The national trade association that represents timeshare developers has quietly launched a new educational website --- vacationbetter.org --- to help rank and file owners and prospective owners wade through the sometimes murky waters of timeshare.
"This is aimed at the consumer who wants to become educated about timeshare products," said Peter Roth, vice president of marketing and communications for the American Resort Developers Association (ARDA). "This is not a commerce site; it does not lead to a transaction. Instead, it’s designed to be informative and fills a gap in consumer education."
The "gap" in consumer education is a big issue in the industry because, while 83 percent of timeshare owners claim to be satisfied with their ownership, a whopping 17 percent say they’re unhappy. One way to ramp down the dissatisfaction index is to increase awareness and understanding among buyers before they sign contracts that lock them in to pay maintenance fees for the rest of their lives. Since most owner issues revolve around availability, maintenance fees, hyperbolic sales pitches and resale values, it makes sense for ARDA and its owner affiliate, the Resort Owners Coalition (ROC), to ramp up their outreach to the people who make the timeshare industry a $70 billion behemoth in the United States.
This is not a gratuitous feel-good site for the industry. ARDA is an action-oriented trade group that has led regulatory efforts at state and federal levels to protect timeshare buyers for years. Its legislative affairs arm also monitors and actively pursues legislation that impacts developers and owners in heavy timeshare states (Florida, California, Hawaii, Nevada, etc.). States that try to raise property taxes on timeshare owners, for example, get lots of attention from ARDA’s lobbyists and its timeshare member companies.
The new website is rolling out just as ARDA’s members gather for their annual World Conference in Las Vegas April 6-10. Many of the conference’s sessions are also designed to educate members about changes in the industry, such as the aging demographics of timeshare owners, the sagging fortunes of the resale market, and the worldwide boom in timeshare development.
Lots of Room for Growth in Timeshare Industry
Not surprisingly, ARDA’s management is bullish on the industry. The timeshare industry represents less than 10 percent of the overall travel industry, so there is plenty of room for growth.
There are 8 million timeshare owners and 1548 timeshare properties in the US. Moreover, 82 percent of all timeshare properties, worldwide, are located in the US, with one in five headquartered in Florida, where Orlando is the unofficial global capital of the timeshare universe.
Howard Nusbaum, ARDA’s CEO and president, says his organization represents 98 percent of all legitimate timeshare companies --- from the mega-developers (Marriott, Westin, et al) to smaller vacation properties --- and is responsible for promoting all of the regulations that protect consumers from unscrupulous business practices. The organization also works closely with attorney generals, postmaster generals and consumer protection agencies in key states to watchdog timeshare business practices.
The timeshare resale market, in contrast, is largely unregulated, which is why owners (this reporter included) get unsolicited calls from unknown companies offering immediate help, for a fee, to sell or walk away from their timeshares. Many of these pitches are outright scams flying below the radar of state and federal watchdog agencies. As Nusbaum conceded in a recent interview, the only timeshare issue that makes him lose sleep at night is "a healthy secondary market."
Resale issues get ample exposure in ARDA’s own website, arda.org, and the new consumer site, vacationbetter.org. If you’re looking for extreme detail on owner issues and legal developments, arda.org is the site to search. But if you’re looking for an easy introductory way to soak up the overall issues of timeshare ownership, vacationbetter.org is a friendly place to start.
Learn the Basics (Before You Buy) in Timeshare 101
The new website promotes timeshares and timeshare travel without promoting individual companies. The site is simple to navigate, uncluttered, and includes many pictures of prime vacation vistas. On a subliminal level, it puts you in a vacation frame of mind while scrolling through the ins and outs of timeshare terminology, owner testimonials and the do’s and don’ts of ownership. No doubt influenced by its member companies --- who are expert, in general, at creating user-friendly websites --- ARDA deliberately set out to create a website that would put the average traveler into a comfortable space while contemplating whether to buy a timeshare product.
"We wanted the site to embody the energy and vibrancy of the industry we represent," said Roth, the marketing chief at ARDA. "That’s why we use large scale images and lots of white space. This is like going to a beautiful place that’s relaxing."
The site also works as a mirror, allowing timeshare owners and would-be buyers to see who they are. The opening page features a quiz, "What Kind of Traveler Are You?" then segues into "Timeshare 101", a quick tutorial for new owners. It also posts vacation suggestions, exchange information, and FAQs on timeshares. One section, called Snapshots, offers a profile of today’s owners: 47% work fulltime; 21% are retired; 64% have no kids living at home; 74% are married or in a partnership; and their median household income is $74,000.
"This is a business-to-consumer site," Roth said. "We’re agnostic --- we’re not tied to a particular brand. We want this to be a trusted place to go for people to learn about timeshares. There are plenty of other websites out there, and lots of chat rooms, but they are hit and miss. We launched this site because we want a well-educated purchaser or prospect that understands what they are doing. The more they know, the more satisfied they’ll be if they make a decision to buy."
RedWeek.com also offers consumers, buyers and renters information about timeshare issues.
For more information about ARDA’s outreach to consumers, visit vacationbetter.org. For information on ARDA’s activities, visit arda.org or call ARDA owner issues: 855-416-6187.
FYI: ARDA is funded by timeshare development companies and their affiliates. ARDA-ROC mounts grassroots lobbying campaigns on behalf of one-million-plus timeshare owners who contribute $3-$5 per year through their maintenance fees.
This article provided by RedWeek's new investigative reporter, Jeff Weir. Jeff is a California-based journalist who has covered California, Congress and the White House. He also has roots in Silicon Valley, where he directed public relations and marketing programs for high-tech companies. He is also a timeshare owner and member of RedWeek.com.