DAVENPORT – One of the bright spots in the Florida economy this year and has tourism, a field that’s on the upswing, and that’s true as well for one segment of the hospitality industry that’s benefitting from the increased visits to the Sunshine State, the vacation home industry.
As a growing number of homes in Northeast Polk County and Northwest Osceola County get put on the market to rent on a short term basis to tourists, the industry has continued to expand, as more and more investors opt to turn their rental property into a vacation cash cow.
The industry itself, though, is working on something behind the scenes designed to show that everyone working within the field operates under a code of ethics and follows all state and county rules.
What it’s intended to do, said David Leather, is bring legitimacy and respectability to this field by demonstrating that the people working in it are professionals who know what’s expected of them.
“I did this in England before I came to Florida, where we had a very similar situation in the industry,” said Leather, who manages vacation homes in Polk and Osceola counties through his company Hayes Vacation Homes in Kissimmee. Leather is also a member, and the past president, of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group that represents this region’s managers of vacation home properties and those who provide other services to them.
The CFVRMA spent most of last year drafting the on-line exam, which went live in January and is now available to take through the association’s Web site, at http://cfvrma.com/.
It’s an exam that members can take online, which as Leather noted, it also serves as an educational course for people working in this field, who may not know every rule, regulation, code and requirement that the state or county governments require of them.
Once the members take the exam and pass it, they become fully certified in the field.
“It’s just starting,” Leather said, adding that a growing number of CFVRMA’s members have already opted to take the exam.
“It’s doing exactly what I thought it would do,” he said.
The exam is voluntary, but Leather and An Flamand, the current president of the association, are urging all members to take it, because of the respectability it brings to the industry.
“It is our goal to eventually have our industry certified,” Flamand said, when the association held its recent meeting on Thursday at Cypress Golf Club in Lake Buena Vista. “It would make a big difference for us. I would really recommend to every property manager to register and do the certification.”
It allows them, she said, to learn about regulations they might not know about, and also protect themselves by knowing which rules to follow. It also sends a message to guests, she said, that the vacation homes are being operated under the most stringent health and cleanliness standards.
“It’s for your own good,” Flamand said.
Leather said he hopes that message resonates with members.
“It’s voluntary. I don’t think we can force people to do a voluntary thing,” he said.
And while the association has members who haven’t taken the certification course yet, Leather said he’s not surprised by that.
“I didn’t think we’d have all the members joining on day one,” he said. “You’ve got to do it very slowly and in a natural sort of way, and gather momentum, and more and more people will join on. When I did this in England, we had to do a certification program there, and we started slowly and then it speeded up. By the time we finished, everybody had started jumping on it to do it.”
What worked best, he said, was word of mouth – people working in the industry learning that a business rival had gotten certified and was now advertising that fact.
“Success,” Leather said, “was because Mr. Smith did it and he told Mr. Jones, and it was a natural progression from there.”
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