Holiday Inn Club Vacations/Orange Lake Resorts
Orange Lake Resorts’ partnership with Holiday Inn’s ownership group
returned the company to its origins with access to even greater resources.
By Jim Harris
For many large companies, significant expansion during a short period of time inevitably leads to growing pains including strained resources, dissatisfied customers or disillusioned employees.
Orange Lake Resorts, home to the Holiday Inn Club Vacations brand, has doubled in size following its acquisition of Silverleaf Resorts in 2015. This has not, however, diminished the quality of the vacation ownership resort company’s properties in the eyes of its owners or employees.
“One of the things I’m most proud of our team here is the fact that we doubled in the past three years, but we’re still passionate about delivering excellent family vacations,” CEO Tom Nelson says. “Our quality and employee engagement scores have not dropped – we’re still making our customers and our team happy.”
“It’s hard to grow that fast while keeping those scores high,” he adds. “We’ve gone through massive growth while keeping our focus on creating a great experience for our customers.”
The Silverleaf acquisition added 13 properties to the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Brand portfolio. “We believe in acquiring and integrating best-in-class businesses,” Nelson says.
Decades of Growth
Founded in 1982 as a single-site property in Orlando, Fla., Orange Lake Resorts today owns and operates 26 resorts in 13 states with a stock of more than 7,400 villas. The company operates properties under the Holiday Inn Club Vacations brand.
The company traces its history back even further to 1952, when Kemmons Wilson opened the original Holiday Inn hotel just outside of Memphis, Tenn. Wilson was inspired to open the hotel following a weeklong vacation during which he, his wife and five young children encountered cramped space, no air conditioning, a lack of basic amenities and poor service at each hotel they stopped at.
The first Holiday Inn offered clean rooms and perks such as air conditioning, free parking and ice, swimming pools, restaurants and warm service. By 1970, Holiday Inn had grown into a billion-dollar corporation with hundreds of locations nationwide.
After retiring in 1979 and selling the Holiday Inn brand, Wilson became interested in vacation ownership, also known as timesharing, which was in its infancy at the time. Three years later, he opened the earliest phase of Orange Lake Resort next door to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
During its first 10 years, Orange Lake Resort grew from a property with 32 villas to more than 600 units. Wilson would eventually hand the property down to his son Spence, who continued to grow it to more than 1,450 acres. Today, it is one of the largest timeshare properties in the world.
In 2008, the company announced an alliance with Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), which owns the Holiday Inn brand as well as the world’s largest hotel loyalty program, the IHG Rewards Club.
The partnership put Orange Lake Resorts on the forefront of the emerging trend of major hotel companies spinning off their timeshare businesses. “It was innovative for vacation ownership companies to be operating independently from the brand they licensed,” Nelson says. “For us, this was an inspiring story about coming together with Holiday Inn years after our founder started it while kicking off a positive wave in the industry.”
Aligning with IHG brought Orange Lake Resorts back to its origins with the Holiday Inn brand as well as giving it access to resources such as the IHG Rewards Club. Bookings and purchases are also handled through IHG’s extensive booking network, which includes prime placements on popular online travel sites.
The brand also has a longstanding relationship with RCI, the largest timeshare exchange network in the world. “In addition to having the benefit of Holiday Inn Club Vacations, our guests can exchange memberships to stay at one of RCI’s resorts around the world,” he adds. “That has been a great relationship that has created additional benefits for our owners.”
In The Middle
Orange Lake Resorts remains true to its founders’ vision in the experience and amenities its properties offer to guests. “Orange Lake Resorts fits very clearly into the middle market, and Holiday Inn is the killer brand in that market,” Nelson says. “We’re very tuned into the needs of families in that market space.”
“Kemmons Wilson had a gut instinct for that market, and reached it by focusing on aspirational things, such as a pool or a color television,” he adds. “With vacation ownership, he started a new way for families to travel together by giving them an experience that wasn’t confined to a 300-square-foot hotel room. We’ve delivered on that experience by creating an aspirational experience for the middle market that they couldn’t get at home.”
Orange Lake Resorts’ properties are located in popular vacation destinations such as Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Las Vegas; and Panama City Beach, Fla. The brand also offers locations close to major cities. “We’re in places where families would want to come together for a quick getaway or a long trip,” Nelson says.
Villas in Holiday Inn Club Vacations branded properties range from 800 to nearly 3,000 square feet, and include separate bedrooms and kitchens. Each property offers amenities and themes appropriate to its environment, such as a colonial theme in Williamsburg, Va., or a Smoky Mountains experience in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The Holiday Inn Club Vacations sites in Orlando, Marco Island, Fla, Scottsdale, Las Vegas, Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Williamsburg, V.A. and Galveston, Texas, feature Signature Collection villas and offer even more site amenities, larger villas and luxury features. An additional Signature Collection site is under development in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The brand’s staff members help fulfill its hospitality mission by providing a high level of service. Orange Lake Resorts leverages IHG’s training programs to give staff the skills they need to best serve property owners. “Where our guest service differs from that of hotels is that we have relationships with our owners for a lifetime,” Nelson says. “We want people who are tuned into the idea of creating great experiences with a sense of fun over a lifetime.”
Setting its Sights
The Holiday Inn Club Vacations brand is on the cusp of ongoing market trends, such as the rise of the sharing economy epitomized by online vacation rental sites such as Airbnb. “There’s an appeal for families that want to stay in larger locations. [Airbnb] validated the need for more places to stay, so we see that as a positive trend,” Nelson says. “We are different in that we provide a layer of service, security and amenities that you wouldn’t find just renting a home.”
The Holiday Inn Club Vacations brand will continue to grow. The company is looking to expand the offerings at its existing properties as well as enter new markets. Potential new markets for the company include popular ski destinations in Utah and Colorado as well as southern California and Hawaii.
“I think we will continue to outpace the industry, based on the strength of our marketing relationship with IHG as well as the fact that we have room to grow across the United States, capital to deploy and a demonstrated ability to integrate acquisitions,” Nelson says. “In a short period of time, we’ve grown to be very material in the industry. We have our sights set on being the biggest and best.”