Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What The Timeshare Industry Can Learn From The Travel Industry

This is a reprint of one of my most requested blog posts.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about what the timeshare industry can learn from the cruise industry and today I'm reporting on how the traditional timeshare industry is going to have to learn from the travel industry if it wants to thrive in the coming years.

According to Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of Ypartnership, the two biggest influences on American travelers are technology and social values.

Yesawich reports that 61% of active travelers use the Internet and ONLY the Internet for their travel research and only 7% use travel agencies exclusively.

So what can the traditional timeshare industry learn from this? There is a dearth of information about traditional timeshares on the Internet. We all seem to forget that the Internet does not operate without people. Someone---well, many people---are responsible for getting the information onto the Internet. The traditional timeshare industry has done little in this regard. The vast majority of timeshare related information on the Internet is from sources OTHER than the timeshare resorts.

He also reported that 1 out of 5 American travelers actively visit one or more travel blog sites and 1 out of 3 of them has written a travel review online. Those blogs and reviews are where Americans are getting their travel infomation.

You can equate a traditional travel agent with a timeshare developer. While you can purchase your travel needs indirectly from a travel agent, fewer and fewer people are doing that. Just as fewer and fewer people are relying on the information that they obtain at a timeshare presentation and then proceeding with the purchase.

Consumers are also price driving. This should come as no surprise to anyone. 87% of travelers reported that the ability to check the lowest prices is THE MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE of a travel website.

Consumers also look for the ease of purchasing, with 74% of travelers saying that this was a key feature in travel sites.

Can consumers compare prices online with traditional timeshare resorts? Of course not. The prices not only seem to be a closely guarded secret, but vary immensely depending on how many times they say "no" during a sales pitch.

Can consumers easily purchase a timehare online from a resort? Again, we know the answer to be "no." I don't know any resorts that let consumers buy online.

Hotels and motels and other non-timeshare travel services have been forced to become price have just about every other product or service available to consumers. And still, the timeshare industry won't budge on this because they cling to the concept that timeshares are not a sought-after product.

Perhaps this is so because they won't let it be sought after. Consumer research study after consumer research studty continue to point to the fact that consumers want to buy things as opposed to having things sold to them.

(Continued In Next Post)

Cable News Thinking and Traditional Timeshare Marketing

I subscribe to Seth Godin's blog and highly encourage you to. Some time ago, he wrote a post entitled "The Problem With Cable News Thinking" and by way of illustrating, listed these 12 elements:

* Focus on the urgent instead of the important

* Vivid emotions and the visuals that go with them as a selector for what's important

* Emphasis on noise over thoughtful analysis

* Unwillingness to reverse course and change one's mind

* Xenophobic and jingoistic reactions

* Defense of the status quo encouraged by an audience self-selected to be uniform

* Things become important merely because others have decided that they are important

* Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber

* Ill-informed about history and a particular issue

* Confusing opinions with the truth

* Revising facts to fit a point

* Unwillingness to review past mistakes in light of history and use those to do better next time

Seth concluded by stating "If I wanted to hobble an organization or even a country, I'd wish these twelve traits on them..."

"Hobble" is an interesting choice of words for I believe that these 12 traits are evident in the way the traditional timeshare sales and marketing machine operates. Re-red the list with your mindset on a timeshare sales presentation, regardless if you are a consumer or a timeshare salesperson.

Scary, isn't it? Here's to a much less scary 2011 in the timeshare world. Great things are happening! Get involved.

A Solution To The Status Quo

I don't like status quo. No, not the English band from the 70s and 80s. I mean I don't like when things are just left to stagnate. Particularly when there are positive changes to be made. This philosophy is true for lots of things, work, relationships, furniture placement, etc. But let's look at a solution for the status quo when it comes to timeshare.

The genesis of this idea (yet another English does this happen?) came from a phone call that I made to a senior level executive at RCI several years ago. I was calling to get some infomation and introduced myself as "The Timeshare Crusader" and the author of "Timeshare Vacations For Dummies." She informed me that she had found my book very educational and added almost as an afterthought; " know, I have a timeshare and I bought it at one of those really long timeshare presentations." I kid you not. Those were her exact words.

