Two leading brands that can take the credit for turning the idea of vacation ownership into a popular lifestyle are Hapimag, the Swiss company that created the innovative shared ownership “product” in Europe, and Marriott, a name synonymous with affordable luxury.
Since timeshare was launched in Europe in the sixties, the number of families buying into this eco and economical way to holiday has grown at a sure and steady pace. The industry hasn’t just flourished, it has shown how resilient it can be (compared to the hotel industry) during economic downturns.
There are now approximately 7 million timeshare owners worldwide, most of them in the US. About 1.45 million of them live in Europe, many of them exchanging their timeshare holidays for resorts abroad or for vacation experiences such as a Caribbean cruise or a week at a luxury South African game reserve.
It used to be that when you mentioned “timeshare”, the word triggered the traditional idea of a fixed week at the same location, year in, year out, but things have changed so much that today’s flexible points-based programmes and five star resorts couldn’t be more different to “old school” timeshare.
The average timeshare owner still tends to be a mature and experienced traveller, taking at least 3 holidays a year, although this demographic is changing now that more, much younger families are taking to timeshare because of the obvious benefits it offers. Advantages include more space (compared to a hotel room) as well as the obvious savings and convenience of staying in self-catering accommodation. And amenities such as 24 hour concierge services, on-site dining, a beauty salon, sports facilities, laundry, cash withdrawal and car rental, for example, take any logistical holiday hassles out of the equation. It’s the perfect fly-and-flop holiday if all you want to do is make the daily 60-second commute between your apartment and the pool.
According to industry reports, over 200 families buy timeshare in Europe every day, which adds up to 80,000 buyers a year. There are over 5,500 timeshare resorts worldwide, in about 100 countries, and around 1,500 resorts are in Europe. In Britain, the majority of timeshares are located in the UK’s main beauty spots – the Lake District, Welsh beaches, the Scottish Highlands and some of Britain’s best beaches in Devon and Cornwall are (despite the unpredictable weather) popular choices. Scotland and Ireland have long been favourites with American timeshare owners who come for the golf, scenery, Celtic traditions, history and a spot of whisky tasting.
In a major independent timeshare survey carried out a few years ago, 87% of owners said they were satisfied with their timeshares; half a million families in Europe use the exchange systems each year. 96% of European timeshare owners said timeshare is a better experience than other self catering holidays and 97% commented that they believed timeshare resorts are as good as, or better than, hotel accommodation.
It’s estimated that timeshare contributes €10 billion each year to the European economy and because of high occupancy levels which average 80% year round, timeshare resorts provide employment not just in the summer season, but in “low season” as well.
How to Spot a Fake Company
Despite the high satisfaction rate reported by owners, timeshare has been tarnished by unreputable companies that are not part of the legitimate industry and in particular the “holiday clubs” that spring up in popular destinations, mainly in the Canary Islands, the Costa del Sol and Spain’s other popular costas.
So what are these dubious holiday clubs? Essentially, they are selling holidays at resorts that they don’t own, or worse still, don’t even exist and it’s these stories that often end up in the media.
With high summer on the horizon, how can you spot the difference between a reputable timeshare operator or developer and rogue salesmen?
1. Holiday clubs “contract in” their holidays and do not own or manage the resorts although they will probably try to persuade consumers that they have been established for many years and are one of the specialists in the industry.
2. Have a good look at the website. If it looks “generic”, there’s no real address, local phone number, contact name or email or company registration details, chances are it’s a fake, and a front for fraudulent operators. Is there a head office or a resort office?
3. Resale companies who “guarantee” to sell your timeshare on their website, quickly and easily, are a red flag.
4. Google the company name next to the word “mindtimeshare”. Many bogus companies are listed on www.mindtimeshare.me which is a reliable source of the latest news about fraudulent companies and current scams. Mindtimeshare also reports on the corrupt companies that have been closed down by the police and authorities.
5. Check to see if the company trying to sell you something is a member of the official European trade boy for timeshare, which is RDO www.RDO.org. The majority of active European timeshare developers are members and have signed up to a code of conduct and will also adhere to the new European Timeshare Directive (February 2011). You can search for companies on the RDO website.
6. The timeshare consumer organisation TATOC www.tatoc.co.uk can also offer advice if you’re in doubt about a specific company.
7. Finally, it’s worth remembering that Holiday Clubs are now regulated and must offer you a cooling off period and cannot take a deposit. However, if you are approached by one, or thinking of buying into a holiday club, you should still be very cautious. You should check before signing anything and if you do pay any deposit, the company is probably bogus, and it may be very hard to get it back.
Most of the world’s top hotel groups run successful timeshare divisions – Hilton, Wyndham, Marriott, Pestana, Ritz Carlton just to name a few. So if you are approached by a timeshare/resale company you have never heard of – and even if the company claims to be a law practice – make sure you are 100% certain that the company is bona fide.
Leading Exchange Organisations (Resort Listings)
The Registry Collectionwww.theregistrycollection.com
The official body for Vacation Ownership in the USA is the American Resort Development Association www.arda.org