Fractional ownership is similar to a timeshare in that owners gets to use the property for a given number of weeks per year, but different in that they also own real property, not just time. If the fractional owner can’t or doesn’t want to use any part of the nine weeks they are allocated, the resort may rent the unit and split the proceeds with the owner who has literally bought a fractional share of a residence. For the millennials, a generation accustomed to flexibility and choice in every aspect of their lives, the ability to be fractional owners speaks to their desire to create an individual balance between the time they spend in their vacation home and the money they invest. Fractional owners also get to choose the lifestyle that they like and enjoy the seasons that they want to enjoy.
As a part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis M. Ducharme, RRP. Dennis is President of RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire. A 35-year veteran of the New England hospitality industry, he is also a Development Partner with William E. (Billy) Curran of InnSeason Resorts and Pollard Brook Resort, New Hampshire’s largest purpose-built vacation ownership resort, and one of InnSeason Resorts’ signature properties. A leader in New England real estate development, including Cape Cod, he handles property acquisitions, product design and construction, lender relations, operations, asset administration, and resort information systems. Active in his business communities, he is on the Board of Directors of the North Country Center for the Arts in Lincoln and is Chairman for the Cape Cod YMCA.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I got into this industry because I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I knew at a young age that I thoroughly enjoyed both building things and providing hospitality, and it’s my entrepreneurial spirit that drives me to build hotels. I bought my first resort at auction in the early 1990’s and turned it into an outstanding property, and I haven’t stopped since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I always had a vision for building and am happiest when I have a shovel in the ground. My latest project is RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain and in 2017 we won the ASCE New Hampshire Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award. I consider RiverWalk my greatest achievement and this award truly affirmed my legacy. The interesting thing is, I almost missed this shining moment because I didn’t even know I’d won the award until I started getting text messages of congratulations. I was in a different time zone and my phone was literally blowing up all night long!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was building Pollard Brook Resort, I brought in landscapers and asked them to plant trees that would grow very quickly around the building. Suddenly, we discovered an issue with the pool not draining properly and we had to have all the pool drains pulled out. What did we find? Tree roots were literally growing into the pool! I learned never to plant that kind of tree again. After that, and to this day, I’m very keen on knowing exactly what gets planted at my resorts.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
RiverWalk Resort offers a fractional ownership model. This model is an especially attractive prospect for avid skiers in the northeast, who want to spend as much time as they can in close proximity to the slopes, which is often cost-prohibitive for total ownership.
Firstly, at RiverWalk we are all about family — owners and employees are one big family that is dedicated to catering to our guests — most of whom are families traveling together. My goal is to always give people more. In fact, one day I went to lend a hand at our onsite Seven Birches Winery, and I kept trying to pour two quarts of wine into each bottle because I just wanted to give more.
Second, it’s about community. In 2016, I won the New Hampshire Travel Person of the Year award and it was given to me in recognition of my contributions to the communities in which I have resorts. It really makes your company stand out when it’s community involvement that gets you a travel award.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
My biggest piece of advice is to create work-life balance. I’m a workaholic; I’m in the vacation business and all my colleagues are in the vacation business, yet we don’t take vacations. We are like the cobbler’s kids who don’t have shoes. So, I say: take those vacations (and come to RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain!).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
That person is my business partner Billy Curran, who is CEO of InnSeason Resorts, which we co-own (InnSeason manages RiverWalk). We are opposites like Thelma and Louise, but we have the same vision for hospitality. Billy is the consummate sales person and I am the builder — I build it and Billy sells it, so you could say that I’m the Yin to his Yang.
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
The western White Mountains of New Hampshire, in particular, have seen rising interest among young families who enjoy year- round activities from fall foliage and winter skiing to spring hiking and summer fun. Bringing fractional ownership to the region meets a demand is on the upswing. According to the American Resort Development Association, over 20 million Americans have invested in fractional ownership, which is one of the factors contributing to the growth of the vacation home market overall.
For millennials, who grew up enjoying family vacations in New England, it’s often nostalgia to re-create fond memories that is bringing them back to the area. New England travel stats tell the story. For example, in New Hampshire, where tourism is the state’s second largest industry, vacationers generate more than $5 billion of economic activity per year and a recently-reported yearly snapshot showed a 4.7 percent increase in number of visitors annually.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
Fractional ownership is similar to a timeshare in that owners gets to use the property for a given number of weeks per year, but different in that they also own real property, not just time. If the fractional owner can’t or doesn’t want to use any part of the nine weeks they are allocated, the resort may rent the unit and split the proceeds with the owner who has literally bought a fractional share of a residence.
For the millennials, a generation accustomed to flexibility and choice in every aspect of their lives, the ability to be fractional owners speaks to their desire to create an individual balance between the time they spend in their vacation home and the money they invest. Fractional owners also get to choose the lifestyle that they like and enjoy the seasons that they want to enjoy.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
With the millennial generation driving the increase in first home ownership, the next wave to watch is what will happen in the market for vacation home ownership, especially in New England. One of the emerging trends for second homebuyers is fractional ownership of vacation properties. The fractional — or deeded — ownership, offered by resort properties comes at a lower price-of-entry, for starters.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
- Flexible ownership models such as fractional ownership
- Multi-generational travel accommodations, from studios to three-bedroom condos such as those available at Riverwalk Resort
- Regional destinations offering a range of activities, exemplified by the Loon Mountain area of New Hampshire
- Expanded service that make time spent at the property feel like true vacations, with zero responsibilities for upkeep
- Increased attention to onsite experiences and amenities. For example, amenities at RiverWalk Resort include a winery production and tasting room, a full-service day spa and an Italian restaurant
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My perfect vacation is the one that I don’t have time to take! Seriously though, it’s the vacation that allows me to relax and rest but still be able to work when I want to — being on an island in the middle of the ocean, but accessible for when someone wants to reach me. I appreciate luxury, great food and fine wine, so I “go big or go home.” I go where I can do what I want: sometimes it’s just taking a Monday off at my home on Cape Cod, sometimes it’s a weekend in Park City and sometimes it’s a day or two at RiverWalk because it’s my home away from my home.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m a strong believer in being active in the communities my businesses serve. I am on the Board of Directors of the North Country Center for the Arts in Lincoln and is Chairman for the Cape Cod YMCA.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have a soft spot for people with disabilities because my son is disabled. My son, now an adult, has inspired me his entire life and I’m gratified to have been able to raise significant funds to help those who have disabilities get out and do what they want to do and live full and rewarding lives, whether that is learning to ski or having their own home.