Rumor has it: Things are Looking Up for the Timeshare Industry

From the way it looks, the timeshare industry is getting back on track. Commercial construction and investment transaction volume in the hospitality sector is up, travel providers are joining forces to be able to offer their members more destinations, timeshare companies are coming up with more ways to entice members with value add-ons, and hiring is on the upswing.

Rumor #1

The folks from Festiva and Travel to Go are teaming up to give their members more destination options. The informal relationships should give both companies an edge up on the competition. Festiva, billing itself as one of the most successful privately held vacation ownerships in the country, currently has over 95,000 members. The Orlando based company has a number of resorts in the United States and the Caribbean, and a fleet of luxury yachts.

Travel to Go, a family owned and operated business, is a membership vacation services company with nearly 60,000 members. The company has recently upgraded and streamlined its online member support services paving the way for members to have more options, and enhanced products and services. Working together, the two companies could benefit everyone by bringing a more positive awareness of the value of membership travel and increasing membership referrals.

Rumor #2

Timeshare companies are seeking to attract new members and maintain current members with value-added products. Occidental Vacation Club is working to make their program more experiential. First it was their Yacht Club, which offers members access to an exclusive yachting experience. Members have access to a private yacht with a professional crew for a 4-6 hour cruise. They are treated royally with superior service, champagne, and other enticements.

Currently the company is offering members "Route of Wine," a 6 day, 5-night tour of San Francisco, and the wine country of Napa and Sonoma. Highlights of the upscale tour include a private tour of San Francisco, a ride on the Napa Wine Train, visits to top wineries for wine tastings and tours, talks with the winemakers, and winery owner hosted dinner with wine pairings.

Rumor #3

Hiring is on the upswing. Breckenridge Grand Vacation Club, recognized as one of the most successful independent developers in the industry, launched an aggressive sales PR campaign and has already filled their quota for agents. This comes after recently starting work on a new 75-unit timeshare. Now their website lists openings for new hires for operations staff from housekeeping to front desk.

Wyndham Worldwide, an industry and market leader, is expanding their employee pool too. Hiring was spurred by this year's third quarter acquisitions of 57 new properties by RCI, a global leader in vacation exchange, and part of the Wyndham Worldwide family of brands.

Another part of the world that is going gangbusters is the Canary Islands where recruiting is high for multi-lingual OPCs and sales agents.

If recruiting is an indication of the health of vacation ownership, it certainly is looking more vibrant every day.

What's New in the Industry - from ARDA's Fall Conference 2013!

American Resort Development Association's (ARDA) Fall Conference was held last week at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C. The conference is a time where (unlike the U.S. Congress!) competition is put aside, and people share ideas and best practices. During the conference, ARDA shared the progress it has made in legislation for the year. Attendees are given up-to-date analysis of the implications of industry, economic and political trends on owners, developers and consumers. Since this is a working meeting, ARDA Committees meet at this time to strategize for the upcoming year about policies affecting the industry.

One of the Busiest Years Ever for ARDA

Thursday's meetings kicked off with Howard Nusbaum, ARDA's President & CEO, moderating a discussion of the new site.  In an opening comment he stated, "It has been one of the busiest years ever for us in pushing and strengthening legislation for the benefit of timeshare owners. We have advocated for owners in 14 states this year, all the way from Arkansas to West Virginia, with the thrust of our efforts focused on providing specific guidelines related to resale and transfer company legislation."

ARDA's communications staff, communications committee leadership, PR consultants and web design consultants talked about the site's dynamic new look and feel. Participants got a sneak peak at the new site before it goes live. All noted the increased interactivity credibility, and user-friendliness of the site set to launch in January.

Vacation Club Task Force

Suppliers and Design and Construction committees got some special love during the conference. With consolidation of industry, those wishing to forge relationships with developers got some extra "oomph" from their specialized committee groups. Even the Vacation Club Task Force is its own entity, and is drawing up a code of ethics to help protect the vacation experience for owners and the entire vacation industry.  Travel to Go's Tommy Middaugh sits on the task force and is one of the people instrumental in pushing for the standard of ethics for the travel clubs.

