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History of Westgate Resorts
Westgate Timeshare History
It is impossible to discuss the history of the Westgate Resorts timeshare empire without beginning with the man who started the brand and is synonymous with its success - Founder and CEO David Siegel.
Some credit Siegel with being the father of the timeshare industry in Orlando, Florida when he moved up from South Florida in the early 1970s, as the fledgling tourism industry was just taking its baby steps in Central Florida following the opening of Disney World.
Siegel may now be better known for his family's role in the documentary film "The Queen of Versailles" - a reality show-styled movie featuring Siegel, his wife Jackie and their family as they oversee construction of their 90,000 square foot dream home, Versailles, during the height of the recession. Still unfinished, the home is scheduled for completion in early 2015.
However - Siegel's business dealings go back to the 1960s when he first opened electronics retail shops in Ft. Lauderdale. He would eventually transition into real estate before moving into resort development - and the timeshare industry.
Westgate Resorts is born
Siegel started a company called Central Florida Investments, Inc. (CFI) in 1970, which began as a real estate development firm but would become the launching pad for numerous businesses - reaching into resort development, restaurants and spas but also diversifying into citrus, retail, insurance, publications and internet companies.
Working initially from the family garage, Siegel's first tourism project was the creation of the Mystery Fun House in Orlando. The venture was so successful that he would first become a millionaire just from this business.
He heard about the concept of timeshare and bought a tract of land in an orange grove about a mile from the west gate of the Disney World theme park. He began selling timeshare ownership from a trailer on the site - even before the first building was constructed - and eventually established Westgate Vacation Villas on the site in 1982.
In 1986, Florida Magazine wrote a story predicting that Westgate Resorts would become the world's largest timeshare resort, with Vacation Industry Review calling Westgate an "Orlando Success Story" in a 1991 article.
Following the success of Westgate Vacation Villas, Siegel turned his attention back to South Florida with the 1995 opening of the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort on 500 feet of beachfront property, including the only fishing pier on Miami Beach.
Boom Time for Westgate Resorts
Back in Orlando in 1996, Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa opened its doors and became the second largest timeshare resort in the world. The construction boom continued into 1997 when the Harbour Beach Resort opened in Daytona Beach and Westgate Towers opened near the main entrance to Disney World.
Westgate looked beyond Florida for its next resort with the 1999 addition of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa in Gatlinburg, Tennessee near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Closer to home, the company began a 3,000-unit tower expansion project at Westgate Vacation Villas, with the new Westgate Town Center opening in close proximity to Disney World.
More resort construction took place in 2000 when Westgate first turned its attention West to begin building the Westgate Park City Resort & Spa at The Canyons in Park City, Utah in time for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
Continued western expansion saw the 2001 opening of Westgate Flamingo Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. This would be the first of eight Westgate Resorts in Sin City. Westgate would also purchase the 1,600-acre River Ranch south of Orlando near Lake Wales, Florida.
Later that year, the Westgate Resorts Foundation was formed to serve the needs of the communities where Westgate Resorts does business, with many Foundation initiatives created to support company employees in need.
Massive expansion was in full force in 2002 with the following activity:
- The opening of the newly rebranded Westgate River Ranch, an authentic dude ranch near Lake Wales, Florida.
- The latest resort near Disney World, Westgate Blue Tree Resort, opening in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
- The purchase of Coral Sands in Miami Beach, which would later be called Westgate South Beach.
- Announcement of plans for Westgate Historic Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia.
- Westgate Palace Towers construction begins - located on International Drive in Orlando, Florida.
2003 saw the opening of Westgate Palace Towers in Orlando and Westgate Historic Williamsburg. Plus, Westgate opened The Showcase Sales Center on the Las Vegas Strip.
More Las Vegas activity in 2005 saw global hospitality brand Planet Hollywood go into partnership with Westgate Resorts to build a new resort and casino. This would become the first timeshare accommodation facility directly connected to a major hotel/casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Westgate expanded into the popular timeshare destination of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2006 with groundbreaking on the 203 unit Westgate Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Resort. Westgate also began adding 192 whole ownership units to Westgate Park City Resort & Spa through the development of The Lodge at Westgate Park City Resort & Spa. More construction saw the completion of Westgate Branson Woods in Branson, Missouri, and new buildings at Westgate Vacation Villas. The company also began construction on the newly named PH Towers Westgate project in Las Vegas, the resort complex created in conjunction with Planet Hollywood.
New units came online in 2007 in a number of Westgate locations, including:
- Branson, Missouri, where Westgate Branson Woods expanded with additional buildings
- Westgate Vacation Villas at the company's flagship resort near Disney World.
- New cabins added to Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa in Gatlinburg.
- Three new phases at Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa in Orlando.
In addition, the company opened Wild Bear Falls Water Park, a 60,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor water park in Gatlinburg built as part of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort complex.
PH Towers Westgate opened in 2010 in Las Vegas, along with continued expansion at Westgate Vacation Villas and Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa in Central Florida.
2011 was more about improving the owner services outreach of the company with the implementation of an online reservation system for Westgate owners. A new concept called Westgate University was also developed as an online education resource for owners to help further their understanding of the benefits of ownership.
The company began placing more resources into on-site amenities in 2012 as Westgate introduced two new restaurants at Westgate Park City Resort & Spa - opening Drafts Sports Bar & Grill and Edge Steakhouse. Drafts Sports Bar & Grill also opened at Westgate Vacation Villas later in the year, along with the Mission Control Game Room and Hershey's Ice Cream Shop. Starbucks coffee also debuted at Westgate Vacation Villas, Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa and Westgate Park City Resort & Spa.
Westgate also began receiving national and international award recognition when, in 2012, Westgate Park City Resort & Spa was awarded the Perspective Magazine Award for "Best Timeshare Unit in North America". This was followed in 2013 with the Perspective Magazine Award for both "Best Timeshare Resort in North America" and "Best Timeshare Resort Worldwide" as voted on by industry peers online and a panel of judges appointed by the magazine. Westgate Park City was also presented with the "Best of State" Award for the categories of Top Ski Resort and Destination Spa in the state of Utah through a panel of more than 100 expert judges from across the state.
In April, 2013, David Siegel was named to the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame by the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management for his 30-plus years of contributing to the growth of the tourism industry in the Orlando area.
From working from his garage to becoming a Hall of Fame member, Siegel has certainly built Westgate Resorts into a timeshare powerhouse. With an estimated 400,000 owners, Westgate now operates over 12,000 units and villas at 23 resorts throughout the United States. Yearly revenues eclipse $813 million, all of which makes Westgate Resorts the largest, privately-held timeshare company in the world.