Senior Vice President of Resort Operations
Wyndham Vacation Clubs
Interview with Matt Ward
In October 2013, Kevin Maciulewicz joined Wyndham Destinations, bringing with him more than 25 years of leadership experience in the hospitality industry. He currently serves as Senior Vice President of Resort Operations for Wyndham Vacation Clubs, the vacation ownership business line of Wyndham Destinations. In this role, Maciulewiczis is responsible for ensuring overall customer satisfaction, as well as building brand loyalty through on-site experiences across a portfolio of more than 200 resort locations in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico.
THE MACIULEWICZ STORY —
Golf has been in my life since childhood. Growing up outside of Boston, I vividly remember my father taking me to a par 3 course, Stoneybrook Golf, by my home. It wasn’t quite like Christmas Eve, where I wouldn’t sleep at all, but my excitement would grow the night before our Stoneybrook visits and I would fall sleep visualizing that perfect tee shot on the 1st hole. While I loved being outdoors and was always very competitive, the best part of golfing for me was spending one-on-one time with my father. I will always cherish those memories.
Later in life, as I became a parent and my two boys were growing up, golf allowed my kids and I to get out on the course and connect – just as I did with my dad. In today’s digital environment, some parents would consider virtual exchanges with their kids a point of personal connection.
For me and my sons, however, there is nothing better than 18 holes on a beautiful day. I have been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years and golf has been part of my life for even longer. For many, golf is an important part of their vacation experience, and merging these two important aspects of my life – hospitality and golfing – to create amazing vacation memories for my family and others is certainly my passion.
THE WYNDHAM GOLF CONNECTION —
Club Wyndham and WorldMark resorts put golfers on nearly 50 golf courses across the country with a diversity of golf experiences for every type of golfer. While Wyndham Destinations does not manage the golf properties, many of the resorts do have special arrangements with these related courses.
The Legacy Golf Resort in Phoenix, for example, features an on-site 18-hole golf course and a golf performance center with a putting lab and HD simulator – plus swimming pool area including two hot tubs and poolside cabana bar. Club Wyndham Great Smokies Lodge in Tennessee features an 18-hole golf course next to the property and a water park on site for the kids to enjoy while one is playing the course. Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham – Rio Mar in Puerto Rico features two 18-hole championship courses – the Ocean Course, designed by Tom and George Fazio, and the River Course, designed by Greg Norman. Both boast panoramic views of the ocean and the rainforest.
With 2020 drawing to a close — what’s been the outcome operationally across the board with various properties in dealing with the pandemic since March?
Very early on during the pandemic we made the difficult decision to shut down our 230 vacation club resorts. As we closed each resort, we created skeleton crews for each site based on the size of the resort led by the general managers. It was important to have leaders on site who could make local decisions quickly during this phase.
Now, nearly all of our resorts are open, except in areas where local government mandates require we close until certain criteria are met. Before welcoming our owners and guests back to our resorts, we launched our Vacation Ready program – an enhanced set of cleaning methods and standards to minimize risk and maximize safety at our resorts. These best practices were created in partnership with Ecolab to ensure the proper hygiene and infection-prevention processes were in place prior to our owner and guests’ return.
Vacation Ready – as well as many other protocols – have assisted in putting our guests at easy and allowing them to relax on their vacation.
How much of a rebound are you anticipating in 2021?
We had very high demand at the majority of our resorts throughout the summer and we are certainly seeing a willingness to get back on vacation. Right now, the number of bookings we’re receiving across our resorts for 2021 looks promising. We’re noticing that our owners want vacations booked now, even if that means traveling later.
Currently, the demand for vacations booked from March 2021 through August 2021 is strong, as we know families are getting back to their travel plans for Spring Break and summer vacation.
What key lessons are being learned during this ordeal?
Primarily, we’ve learned that having the right team in place at our resorts is crucial to navigating unprecedented events. We’re extremely proud of our regional vice presidents and general managers for their steadfast leadership. From maintaining resorts with a skeleton crew, to getting resorts Vacation Ready, to welcoming back our owners and guests, these field leaders as well as all of our associates have been the backbone of our company throughout this tough year.
Although Wyndham Destinations is a large company, we have always been very agile and able to adapt. Working with all areas of the business, the Resort Operations team was very quickly able to create Vacation Ready, communicate properly to our owners and guest and retrain our teams on all of the new processes.
Staffing issues are generally important topics — even without the pandemic — what impact has the present situation caused and how are you dealing with it?
