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(Carl Cronan is editor of Real Estate Florida.)

ORLANDO, FL-The formation of Holiday Inn Club Vacations provides a boost of confidence to the nation’s timeshare market, according to industry leaders. Intercontinental Hotels Group, which owns the traditional hotel chain, launched the new venture with the Family of Orange Lake Resorts during the company’s annual conference last week.

The 2,412-villa Orange Lake property near Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, just west of Orlando, will be the first timeshare resort to carry Holiday Inn’s familiar green flag and revamped logo. The 1,400-acre site was developed in the early 1980s by Kemmons Wilson, who also launched the Holiday Inn chain more than a half-century ago.

“The fact that these two companies are coming back together for this strategic partnership is fabulous,” Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of the Washington, DC-based American Resort Development Association, tells GlobeSt.com. “It’s a kind of coming home.”

Nusbaum notes that Wilson developed Orange Lake as a means for working-class families to live in luxury for one week of every year while on vacation. He adds that Orlando remains the top timeshare market in the US, largely because of the worldwide popularity of Disney World and other theme parks.

Disney itself is expanding its involvement in timeshares, unveiling two projects set to open next year: the 15-story Bay Lake Tower at Disney World’s original Contemporary Resort, which opened with the park in 1971, and the Treehouse Villas at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. Disney Vacation Clubs has also stepped up its marketing efforts this year in an effort to sell timeshare units tied to vacation packages.

Although British-owned IHG is getting into the timeshare game well after its largest hotel rivals, it is also entering at a potentially troubling time. Other such chains have reported declining timeshare sales through the first half of this year, along with higher default levels by buyers.

However, IHG CEO Andy Cosslett believes timeshares are a natural progression for Holiday Inn because of its North American customer base. “This deal reinforces the strength of the Holiday Inn brand as we are able to move into the timeshare market with a good partner who knows the business well,” Coslett said in a news release announcing the launch of Holiday Inn Club Vacations.

ARDA’s Nusbaum says the US timeshare industry remains resilient, having posted sales of $10.6 billion last year, a 6% increase from 2006. “Timeshare is still the little engine that could,” he says.

However, some timeshare companies are not entirely immune from problems related to the nation’s credit crunch. Orlando-based Westgate Resorts disclosed over the weekend it will shut down much of its sales and lay off hundreds of employees.

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