2016 TATOC Conference Highlights: International Panel
HELEN FOSTER reports on a lively International Panel debate at the 2016 TATOC timeshare industry conference.
The questions put to the panel of leading timeshare industry experts were: Is the product not exciting enough? Are we doing enough?
Speaking from the perspective of the exchange company, RCI’s Dimitris Manikis said: “Our resort developers are definitely driving product. Exchange was invented in 1974 and in all the time since, developers have always come up with innovation. Different ownership models, shorter term ownership and memberships, many very different and exciting lifestyle offerings, facilities and activities to attract younger people. We get it. We’re just not as fast to market as we should have been. We need more speed to market than we have had in the past. Speed to market is key.”
Chris Sheldon of Interval International agreed. “As Dimitris said, there is so much creativity. There are also challenges – legacy resorts and fixed weeks is a difficult model to sustain – overlay with points is going to be essential.”
Coming from the US, where the industry has been through – and come out the other side – of many of the challenges of change faced in Europe, ARDA’s Howard Nusbaum said: “If we always do what we have always done, we will get what we always got.”
Phil Watson of Worldwide Timeshare Hypermarket called for realistic pricing around timeshare resales, as well as offering some outside-the-box thinking. “The January and February weeks are a problem – we can’t sell them on,” he said. “But there are many people living in holiday homes who have to disappear off site for between four to eight weeks every year during these months. Are our sales people targeting them? They should be!”
The issue of sales tactics surfaced, with all agreeing that they felt poor, pressurised sales practices were fast becoming a thing of the past. “Much of this is now strictly controlled. Mis-selling and misrepresentation has now been buttoned up by legislation,” commented Sheldon. Meanwhile Manikis highlighted that, given contemporary technology, everyone’s modus operandi was transparent to consumers.
“We have a 14-day cooling off period in our industry, imposed by our consumer protection legislation,” he said. “Now, with smart phones, tablets and WiFi connectivity everywhere, a buyer can Google your website, other websites and TripAdvisor, to find out about your product and their purchase with you. Just two hours after they leave your office they will know everything about you and your operation.”
On the up Down Under
Sharing what has worked in Australia, Ramy Filo of Beneficium and Classic Holidays Australia explained to delegates that timeshare in his country falls under the financial disclosure legislation and sales are subject to a 40-page contract, or Statement of Understanding, to ensure buyers are aware they are not making a financial investment, but paying fees for a lifestyle product. “The sales person has to be registered and the buyers need to sign the document and then enter a cooling-off period,” he said. “As a result, our owners often say timeshare ‘is the best thing I was forced to buy’.”
Watson described how agents from the sales team at Worldwide Timeshare Hypermarket can have as many as 15 calls with a prospective purchaser during the sales process, taking the high-pressure and intimidating sales tactics out of the process.
Putting unsold units on the open rental market was discussed as a strong lead generation marketing platform – try before you buy – as well as a means of raising revenues on units that would otherwise not be earning at all. The issue of the rental cost being lower than the timeshare owners’ maintenance fees was identified as a problem – as well as viewed as unfair by owners at the resort. But Nusbaum pointed out that resorts have a set of fixed costs to meet in order to maintain acceptable standards for owners and guests, to ensure ownership is not to impacted by a fall in unit values and the quality of their stay experience. “Rentals can be good,” said Nusbaum.
Manikis explained how RCI worked with resorts on rental plans to bring financials into line. “It is important to educate all those involved as to the outcomes – with and without a rental programme – and to get their buy in,” he said. “We have to listen to resorts’ committees and owners, and work with them to put the resort through a rental programme in which RCI is able to work with its Wyndham Worldwide associated hospitality group companies.”
Nusbaum agreed, adding: “Don’t wait until the question is asked… Go out to your owners and educate them.”