As the fastest-growing segment of the travel and tourism industry, timeshare is sprucing up its tarnished image of the past and attracting a constant stream of new, high-profile players. A central figure in this maturing industry is the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), the Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing the vacation ownership and timeshare industry. President Cynthia A. Huheey heads the group, which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its founding this year.

With a background that includes a stint at the National Association of Home Builders, Huheey has been with ARDA for 12 years, becoming president 11/2 years ago. She talked with NREI about the evolving timeshare industry, her own organization and its upcoming meeting, which is being held this April in Orlando.

Q: Who are ARDA's members and what is your mission?

Huheey: Our members are developers of timeshare resorts as well as other vacation ownership products in the market - such as second home developers and membership camp resort developers - but the majority of our members are timeshare developers. We also have people who support the timeshare industry via the vendors and suppliers and owners' associations that are members of the association. That cuts across the board, not only here in the United States but also internationally, especially on the developer side.

Q: Does ARDA act as a lobbying group, or are you educational in nature?

Huheey: We cut across the board. We lobby for our members both at the federal and at the state level. We also play a significant role in providing education for the industry, both to our members as well as to our outside public, be they the general consumer public, the financial community or the regulatory community. We do that through our public relations activities, and we do research on the industry to support the method that we are putting out to those various publics. We also have, as part of our mission, our code of ethics enforcement for the industry, where we are setting our own standards of what is expected of the people in the industry.

Q: Timeshare seems to have a bad reputation. What are you doing to fight that?

Huheey: We're still a fairly new industry when you look at it. Over the years the association has taken a very aggressive stance in terms of working with especially state regulatory bodies to make sure there are regulations in place that make it productive for a developer to be in the business but at the same time protect the consumer. As with any fast-growing industry, there are going to be changes along the way. And as the consumer demand for the product and consumer experience of the product has become more favorable, I think the general image of the industry has transformed to be in line with that.

Q: At every hotel industry meeting it seems there is a session on the great potential for timeshare. How realistic is that?

Huheey: The last couple of years, the industry has been experiencing mid-teens growth rates. Our research indicated that, in 1997, the industry grew by about 25%, and our preliminary information suggests that number will probably hold for 1998 as well. Those kinds of things are certainly very attractive to other people looking at the industry as something to get involved with. I think the more traditional hospitality industry and hotel companies are looking at it and seeing it as a good marriage for them in terms of offering another product line to their consumers. And part of what it does for them is it helps solidify that relationship with that customer of theirs.

Q: What are some ways your segment of the industry is different from the traditional hospitality industry?

Huheey: When you look at our industry and compare it to the more traditional hotel industry, you certainly have a lot of the samecomponents that they are dealing with. In addition, you have to bring in the components that a real estate developer deals with. So you have all of the finance and development issues, as well as the marketing and sales and delivery and service issues that you more traditionally deal with in the hotel industry.

Q: What are your hopes for your upcoming meeting (April 10-14 in Orlando)?

Huheey: One of the things is our industry is maturing, and we're taking the theme into our convention this year of helping our people look at sound strategies for the future. As an industry, we have proven this is a product that the owner is very satisfied with, and what we want to make sure is that going forward that satisfaction rate increases for our owners and that, as an industry, we continue to be responsive to what the consumer is asking for.

Q: What do you think will be the No. 1 issue facing the timeshare industry going forward?

Huheey: Whether you're talking about talent or human resources or labor, it's all of those and it's at all levels. People are taking different approaches to it. They're forming alliances with other companies so that they can take advantage of the experience of the talent that's already been in the industry. Other companies are choosing to bring in people and train them themselves. Certainly, the association and some of the educational programs that we are putting together is a resource that the industry is looking to. In fact, one of the initiatives the association is undertaking is a program with colleges and universities.

We are entering into an agreement with the University of Central Florida to develop and offer college curriculum specific to the timeshare industry, so that students still in their college careers are being exposed to this industry very directly and giving them an opportunity to look at it as a viable career path and not just something that you just fall into. We're doing that with a number of universities around the United States. And there's a program being offered that we have been involved with at Griffith University in Australia. So it's also something we anticipate pursuing on a worldwide basis.