Ask RedWeek / June, 2020

What to expect traveling to Orlando this summer

I have a long-planned trip to visit Orlando in late-June, but don't know what to expect — or whether it's even safe enough for our family to travel. What can you tell me about the health and travel picture at Orlando resorts?

As of June 1, all timeshare resorts are scrambling for the imminent return of long-time customers. While other industries (airlines, hotels, etc.) prepare for slow and gradual reopening, brand-name timeshare companies are expecting a fast return-to-business as owners seek to utilize vacations they've already paid for.

"Our owners are anxious to get back on vacation," said Stephen P. Weisz, CEO and president of Marriott Vacations Worldwide, at a Goldman Sachs investors' conference June 2. "They are heavy travelers."

Weisz and other timeshare executives are bullish about the potential recovery. They say that people with prepaid vacations, such as timeshare owners, will even lead the recovery as travel companies create a new normal in the living-with-COVID era.

But there's not going to be much normality during this hoped-for recovery. Companies are scrambling to rebook cancelled reservations and some are limiting reservations to owners (over exchangers and renters); they are introducing resort-wide cleaning protocols that will be highly visible; they have closed or dramatically altered some amenities, such as hot tubs and group activities that can not easily comply with federal and state social-distancing guidelines. They are rearranging lobbies and restaurants and removing unnecessary furnishings while setting up sanitation stations through the resorts. Employees at most resorts will all wear masks and encourage visitors to mask-up as well. They'll employ cashless transactions, contactless checkins, and subject visitors to temperature checks upon arrival. If your temperature's too high, they'll turn you and your family away. And if you're traveling FROM New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, you'll also be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

So many things will be different, in fact, that timeshare companies and HOAs are encouraging owners to call owner services and check current statuses online to educate themselves about what to expect at their resort. The only thing that WON'T be different this summer is hot and humid weather in a county originally named Mosquito County.

From Cotton to Cattle and Citrus to World Travel Center

Orlando, formerly famous for cotton, cattle, and orange groves, is one of the world's top-10 most-visited vacation destinations. It's also the timeshare capital of the United States (and the world). Most of the major timeshare companies are headquartered in and around Orlando, so the area's recovery is both professional and personal. Florida averages nearly 130 million visitors per year, with more than half, 75 million, visiting Orlando's 13 theme parks and nearby Kennedy Space Center, annually. According to the American Resort Development Association, the lobbying group for developers, there are 1,580 timeshares in the US. Thirty-one percent, or 371 resorts, live in Florida - with about 100 of those in Greater Orlando. California is way back at #2, with 134 timeshare resorts. Thanks to Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, and other theme parks, Orlando is the epicenter for family timeshare vacations in Florida. This summer, it will also become the epicenter for NBA basketball, which plans to resume its season July 31 at Disney World.

According to timeshare executives interviewed for this story, Orlando will become the beacon for the US recovery this summer as renters, exchangers, and timeshare owners take tentative steps to get their travel plans back on track. As Orlando goes, they say, so goes the nation.

Check out These Sites for Resort Information

All of the major timeshare companies, and most HOAs, are posting online advisories and videos to educate owners and set expectations for people returning to their home resorts. Most of these communications are designed to reassure owners that travel is safe and that the resorts are doing everything in their power to provide a safe-and-covid-free vacation experience.

Here is a current "welcome back" message from Vistana (which owns Westin and Sheraton Vacation Clubs, among others).

Here is a message from Wyndham Vacations, the world's largest timeshare company, about its cleaning protocols and check-in procedures, plus a TV News video about the reopening of Bonnet Creek, its signature luxury resort in Orlando.

Wyndham started reopening its seven Orlando resorts after Memorial Day and expects to reopen its other resorts, nationwide, in June and July. Their initial phased reopening approach seemed to limit resort usage to owners - not owners' guests or exchange reservations - but it appears that policy may be in flux.

"One thing is for sure — the leisure traveler is ready to travel," said Wyndham CEO Michael Brown. "We're confident they're going to come. Ninety-five percent of the US population resides within 300 miles of a Wyndham Vacation Club resort, so we expect this summer to feature drive-to family road trip vacations for our owners."

For some timeshare companies, the signs of economic recovery are already visible. Marriott, which posts relevant travel-and-COVID 19 information for Marriott resorts online, expects occupancy rates to jump from near 60 percent in May to 80 percent or more this summer. It has seven world-class resorts in Orlando that are open with limited amenities.

"People have been so cooped up that they are chomping at the bit to get out," said Ed Kinney, VP of global corporate affairs and communications for Marriott Vacations Worldwide. "Our message is, we are ready to have you back, and we're making sure the properties are prepared for your return."

Kinney has several good reasons for optimism, including the fact that Marriott's stock price has plummeted from $128 a share in March down to $38 during the pandemic, but is now up again to $103. "Wall Street is recognizing that we are coming out of this," Kinney said.

