The industry may face a rough 2009, but Curt Caffey, vice president of investments at CNL Lifestyle Co. in Orlando, Fla., says today's economic problems are ultimately a short-term thing.

"The specifics might change, but people will always want to recreate with their families, and kids will always love the water," he observes.

The $800 billion bailout plan approved last fall gives Caffey reason to be optimistic. He says several financial institutions have already received money, which should open up liquidity.

What else does his crystal ball show? Nothing is certain, but Caffey does have a few thoughts for operators to bear in mind.

  • Stay on top of consumer travel and recreation trends.
  • Look to nontraditional funding sources and involve more players in financing new development projects.
  • Focus on organic growth and small improvements year by year.
  • Remember, stalled development may not necessarily be a bad thing. A large percentage of projects in the works will likely see completion and the current slowdown is not the result of normal supply and demand forces; it's driven by larger liquidity issues.
  • Strive to raise revenue rather than cutting expenses. Though challenging during tough times, this is possible. Consider low cost, value-added initiatives such as creating a special "VIP lounge" for season pass holders; or implement attendance-generating marketing strategies, such as hosting a concert series.

Caffey's bottom line: "Keep a long term perspective with short-term crisis management strategies."