Reports were published this week indicating that there are troubles in the time shares department of Disney's Aulani Resort, but the resort itself is set to open on time and travel agents are excited about it.
The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that financial issues with the resort have prompted the company to "suspend all time-share sales for the project and force out three executives, including the president of its Celebration-based time-share business." Last week, Disney fired Jim Lewis, president of Disney Vacation Club, the company's time-share division. Other casualties include Jim Heaney, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Disney Cruise Line and travel operations, and Lawrence Smith, a former director of finance for Disney Vacation Club who was most recently with food-and-beverage operations for Walt Disney World. Claire Bilby, a 23-year company veteran who had most recently been senior vice president of distribution marketing and Asia Pacific sales, has been named to run the company's time-share business. Bilby's title will be senior vice president of Disney Vacation Club. According to the story, Disney is conducting "an internal investigation into problems surrounding Aulani."
According to the New York Times, time-share villas at Aulani were sold for over a year with "mistakenly low annual dues – so low, in fact, that Disney faced losses on operational costs like taxes and maintenance." A Disney spokeswoman declined to tell the paper how many time shares with inadequate fees were sold. Those initial contracts will be honored, but Disney is now setting higher fees, a process that requires time-consuming filings with state regulators.
A spokeswoman for Disney told Travel Agent that the resort will open on August 29 as scheduled. "The changes we're making related to Disney Vacation Club will not impact travel agent bookings in any way."
Jennifer Ginn, an Authorized Disney Travel Agent and Hawaiian Travel Specialist, told Travel Agent that the news hasn't changed anything for her business. "Aulani has been good to us," she said. "Hawaii always is." When asked if she felt that Aulani will be a game-changer for Oahu's tourism scene, she said that she did. "I have been to Aulani, and it is absolutely beautiful! Ko Olina is a magnificent setting."