LAKE BUENA VISTA – For years, the two sides of the hospitality industry seemed to be in a competitive battle: the region’s traditionally dominant hotels taking on the new kids on the block, the emerging vacation home market.
It didn’t help that vacation homes always seemed to be promoting the exact opposite of what people could expect from a hotel room. Rather than one room, they were quick to note, a family could get an entire house with multiple bedrooms, a kitchen staffed with everything you need to do your own cooking, even a private pool.
And while there were far more hotels than short term vacation home rentals available here, their numbers have been increasing throughout the past decade.
Last week, however, the two sides not only decided to put aside their differences, but even work together, when the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association voted to add a member of the vacation home industry to its board of directors.
Both sides were quick to say it was a smart and practical move.
“I think the important thing to understand is that some five years ago, the CFHLA incorporated a new name,” said Richard J. Maladecki, president of the association.
Originally known as the Central Florida Hotel & Motel Association, they became the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association. The change, Maladecki said, enabled the association to branch out and include within its ranks different kinds of hospitality industries besides hotels and motels, including time shares, resorts, and now vacation homes.
“We realized as a lodging industry that Central Florida is more than just hotels,” he said.
The time share industry, for example, is booming in this region, he noted.
“One out of every four time share units in the world is located in Florida,” Maladecki said. “They needed to be an equal partner in the lodging industry. And we realized there is an emerging market of vacation rentals.”
It made sense, Maladecki said, to not only acknowledge the growth of the vacation home industry, but also welcome it under the fold.
“Our goal was to truly be representative of all lodging entities in the Central Florida community,” he said.
The vacation home industry has definitely grown in leaps and bounds throughout the past decade, particularly in Northeast Polk County and in Osceola County. The initial concept was simple: offer fully furnished homes that could be rented to anyone looking for more space than a hotel room might provide.
Initially these homes appealing to British and other European visitors to Central Florida who come to the region for extended stays of a month or longer. But in the past few years, more American tourists have discovered them as well, said An Flamand, who operates USA Vacation Homes in Davenport, and said she’s getting a healthy mix of both British and American tourists this year.
Flamand serves on the board of directors for a separate trade association, the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association. Often times these vacation homes are privately owned, and managed by firms like USA Vacation Homes, which handle the bookings and maintain the properties. Flamand agreed it made sense for both sides to not only work together, but learn from one another.
“They opened up a seat for us on their board, and we decided that it would be a good thing for us to be a part of it, ” she said. “Seeing that both areas of our industry are very similar, I think we have a lot to learn from each other.”
For one thing, Flamand noted, luxury hotels have unique marketing strategies that small vacation homes haven’t traditionally used – although there’s potential to learn from the ways that the hotel industry sells the region in tough economic times.
“I’ve been to several of their meetings and their trade show,” she said. “They do things differently, but it’s good to see them reinvent the wheel, and see how these big corporate hotels do it their way after all these years of experience. There will always be that little bit of competition between us, but I think there’s always things for us to learn, marketing-wise — how are they reaching their clientele, what are they saying the tourism market is doing right now, and so on. It’s very interesting for us to know what they’re doing and what their thoughts are.”
As an example, Flamand said she been looking into how the hotel industry handles laundry.
“I was interested in their laundry services,” she said. “There’s practical things that hotels do that we do totally differently, because we’re so used to doing it that way, but it doesn’t mean we can’t hand our laundry services to a third person to contract it out. It’s good to see different aspects of how things are done. It’s just good to compare, that’s the best way to say it. Then we can ask ourselves, can we try to implement this in our small industry?”
Maladecki acknowledged the past competition between the two industries, but said that’s a healthy thing for both sides, since it encourages hotels and vacation homes to strive to be their best.
“Competition built this country,” he said. “We first went forward with advancing the time share industry two years ago. We put aside our competitive hats at CFHLA and look at the bigger picture.”
The CFHLA approved the change last Friday, during the association’s annual awards luncheon. The idea of adding a board member from the vacation home industry was approved unanimously on a voice vote.
“This is a vehicle to unite all aspects of the Central Florida lodging industry,” Maladecki said. “If you don’t have all segments of the industry, you’re not truly representing everyone.”
Flamand said she also thinks politics played a role in the decision, since the hospitality industry is looking to Tallahassee to preserve funding for tourism marketing in Florida. Having a larger, united hospitality industry helps put the heat on lawmakers to avoid major cuts.
“From a political point of view, that’s one of the decisions that got made,” she said. “If you look at the amount of rooms that we provide and the tourism we support, it is a significant part of the market. It’s become a bigger player than we initially thought we were.”
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