Orange Lake Resorts on track for growth

Orange Lake Resorts is set to open a 105-unit property in the Maritime Building, originally built in 1893, in New Orleans in early 2020.

ORLANDO, FL—After recently completing two major deals, Tom Nelson, president/CEO of Orange Lake Resorts, knows that his company will no longer be able to “fly under the radar.”

In March, the company, home to the Holiday Inn Club Vacations brand, extended its alliance with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) for 100 years. The new agreement gives Orange Lake Resorts exclusive global rights to develop and sell timeshare interests under the brand until 2119.

“We had 15 years originally, and then we extended it twice,” said Nelson. “We then realized that it was working so well that we should be married for a long period of time—and we thought about 100 years. I don’t know too many people married for 100 years, so we figured that was a long time. It is really part of what has been a very exciting period for the company, as we have experienced tremendous growth. For us, the most natural thing to do at this point was to memorialize that agreement, stretch it out to 100 years.”

Since its original agreement, the company has grown from one to 28 resorts. “We have increased to 350,000 members/owners, which within our industry, rates us in the top three or four,” he said. “For the most part, we have done that under the radar. Part of that has been thrilling and fun to do, but it has been part of a strategy to continue to grow and develop.”

Nelson said the company has also made the right investments in people and capital. “We have been on a path of growing our resort network through acquisitions, development and partnerships. At the same time, we can’t do that without having a passion for delivering guest love and making sure you are growing guest satisfaction and building loyalty, which in our industry, is loyalty for a lifetime. Finally, all of that happens when you have great people, so it is about growing a high-performance culture with best-in-class recruitment, training and development.”

The company has added several new executives recently. “We have been augmenting what is the industry’s most tenured leadership team, and we have added a couple of key positions,” he said. “Denise Godreau, who is our chief brand and innovation officer, comes to us with a wealth of experience in branding and new product innovation. At the same time, we added John Staten as COO a few months ago. He was the COO of Kaplan Universities, which is a leader in private higher education. Those skills with a tenured, seasoned leadership team—all of that positions us for tremendous growth.”

Tom Nelson, Orange Lake Resorts

In April, the company also opened a new 125,000-sq.-ft. corporate headquarters here. “It houses more than 600 people,” said Nelson. “We’ll be adding about 250 over the next few years to that. That is a huge investment in our people and our infrastructure. We recently added a call center right next to that building, which houses 1,100 people. We have one campus that houses 1,700 people collaborating in a way they have never collaborated before.”

Also in April, KSL Capital Partners acquired a minority interest in the company. While the financial terms of the transactions were not disclosed, Nelson said the investment will help the company’s continued growth. “The KSL investment is really a testament to our strength and the strength of our current and future growth potential.”

KSL has invested in the ski industry, and its investment in Outrigger Hotels has given them expertise in Hawaii, both areas where Orange Lake Resorts seeks to expand. “They bring to us a few things: One is a real focus on travel and leisure, and being able to make bold investments to grow our business,” he said. “But they also bring a level of expertise, both financially and in deal-making that I think will bode very well for us in the future. When you put those together, they become a perfect partner for us.”

With all of these investments, the company is focusing on growing its properties across the country. “We have a fantastic resort network in the Eastern half of the U.S.,” said Nelson. “While we have great resorts in Las Vegas, Scottsdale and Lake Tahoe, we still have many areas that we think will be attractive to our owners—mountain ski locations, anywhere from Tahoe through the Colorado mountains, Southern California, and then, Hawaii. We are really not in any of those three big areas in a big way.”

The company will be opening a new 108-unit property in the Lake Tahoe area in August. In early 2020, the company also plans to open a 105-unit property in the Maritime Building in New Orleans, which was originally built in 1893. “It is one block from Bourbon Street,” he said. “It is going to be incredibly attractive to our Southeastern and Texas owners.”

While the company is setting its sights on U.S. expansion in the next three to five years, when it makes the jump to international locations, it already has an idea where it will go. “When we look across our member base, the most requested locations outside the U.S. tend to be the Caribbean and Mexico,” he said. “KSL does have investments in those areas, and we do look forward to leveraging its expertise there—as well as IHG being a global leader. We have a lot of friends to help us get there, but that will be a little later on the horizon.” HB

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