Health Care and Immigration Reform

In this year's conference, several influential industry leaders and supporters were keynote speakers. Senator Kelly Ayotte, (R-NH) spoke at the legislative luncheon addressing health care and immigration reform, two issues of great concern to resort developers. (Ayotte has 27 ARDA member properties in her home state.) Ms. Ayotte expressed her opinion that the government shut down was "dumb", and that sequester caps across the board is not good business. Ms. Ayotte believes there will be a funding bill by the end of the year.

In a question and answer session from the audience, an audience member asked if she expected a 3rd party movement. To which Ms. Ayotte responded, "Not one that could win." Her answer was "no" to a question of was there any fear of back channel funding to insurance companies.

Howard Nusbaum, President of ARDA, asked,  "How can we support moderates?" Ms. Ayotte told the audience to get engaged and not just with resources. "Don't just go along to get along. Make choices and support everyone." When Tim Wilson, publisher of Resort Trades, asked if she thought that the country might be moving toward a single party since the Republicans are in disarray. Ms. Ayotte responded that she thought Republicans needed a unifier. "It is time to stop fighting and remember what we have together."

Chairman's League Breakfast

Charlie Cook, who bills himself as the "Political Prognosticator", was the featured speaker at Chairman's League Breakfast on the last day of the convention.  Mr. Cook in actuality is the Editor and Publisher of the Cook Political Report and a columnist for National Journal. Mr. Cook called ARDA, "the most powerful group in Washington you've never heard of."

Find out more about ARDA's Conference at:

Building Customer Loyalty Through Value-Added Programs

When it comes to building points and consumer loyalty, the timeshare industry hasn't been quick to engage the concept. Now it seems, the value is making itself known.  Here are but a few companies who have successfully incorporated a loyalty program into their business model.

Occidental Vacation Club

Occidental Vacation Club has integrated the Leisure Logistics platform into its Leisure Points program. Members can earn points for booking certain trips such as a Wine Tour next spring, and use those points to purchase a variety of travel and non-travel related items. Eventually, the plans call to roll the system out to include owner referral and other marketing programs.

International Cruise & Excursions, Inc. (I.C.E.)

International Cruise & Excursions, Inc. (I.C.E.) was one of the first companies to implement a program of innovative sales, marketing and loyalty programs. Partnering first with Carnival Cruise line they successfully delivered cruise vacations to vacationers worldwide through cruise packaging, incentives and fulfillment. In 1999, other major cruise lines came aboard, as did new partners in and out of the travel market. I.C.E's commitment to technology driven products and services led them to develop points-based currency conversion software and to deliver vacation benefits through an automated fulfillment platform for use by its business partners and its own operation.

I.C.E's Lifestyle Collection has allowed the company to expand further into the value-added area. The Lifestyle Collection provides a broad range of fully branded products and services to its partners including golf, ski, spa, wine, shopping/merchandise, entertainment, hotel, car, air, resort and more.

Westgate Resorts

In June of this year, Westgate Resorts launched Westgate Rewards MasterCard, their new co-brand credit card. With the new card, cardholders will receive full account service, including online account activation and management, flexible financing options, and marketing communications to support repeat purchases and enhance customer loyalty. New Westgate resort owners will even be able to put their timeshare down payment on the card, on a 6-month deferred interest promotion payment plan.

Westgate Rewards MasterCard features a points-based loyalty program for all card purchases and more incentives when using the card for transactions, on and off the property. Users can redeem every 2500 points earned for a $25 rewards certificate. The certificate can be used for discounts on resort amenities, accommodations, maintenance and tax fees, and other special offers.

"Our goal is to provide our owners tremendous value both during their vacation as well as all 52 weeks of the year," said Mark Waltrip, Chief Operating Officer of Westgate Resorts. "The Rewards MasterCard is the foundation of our loyalty program that will allow our owners to offset the cost of their timeshare ownership and enhance the quality of their future vacations at Westgate."

Loyalty 360

Perhaps the best way to end a blog on building customer loyalty is with a quote from a group that knows a thing or two about loyalty building, Loyalty 360, the Loyalty Marketer's Association:
"Loyalty marketing, engagement marketing, experiential matter what you call it, it's no secret that today, more than ever, companies need to create and nurture positive relationships with customers in order to thrive. Loyalty marketing today goes beyond traditional points and rewards programs. As companies continue to strive for the ultimate customer relationship, loyalty marketing is continually evolving to include engagement marketing, customer relationship management, experiential marketing, voice of the customer, data analytics and more. No matter the industry or size of a company, a loyalty strategy should be a top priority."