Wildcard for Safe Travel is a Surge in the Virus

While generally optimistic, timeshare executives fully acknowledge that travel will only resume if families feel it is safe to venture out of their neighborhoods. Summer is the irresistible season for vacations, but they will be tempered this year by all of the extra precautions resorts take to maintain healthy environments. And Orlando, among other resort towns, will not experience a complete sense of reopening until Disney World reopens on July 11. Disney is the area's biggest draw.

Many are also watching the clock, well aware that CDC and state health experts are predicting a second spike of the COVID-19 virus to strike later this year, perhaps during fall flu season. One company, Bluegreen, is already posting warnings on its website that returning owners and guests are responsible for their own safety:

Your safety is our highest priority

At Bluegreen Vacations, our purpose is to inspire people to discover the power of vacation and how it can lead to happier, more fulfilling lives. We are committed to providing our owners and guests with vacation experiences to create fond memories that will last a lifetime.

In light of novel coronavirus and in preparation for the reopening of many of our resorts, the Bluegreen Resorts management team has reviewed our existing cleaning and sanitation protocols and have worked under the guidance of Ecolab, an industry leader in hospitality and public health hygiene services to develop and implement sanitation best practices across our resorts and corporate offices. Please click here to read our Updated Safety and Sanitation Procedures.

An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. By visiting a Bluegreen property, you knowingly and voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.

Bluegreen's final message, in bold face, tells visitors that Bluegreen will accept no responsibility for COVID-19 illnesses that occur now or later. It is a clear sign that the industry is already concerned about the possibility of getting sued by owners who get sick while on vacation.

Liability issues are ongoing everyday concerns for hotels and resorts, with the most common accident being a trip-and-fall mishap. But now, COVID-19 exposure is likely to be added to the list of liability concerns as companies welcome back customers while exercising world-class cleaning regimens to mitigate against future lawsuits.

Bottom line: whether you should travel is a highly personal decision – as long as you are aware of the risks involved, are willing to go along with resorts' new policies, and can deal with amenity closures - if you really want to go on that vacation, the resorts will be there to welcome you back.

About the author

This answer was provided by RedWeek contributor, Jeff Weir. Jeff is a California-based journalist who has covered California, Congress, and the White House. He also has roots in Silicon Valley, where he directed public relations and marketing programs for high-tech companies. He is also a timeshare owner and member of RedWeek.com.

10 Comments

  • Avatar for stevep641
    stevep641
    Jun 10, 2020 (1 month ago)

    Will Branson fail as a resort destination if the shows are only 10% opened to capacity?

  • Avatar for ginaj49
    ginaj49
    Jun 10, 2020 (1 month ago)

    When will bush gardens in Virginia open

  • Avatar for brendas657
    brendas657
    Jun 10, 2020 (1 month ago)

    What about Hawaii! You have a condo there of mine

  • Avatar for jeff_reports
    jeff_reports
    Jun 10, 2020 (1 month ago)

    Branson, like Vegas, depends on shows to attract travelers. Since it is obvious that social distancing will not be easy to achieve in a crowded theater or football stadium, shows and major sporting events are expected to be the last activities to resume normal operations. Branson has other charms, however, and resorts there will focus on those benefits to bring back customers.

  • Avatar for jeff_reports
    jeff_reports
    Jun 10, 2020 (1 month ago)

    No timetable set, yet, for Busch Gardens Virginia to reopen. But seven of the firm's other theme parks are scheduled to reopen this month. Check the COVID-19 update link on the website for Busch Gardens for timely updates.

  • Avatar for jeff_reports
    jeff_reports
    Jun 10, 2020 (1 month ago)

    Hawaii resorts are open but operating under very tight restrictions, including a 14-day, state-ordered quarantine for travelers from the states and overseas. Contact your resort directly for specific information. Plane travel also operating under new rules that are designed to safeguard passengers.

  • Avatar for tom563
    tom563
    Jun 10, 2020 (1 month ago)

    " . . . a 14-day, state-ordered quarantine . . . " Jeff, If I go to Hawaii for two weeks, does that mean that I have to spend all my time behind doors at my resort? If so, not much of a vacay!

  • Avatar for jeff_reports
    jeff_reports
    Jun 16, 2020 (3 weeks ago)

    Hawaii quarantine rules are strict. After arrivals, guests must stay in their room for first 14 days. No beach walks. Concierge will arrange shopping services to deliver food to your room. Make sure you bring a few e-books for your first two weeks in Hawaii.

  • Avatar for donp196
    donp196
    Jun 16, 2020 (3 weeks ago)

    Why on earth would anyone go there under those restrictions ?

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  • Avatar for rebeccaw253
    rebeccaw253
    Jun 28, 2020 (2 weeks ago)

    How do I write a review on RedWeek?