I don’t have a problem with the legitimate consumer watchdog sites , they clearly do a good job and RDO works with many of them from time to time. I also understand the old adage that “good news doesn’t make for good newspaper sales”.
There is undoubtedly a huge gulf between how timeshare is reported in the media and the consistently high satisfaction rates found amongst timeshare owners around the world. How has this happened and what can the industry itself do to improve this?
Like double glazing or estate agency, once a reputation is lost it is not easily regained – and with timeshare, I believe the media and opinion formers such as MPs and MEPs, both of whom have had their own image problems recently ,have continued to focus on the high pressure and questionable sales tactics of the 1980’s and early 1990’s and have tended to ignore the fact that legislation introduced back in 1994 in the EU and about to be up-dated next year, has long-since outlawed such activities.
Sales of timeshare are now strongly hedged with cooling off periods etc., and have been for over a decade. RDO’s own members have to abide by a strict Code of Conduct that requires them to treat the consumer fairly and has a consumer dispute resolution scheme – RDO had just 50 such complaints 2009 against its own members who represent the majority of developers in the EU and over 90% of those were resolved amicably .
For an industry that turns over 1.1 billion euro a year in sales in the EU, this is by no means a bad set of statistics, so where are we going wrong in the public image?
The fact that the industry is not getting its message across is given further proof in a recent speech by Harry Taylor, CEO of TATOC (the timeshare owners’ association representing over 250,000 owners in UK and Europe) at their annual conference in March, he was addressing the negative image problem of timeshare and exhorted delegates “…It’s time we became proud of owning this great holiday product – so go out and tell your stories”. These are timeshare owners – not developers, and TATOC is an independently run association with whom RDO works for the benefit of the industry. In how many other industries worldwide would you find the consumers’ association standing up independently for the product?!
So where are we going wrong???
I strongly believe that there are 2 distinct strands to the current problems and these are being confused both in the media and the minds of the public.
The first is an industry and owners’ issue in that both sides of the industry acknowledge that more work needs to be done on providing better resale facilities within the industry and work needs to be started on looking at possible exit routes for long-term owners. On the former, RDO has already worked with its members on facilitating an efficient transfer of resales between existing and new owners and will continue to look at ways of improving the resales process with its members.
On the overall question of exit routes for owners, TATOC recently initiated the setting up of a forum for owners representatives and the industry to come together to examine these problems and look at possible solutions. No-one has a ready answer to these issues, but the fact that both sides are prepared to sit down and discuss them is an important step forward and a crucial issue for the long-term future of the market.
The second issue is a much more difficult one and is I believe where most of the bad publicity lies.
The media, consumer websites and politicians have consistently failed to recognise there is a clear difference between the legitimate mainstream timeshare industry and what I would call the operators who work on the margins, the holiday pack companies, the bogus resale organisations, the class action companies etc. and unfortunately for the legitimate industry, the internet has proved to be a fertile breeding ground for these fraudsters.
Clearly the timeshare industry is not alone in facing these problems, but what is perhaps different is that the media have been content to lump all these fraudsters into the “timeshare industry,” whilst credit card, mortgage scams and the like are treated separately from the banking industry. Our industry’s problems are further confused by the fact that there are various commentators outside the industry, who are happy to see the 2 distinct areas being confused!
So what is RDO doing to rectify this?
RDO now runs its own “Enforcement Team “ headed by an ex-Spanish Police Inspector, whose job it is to hunt down and bring to justice these fraudsters and this Enforcement Team has developed a close working relationship with the police and prosecutors in Spain and elsewhere. The organisation is also looking at ways of combating the internet fraudsters and will be announcing its strategy and action plan on this in the months to come.
In the meantime, we will continue to educate the media and opinion formers on the 87% approval rating of timeshare amongst its 1.3 million families who are owners in Europe (589,000 of whom live in the UK) and we intend to serve notice on those fraudulent organisations who currently prey on timeshare owners, that we intend to see them closed down over the coming months and will leave no stone unturned to do so.
Paul Gardener Bougaard – Chief Executive RDO