Which leads me to my solution: Have every high-ranking person at all of the major timeshare companies and organizations talk a walk down the Strip in Vegas or on 192 in Orlando or on the major tourist drag/beach in any timeshare heavy locale. See how the timeshare pitches are being presented. Hear what is being said. Listen in as OPCs "advise" consumers to lie about their income.

Then, take the timeshare presentation. Go ahead, show up at the resort at the appointed time and place. Listen to the sales pitch. Hear all about how "points are going to replace weeks next year" or "this is the best resort for trading" or "buy here because we have the lowest fees and then use it to trade to go to Hawaii for three weeks" or other such "gems."

Tour the timeshare itself. Be sure to ask to see not only the model, but an actual room. Notice the differences? Talk to the people at the pool. What do they have to say?

Now, talk price. How many price drops are you willing to endure? How many "if you don't buy today, the price goes up by $10,000 tomorrow" can you listen to without laughing? Ask about resales. Go ahead...ask why you should pay "sticker price" when you can find a similar product on the resale market for thousands less.

Ask if the salesperson or sales manager has a copy of the ARDA Code of Ethics with them. Ask if the resort manager has a copy of the ARDA Code of Ethics available. Ask who is licensed. Ask to see what the annual fees have been for the past five years.

The point of all of this is that the average timeshare executive has NO concept of what the average consumer has to go through in order to get sold a timeshare.

I trust that if they put themselves in the consumers' shoes for even a day, things might change.

By the way...a great time to test this out would be March 27-31 next year in Orlando when everyone is in town for the annual ARDA Covention and Exposition. See you at the Shoney's on 192!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Step In The Wrong Direction

I saw this over the weekend and was sad.

The original "Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act" would have required lenders to verify a prospective borrower's income and employment status before approving a loan. This seems so common sense that it defies logic that anyone would have an issue with it. You know what's coming though, don't you?

It seems that Florida Representative Alan Grayson, soon to be former Representative Alan Grayson, provided a timeshare exemption.

That's right people, timeshares don't have to get that information before approving a loan. And remember that the average price of a timeshare last year was around $20,000.

Just when I thought some progress was being made, someone makes this happen.

When are we going to ever learn?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two Ideas That Will Improve The Timeshare Industry

As the year ends, I'm reminded that I've been at "this" for six years. And in many ways the timeshare industry is worse than when I started. I just had a conversation with another maverick, albeit a much richer maverick than me, about why we stay in. The reason is that we both see potential for improvement. HUGE potential.

Despite what some may think, I am not stupid or naive to believe that real change is possible in a short period of time. However, as I've repeatedly written, if the industry would stop saying and believing in "we've always done it this way', things would be decidedly rosier right now.

So, here are two ideas that I'm confident are capable of transforming the industry into what I believe it can and should be:

Stop Making People Work So Hard To Obtain The Product
Have you ever actually tried to buy a timeshare from the developer? Its next to impossible. They make you sit through a presentation. They don't give you prices over the phone. Prices aren't available online. There's no way to compare a Marriott week to 128,000 RCI Points. Consumer Reports doesn't touch the stuff. It's well into the new millenimum people...everything else is easy to buy and moves forward.

Dispel The "There's No Such Thing As Be Backs" Myth
Statistics clearly show that the average consumer does NOT purchase on their first visit. The average owner takes more than 2.5 timeshare sales presentations before they purchase. But most timeshares don't follow up with the "tour no-buys" or if they do, they simply offer them yet another marketing package. Follow up with these consumers; send them special pricing, news of improvements at the resort...anything to make them feel special and perhaps gain their all important loyalty.

Yes, I know I make things sound too easy. The real world isn't so simplistic. Or maybe it is. I continue to strongly believe that the future of the timeshare industry can be written by one or two companies willing to change things, shake things up, treat customers the right way and more importantly, stop clinging to the outdated belief that "timeshare is different." It isn't.

Timeshare is a terrific vacation option. Let everyone see that and we'll all win.

