Phil Watson, director of leading timeshare resales specialists Worldwide Timeshare Hypermarket was a guest of BBC Radio Somerset this week when he participated in a listener’s phone-in session about timeshare and holiday clubs.
The programme was a timely look at the industry following the court case against the owners of St. Frances Marketing Limited who were taken to court by Devon Trading Standards for “unfair trading” and defrauding hundreds of consumers by operating a bogus holiday club. The company closed down after five senior staff were ordered to pay £150,000 in costs.
Customers were offered discounts and promised that St. Frances Marketing Limited would buy back their ownership after two years, but the reality was very different. Consumers not only lost their money and faced paying maintenance charges, forcing many to go into debt.
ABTA have criticised the court’s decision not to imprison the defendants (who were spared a two year jail sentence because they all pleaded guilty), saying the penalty is not strong enough to deter other fraudulent holiday clubs.
The programme highlighted what consumers should look out for, including:
• Being cold-called – just put the phone down
• If an offer looks too good to be true, it’s untrue
• High-pressure presentations
• Being asked to pay a deposit upfront by a company offering to resell your timeshare
• The difference between bogus holiday clubs and credible timeshare companies
• Look for transparency – consumers should be allowed to go away and think about the offer
Phil Watson explained the difference between holiday clubs (which are types of “travel agents”) and actually owning timeshare, when consumers own the right to use their weeks.
Watson gave Marriott as an example of a quality timeshare operator, saying, “Everyone knows the name Marriott, and the quality you are buying into, and you have the right to use the property year in, year out.”
Lawyer David Green from Edwin Coe, who successfully represented consumers who had been defrauded by St. Francis Marketing Ltd, was of the view that “Timeshare can, as a concept, work, and there are thousands who are happy with the product, but the problem is the con artists.”
The programme highlighted members of the public who had generally been cold called and told that they had won a free holiday and in order to claim the prize they had to attend a presentation. It was at this holiday club presentation that customers were conned into paying between £8,000 and £17,000, and some were persuaded to take on finance to pay.
Phil Watson said consumers need to take responsibility for their own decisions and not bow to high sales pressure techniques, or pay for anything they don’t feel sure about.
One caller, from Bridgewater, said he had owned timeshare since 1989 and currently owns two weeks in Tenerife. He told listeners he’d had many wonderful – and economical – holidays at his resort in Los Cristianos and also through RCI exchanges, and that his management fee was an extremely reasonable £400 (per week) for his apartment which slept up to 6 people.
For a list of RDO members, including resale specialists, visit www.RDO.org