Attracting new resort club members

By Colleen Isherwood, editor

Six years ago, I attended what was then called the Vacation Ownership Investment Conference in Orlando, listening to a panel of Canadians discuss shared ownership. One panellist spoke of the decline of the stock market that was taking place as we sat in that room.

At that time, the vacation ownership industry seemed durable and recession-proof—after all, it dealt largely with prepaid vacations, and studies showed that consumers value their travel.

Like many sectors, timeshare was adversely affected by the recession—and also by changing demographics and aging facilities.

The industry’s problems seem to be a magnified version of those of the lodging industry as a whole. Facilities are aging. Marketing and sales costs are going through the roof. Owners are aging too—someone whose spouse passed away has no desire to use their club membership any more. They just want to sell.

As Michael Burns, president of Vacatia, told the recent Canadian Resort Conference in Toronto, “the backlog of resales is a tsunami that could crash the industry.”

The idea of a vacation ownership program that could go on in perpetuity seems outdated and silly to the new generation of buyers, who want variety and exotic locations. The telephone sales and minivacation sales pitch has no appeal for younger potential buyers, who want a low price point and maximum flexibility—a true value product.

The Canadian Resort Conference, the new incarnation of last year’s VO-Con and previous Canadian Resort Development Conferences, provided a valuable forum for key players in the resort industry to air ideas on how to deal with the changing face of the industry.  Here are some of their ideas.

o   Generation X and millennials are fine with purchasing things online—why can’t they buy a timeshare online?

Why not have a condo rental program as a first introduction to the younger generation—if they enjoy their experience, then that’s a potential sale.

o   Similarly, use hotel rental programs as a bridge to vacation ownership.

o   How about a 12-year product with a guaranteed buy-back program?

 Align your product with celebrities.

o   Measure satisfaction costs of potential buyers going through a sales presentation—to get a  handle on what they think.

o   Get rid of the ridiculous qualifications for potential buyers—age requirements, no gay men, etc. These make timeshare companies look foolish.

o   Make sure resale companies disclose restrictions placed on new resale buyers.

As conference moderator Jim Madrid, CEO of Advance Corporate Technology, told delegates in his closing remarks at the conference, “These are changing times, and for those of you who don’t change, these are challenging times.”

The next Canadian Resort Conference will be held in 2015 at the Pan Pacific hotel in Vancouver, dates to be determined.