The 'Joy' of vacation: Corporate attorney finds second career in travel industry

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Edwina "Joy" Divins took a sabbatical from her legal career - and five years later, is still enjoying beaches instead of legal briefs.

The Jackson business owner was a successful corporate attorney until parenthood made her rethink her priorities and find something with flexibility, family time and comparable revenue.

She and her husband had been renting their properties on Lake Michigan to vacationers. They also bought a beachfront condo in Nuevo Vallarta and rented it out as well. Later, friends and neighbors with second homes in Mexico asked Divins to rent their properties too.

And that was the start of her entrepreneurial venture, VallartaJoy Luxury Vacation Rentals, run from her home in Jackson. A member of the International Association of Travel Agents, Divins now has more than 175 properties along the Bay of Banderas in the resort area called Riviera Nayarit and in nearby Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as well as rentals near Lake Michigan and in the St. Joseph/ Stevensville area.

"We rent them by the week, month or year to help people from all over the world create fantastic vacation memories on the shores of the Pacific or Lake Michigan," Divins says. "Our homes near Lake Michigan are great winter refuges for Whirlpool transferees and D.C.Cook Power plant contractors working long-and short-term assignments in the area."

It's a far cry from her days as an attorney at a large national firm and then in-house for more than 20 years with Boeing, GE, Kellogg, and Domino's Pizza.

Divins, who was featured in the national magazine Essence in September 2007, says vacation rentals of privately owned beach condos and villas are one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. Internet cafes and Wi-Fi in the homes and building lobbies allow lawyers or other business people to stay connected while on vacation or during a working vacation.

"Many Americans are discovering the practicality of renting someone's well-equipped vacation home instead of a luxury hotel suite," she says. "We offer the convenience of a hotel, but the amenities of home."

The homes, valued from $350,000 to more than $2 million, range from oceanfront studios to four-bedroom villas on a golf course or with ocean views. Divins's company hosts families, couples, honeymooners, golfers, spa gatherings, wedding parties and more.

"We have quite a number of regular guests from Michigan who spend the winter in our condos and invite friends and several generations of family members to visit," she says. "About 60 percent of our business is with Canadian guests, and that number is growing since the Canadian dollar is so strong lately.

A new niche is catering to U.S. residents who visit Vallarta for health care.

"We're considering working with local clinics to coordinate 'medical stay vacations' where people can rent our homes to recuperate after elective surgery or other procedures," she says. "We think it will take off once people realize the excellent quality of care and world class trained physicians and surgeons who live and work in Vallarta."

The southwestern part of Mexico in Riviera Nayarit, along the Pacific Ocean, is safe, secure and free of crime issues that are often in the news, Divins says. There is a U.S. Consulate office in the neighborhood. Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta - made famous in the 1960s movie "Night of the Iguana," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton - are international tourist destinations and a port of call for major cruise ships.

Although the hours are as long as in the legal world, Divins enjoys the flexibility of her entrepreneurial enterprise and the ability to work virtually - and anywhere - from her iPad, laptop or PC.

"Creating a custom database and developing systems for processing rental transactions took lots of time and energy, but they make life so much easier and virtually paperless - or more 'green,'" she says. "Every day is a different day that requires creativity, people skills, a sense of humor, patience and the ability to constantly manage change.

Although she maintains law licenses in Ohio and Washington and does CLE requirements, Divins no longer practices law.

She is a member of the American Bar Association and its ADR/Mediation -Dispute resolution section; National Bar Association, where she is a member of the Corporate Counsel and Litigation section; and serves on the advisory board of Corporate Counsel Women of Color, an international organization of in-house females of color.

She is on the board of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra Guild and served as recording secretary. She is a member of the Jackson/Lenawee/Hillsdale counties' Foster Care Review Board, appointed by the Supreme Court- State Court Administrator's Office, hearing appeals and making recommendations to the Probate court regarding cases of abuse or neglect of children.

Her neighbor, Anne Campau, an attorney who was a trustee and headed the Distribution Committee of the Jackson Community Foundation, invited Divins to learn about the JCF and attend events.

"I was impressed by how generously the Foundation supported a broad range of community activities and organizations and by the commitment and experience of the influential board of trustees," she says. "I joined the board in 2006 and recently led the CEO search".

In 1998, Divins got married at Cascade Manor House in Jackson during Hot Air Balloon weekend, and she and her husband Dave made the city their home.

"Jackson is safe, has beautiful neighborhoods with parks and golf courses nearby, friendly people and is a great place to raise a family. With the Michigan Flyer airport shuttle service stopping in Jackson, we can easily commute to Metro Airport for work travel," Divins says. "We could live anywhere, but we feel at home here."

Published: Mon, May 23, 2011

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