davenport is seeing a lot of holiday bookings at the vacation homes she manages in Northeast Polk County and the Four Corners area, as more tourists flock to the region for the holidays.
At the same time, she’s moving into a new, larger office across the street, also in the Polo Park commercial plaza.
“I’m moving into my own office, and it’s much bigger at 3,000 square feet,” Flamand said.
Her success is a positive, healthy sign for the vacation home industry, which suffered along with other parts of the region’s tourism and hospitality industries when the recession hit in 2008, but has since demonstrated solidly improved numbers in 2011. Vacation homes are fully furnished houses, with multiple bedrooms, a private pool, and a kitchen and game room, rented by vacationers who come to this region and want to stay in something larger than a hotel or motel room. It’s a growing business, particularly in Polk and Osceola counties, and their numbers keep increasing every year.
“There are 600 of us out there,” Flamand said of business owners who manage vacation homes.
Starting in January, Flamand will have an opportunity to provide some direction for the industry, when she becomes the new president of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group that represents those who also manage vacation homes. In an interview with Freeline Media, Flamand said she has a busy agenda planned for the association, which meets on a monthly basis, and just hosted its annual Trade Show this month at Walt Disney World.
“It is just starting to hit me,” Flamand said. “I have the presidency coming for the CFVRMA. The transition goes in January. I have to prepare for the first board meeting.”
Flamand said her goal will be to increase the number of new members of the association, since this is an industry that continues to add on new vacation home businesses every year — and to lose some once-stable older members.
“My real goal for 2012 is to double our membership,” Flamand said. “I have a whole marketing plan that I have to present to the board. I want to make sure we go after the new members in three different stages, and I think if we manage to double our membership, we will be on the map.”
She noted, for example, that vacation homes have grown so rapidly in Central Florida that CFVRMA now is close to the size of a larger organization, the Vacation Rental Managers Association.
“Look at the VRMA,” she said. “That’s a national association. I think our association is a really good one.”
That’s because the industry has grown as more people become aware of the benefit of booking their Central Florida vacation in a spacious house rather than a hotel room, she said. Originally popular with Europeans who came to this region for extended stays of a month or longer, and arrived here with large families, the reputation of vacation homes has gotten stronger with Americans tourists as well in recent years.
But it’s not an easy business to succeed in, Flamand said. A poorly managed vacation home can scare away guests, and give the entire industry a bad reputation.
“It’s a challenging business,” she said. “There are still a lot of property management companies that fail every year. It could be bad management or whatever reason. You still see a lot of management companies that don’t make it.”
A year ago at this time, the president of the association was David Leather, who was getting ready to pass on the leadership role to Colin Young, the current, outgoing president of CFVRMA. Among the issues that the association dealt with this year were their success in lobbying state lawmakers in Tallahassee to exempt the industry from a costly regulation that sprinkler systems be installed in all vacation homes, a crime problem where thieves were targeting vacation homes during the off season, and an effort to create stronger ethical guidelines for the industry.
Flamand said crime is less of an issue today than it was a year ago.
“I have a feeling that crime has gone down in our industry,” she said. “Hopefully, knock on wood, this will continue. The crime was really bad for a while, they were just kicking in the doors and going after the appliances. But that has gone down, surprisingly.”
The industry still has a growing amount of political clout, she said, and an increasing amount of respect. This year, the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association — a much larger trade group representing Central Florida’s hotels, time shares and resorts — invited the vacation home industry to put a member on its board of directors. The hotel industry and vacation home industry have agreed to work together in the future, Flamand said.
As for the ethnics guidelines, she noted that Leather spent a good part of this year developing a certification program for the industry, to weed out the fly by night operations that can give the industry a black eye.
“Those are the reasons why David Leather started up his educational program,” Flamand said. “This is a certification. And we have people in place who will only deal with people who are certified. I think this is a positive development.”
Flamand said by getting these new, smaller companies their certification and respectability, she hopes the CFVRMA can also help guide them on a path to success at a time when the Central Florida tourism industry appears to be doing much better.
“There’s so many things we learn by falling down and standing up again,” she said. “It is a tough business. There’s so much involved. It’s not just taking care of people’s homes anymore.”
The association will hold its final membership meeting on Dec. 15 at Falcon’s Fire Golf Resort in Kissimmee, starting at 9 a.m.
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