What Ever Happened to Fractional Ownership?

Before the real estate market fell into an abyss a few years ago, fractional ownership was described as timeshare on steroids.  Because of its narrow audience and high-ticket prices, fractional properties were among the first in resort real estate to take a tumble. It looks like they may be coming back.

Prevailing Optimism

Fractional ownership continues to be a vacation ownership option in the U.S., Europe, and Canada. It also is an option in Antigua, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Recently, fractional ownership came back into the picture in the Turks & Caicos with the passage of the Fractional Ownership Bill.  Rufus Ewing, Premier of Turks & Caicos called the bill, “a vision of his government to help empower the people, drive development and stimulate the economy. At a fraction of the cost our people can become property owners and have increased equity that would allow them to have access to financing that otherwise they perhaps would not have had."

News from the website Timeshare Broker Beat is also optimistic. A recent post says fractional property ownership is on the rise and lists the benefits of this type of ownership:

1. Owners have more time per year to vacation. Fractional vacation properties offer more weeks at a time.

2. Fractional properties tend to be high-end and have many amenities.

3. And perhaps the best benefit of all... savings. In fractional ownership, the cost of the property is shared by a number of people. In most cases, after paying the initial cost, fractional owners will only have to pay the annual maintenance fees.

A pioneer in the shared vacation industry is Carl Berry, CEO of Star Resort Group. Sales at the company's fractional ownership resort, Seahorse Beach Club on the Texas Gulf Coast, is up and going. According to Carl's September blog, "Seahorse is 'knocking down its first sales.' Seahorse's houses are available on either a whole-ownership, or a fractional-ownership model designed in the tradition of the fully deeded luxury Private Residence Clubs around the world. Members enjoy the benefits of vacation home ownership but with far fewer upfront and ongoing costs and virtually none of the headaches."

Defining Terms

Understanding and defining the various forms of fractional ownership can be confusing. Here are some brief explanations that might be helpful in wading through the different avenues of ownership:


Timeshare may be the most misunderstood term in the fractional vacation property lexicon. Under the common legal definition, timeshare describes any arrangement where usage of property is shared based on time, and there is no reliable distinction between properties marketed as timeshares, fractionals, or private residence clubs. Timeshares are deeded and many fractionals and private residence clubs are not.  Yet, others are.

Fractional Ownership, Co-Ownership and Shared Ownership

The terms fractional ownership, co-ownership, and shared ownership, can describe any arrangement where two or more people share ownership of something, regardless of whether they have a time-based usage arrangement. The term fractional ownership seems to be more commonly used in the U.S. for time-based sharing of vacation property. Co-ownership and shared ownership are more commonly used to describe these arrangements in other English-speaking countries.

Private Residence Club, Destination Club and Vacation Club

Generally, but not always, private residence clubs involve equity ownership (though not necessarily deeded ownership) of a specific property with 4-13 owners per home. These clubs are usually on the high-end of fractional ownership options. Destination clubs and vacation clubs commonly involve multiple homes in different locations. Owners are allowed to use any of the homes in the club. There are equity and non-equity variations.

Condominium Hotels, Condo Hotels and Condotels

The above terms usually describe a hotel that has been subdivided into condominiums where each owner owns all of a specific condominium. This set up has run into numerous legal sticking points.  One of the most recent was the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego which had numerous unhappy owners, yet survived the law suit.  Management operates the hotel and shares the proceeds with the condominium owner. The owner can sometimes use the property free of charge, but sometimes there's a fee. When there is only one owner per condo, the arrangement is not fractional. The term fractional ownership is sometimes used when the hotel has not been subdivided, and the owners own a percentage of the whole development but do not actually own a condominium.

Taking the Plunge into Fractional Ownership

If you are buying or thinking of buying a fractional ownership, you might want to take a look at the Fractional Ownership Guide developed by the Sirkin Fractional Lawyers group. This guide covers the top 10 issues related to shared ownership. Many of those nagging legal questions are answered in this publication.