LAKE BUENA VISTA – All across the region, there are associations that have one mission: to lobby state and local lawmakers to provide them with everything from special tax breaks to legislation that specifically benefits their industry.
The trade group representing property managers for vacation homes, An Flamand noted, is not one of them.
And considering that the vacation home industry hasn’t been around nearly as long as the hotel, timeshare or luxury resort fields, means they have some catching up to do, Flamand added.
“It is our goal to provide education,” she said. “We are not advertising ourselves with a political agenda.”
Flamand is the owner of USA Vacation Homes, a property management firm in Davenport on U.S. 27. She’s also the 2012 president of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, which represents those working in the field of vacation homes, which are houses rented to visitors on a short term basis.
The homes are fully furnished and give families several bedrooms, plus a kitchen, game room and private pool. The industry has actually grown in the past few years, despite the collapse of the housing market – or possibly because of it, as more and more Central Florida homeowners who purchased a house at the height of the real estate boom in 2004-2007 opt to rent them as vacation homes.
It’s become a profitable industry at a time when tourism and hospitality are clearly on the rebound, rivaling health care as the top economic performers in the region this year.
Still, the CFVRMA itself, while able to celebrate some important achievements and milestones, needs to make changes and improvements, Flamand told her fellow members as the association held its monthly meeting on Thursday at the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World.
“The CFVRMA is actually at a crossroads, and we’ve stagnated for a couple of years,” she said. “I think it is time for us to switch gears and have a bigger impact on our industry.”
Flamand used the meeting to roll out the association’s new Extreme Change Over plan, which aims to help the association grow, while at the same time providing assistance to the individual members.
“Growing our membership is one of our goals,” Flamand said. “We want to see if we can double our membership. It will benefit us all.”
The association marked a milestone this year when it launched a certification program, that allows members to take an online course and, if they pass it, become fully certified members of this industry.
“I think it’s important that people realize how important this certification program is,” she said. “Nobody else has it, and we are the first ones.”
The program includes an educational exam in five categories, including licensing and tax responsibilities, pool care, housekeeping, legal responsibilities such as employment law and workers compensation rules, and operating procedures.
Taking the exam is a critical way to demonstrate that the property managers understand state and local laws governing the hospitality industry, and that the entire vacation home field operates as knowledgeable professionals, Flamand said.
“We think we run things smoothly, but there are always things to learn,” she said. “I’ve done this business for 11 years, and frankly, I learn every day.”
The association has also appointed fellow members Marilyn Pullen and Stephanie Luther as membership advocates.
“What our advocates provide is to assist the members with any questions or problems they might have,” Flamand said. “It’s very important that we all work together to make this association bigger than what it is today. It’s the road to change – or change the road.”
In the meantime, the association will continue to host special events at attractions in the region, so the property managers can tell their guests about what Central Florida has to offer, said Tim Justynski, the CFVRMA’s social chairman.
The association just got an offer for tickets discounted to $15 for members to see the Orlando City Soccer Club perform during an international friendly match, where the team will be squaring off with Premier League side Stoke City on Saturday, July 28.
“We have some exciting news,” Justynski said. “How many of you are soccer fans? Or, if you’re from England, you call it football, so how many of you are football fans? We have a professional ‘football’ team, Orlando City, and we’ve been invited to their game when they play at the Citrus Bowl. That’s exciting news and something we haven’t done before.”
John J. Suzuki, the vice president of sales at HomeAway, a firm that provides software for professionals, said the vacation home industry is growing. He even recorded a video promoting the industry.
“It’s burgeoning marketplace that didn’t exist before,” he said.
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