The hardest aspect of staffing during the pandemic is timing. Typically, we begin to hire more associates in February and March, ahead of our busy summer season. This year, we began to shut our resorts down during this timeframe, meaning we had to hold off on our staffing “ramp-up”.
These circumstances certainly put our teams to the test over the summer when local ordinances allowed us to reopen in most locations and resort occupancy rates quickly grew, and I could not be prouder of the amazing efforts our teams made across our resorts to provide first-class vacations.
Millennials are a growing force in the broader tourism / hospitality sectors. In what ways are Millennials different from say Baby Boomers which have, until most recently, been the dominant group economically?
What we’re seeing from Millennial and Gen Z travelers is the desire to travel more frequently, with more space and amenities and be able to experience a taste of the local lifestyle. There is certainly an evolution within the vacation ownership industry to develop in city-center destinations and provide a wider range of vacation locations beyond the traditional beachfront or mountain resort.
With this new generation of travelers, experiences are key, and desired vacation destinations are becoming more and more about cultural immersion. Experiencing the things that make a destination unique, such as outstanding dining options and plenty of sightseeing opportunities, are a higher priority for this new group than staying in a scenic suite overlooking the ocean. We’ve recently expanded our portfolio of properties to include cities like Portland, Nashville and Atlanta as a result of this shift in demand.
So many companies throughout the tourism, hospitality and lodging sectors tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach followed by Wyndham.
At Wyndham Destinations, we really thrive on the concept of “Hospitality with Heart,” and the idea that Vacations deliver some of life’s best memories. Our team is here to help make the most of those vacations. They go to work every day to provide outstanding vacations and memories to all our owners and guests. Seeing families together or individuals simply relaxing during these turbulent times makes all the hard work worth it.
Given the evolving needs of customers — what issues are you now seeing that previously were not in the radar screen and what is Wyndham doing with that in mind?
In a post-pandemic world, guests will still want the reassurance that they are safe on vacation. We are our looking at pandemic era protocols, like Vacation Ready, and developing a long-term strategy to enhance our procedures to allow our owners and guests ongoing peace of mind while staying with us.
In terms of dialoguing with customers how much effort, and in what form, is the company doing in terms of generating meaningful customer feedback?
Throughout the crisis, transparency has been — and remains — a key element in communication with our customers. As the pandemic unfolded, our senior leadership regularly updated owners and guests on the status of resort closings with email communication going out in lockstep with local and federal health officials’ recommendations.
Additionally, we conducted an owner pulse survey to determine how often our owners wanted to hear from us and what type of information was most important. Overall, our owners were pleased with the information they were receiving and the frequency of the updates. One tangible new feature that came out of the survey was a COVID-19 resource page that includes all of the information our owners have asked for via call centers, surveys and social media platforms in one, easy to locate place.
Growth opportunities — whether new locations or other elements of importance are always a topic of interest. What growth areas do you see happening for Wyndham?
We’re continuing to invest in growth areas for the company that are going to pay off for us in the long run. We just announced that we’ll be opening the first timeshare resort in downtown Atlanta in 2022. It’s an amazing location across from Centennial Park, which will be extremely popular with our owners. And it will be a great location to showcase why timeshare ownership with Wyndham Destinations is the best way to vacation.
We’ve also just opened an expansion of one of our Orlando resorts, and we’re nearing completion of our newest WorldMark by Wyndham resort in Moab, Utah, which sits just outside the entrance to Arches National Park. In our recently launched Panorama business, which covers our global vacation exchange, leisure travel and travel technology brands, we’re continuing to reimagine and refocus the offerings in that portfolio to address growth opportunities and new travel services around the world.
The biggest challenges — short and long term for Wyndham — is what and how do you envision each being dealt with?
Short term, the biggest challenge for us was providing a comfortable environment for our returning owners and guests and establishing the right/most effective cleaning protocols.
Long term, the continued reinvention of the product to meet the needs of today’s traveler is an ongoing focus of ours. Our new remote check-in protocol, for example, completely revolutionizes our check-in process by giving owners the personalized service they expect from WyndhamDestinations, while enhancing safety through a fast, contactless process.
We installed tablets with our proprietary resort management systems that can access guest information and create their keys anywhere on the property, so if the owner wants to do a drive-through check-in from their car, or meet us outside the lobby, or at their suite, we’ll be able to help safely, quickly, and efficiently get them checked in and get them on vacation.