Monday, December 20, 2010

An Advertising Plan From 1999 That Works

I was cleaning up the other day when I came across three huge binders full of what I call my creative stuff. Before I became a writer, I was in advertising and promotions for a variety of Chicago area retailers and organizations.

Eventually, I reached the timeshare period of my life and found, among other things, an overview of an advertising plan that I submitted to the Managing Director of an Orlando area timeshare in early 1999. For those of you who are new to this blog, let me start off by saying that I do not have all the answers. However, what would have made sense for this timeshare back in 1999 still makes sense for timeshares going into 2011. And yet, very few of them actually do the right things. Here's a sampling of what I proposed.

Print advertising featuring rentals with the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Southern Living, Budget Travel, Florida Living, several airline publications and key feeder markets for the resort.

Radio advertising featuring rentals in the Orlando market before and after key holiday periods.

Trade show presence at all major travel shows to get the word out to travel agents, travel writers, etc.

Monthly direct mail system to both current owners and lease holders.

Open lines of communication and regularly scheduled meetings between the Advertising Department and the Sales Department.

A clear tracking method so that at a glance, we can tell what is working and what is not and have the ability to change if necessary.

Design and implementation of a clear, easy to read and navigate website.

Eliminate advertising in the Florida Travel Guide where the offer is at a ridiculously low price point (two nights accommodations for $9.81 per night), as sales tracking has determined that the ROI does not warrant it.

As you can probably guess, most of what I proposed was ignored because of course I came from an advertising background, not a timeshare background.

Flash forward to 2011 and I stand by my proposal more strongly than I did back then.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Timeshare Pendulum Is About To Shift

As 2010 winds down and the timeshare industry is looking for ways to rebound, recoup and regroup in 2011 and beyond, this writer thinks that there is a great opportunity for the first timeshare company to break apart from the rest and exclusively offer right-to-use timeshare.

Disney Vacation Club has had great success with this. Talk to any DVC owner and ask if they had any qualms about purchasing a 50 year right-to-use product over a deed in perpetuity as is the case in most US based timeshares and you'll hear "of course not."

Let's be honest technology has jumped leaps and bounds each year, there has been a correlation in our attention spans as well as ability to comprehend "forever" in part, because everything else changes so frequently. What does "forever" mean anyway?

For years, timeshares have gotten an undeserved bad reputation for the fact that if you die and your timeshare goes to your heirs, they have to pay annual dues on it. Well of course they do, just as they have to pay real estate tax and maintenance on a house that they inherit. But the timeshare naysayers, quick to find something wrong, pounce upon this "horrid" fact. This is basic Ownership own something, you have to pay for the upkeep.

But there is an opportunity for a savvy timeshare company to avoid all of this and make a product available to the consumers that is simply this: "a pre-paid vacation plan for the next 20 years." Interestingly enough, this is exactly how I used to sell timeshare back in my timeshare selling days. You're going to go on a vacation every year anyway, why not pre-pay for those vacations at today's rates?

The added benefit of such of a plan is that it would take timeshare out of the real estate basket, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of the basket. Confused consumers would no longer think of a timeshare as a real estate investment (it isn't), there wouldn't be the battle between the licensed timeshare resellers and the unlicensed timeshare resellers would vanish as would the opportunities for lying timeshare salespersons to use the "back in 1964 Walt Disney bought 27,000 acres of land for $185 an acre and today that land is worth $1,000,000 an acre" pitch, a variation of which is used everywhere deeded timeshare is sold.

There ARE solutions of the myriad of timeshare problems out there. Timeshare remains a wonderful product. Many people, including myself, have posed several solutions...why is it that timeshare companies don't listen?

Let's work together and make 2011 the year that timeshare makes some positive changes which will allow the benefits to finally outweigh the pitfalls for everyone!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Yours Truly Mentioned In A Blog About Blogs

I was fortunate enough to be mentioned in today's blog about blogs. Great advice from all the bloggers to any potential bloggers out there.


General Update

Just thought I'd keep everyone up to date. In addition to working on the new e-book which will be available first quarter of 2011, I've sent out the first round of e-mails asking influential/important people in timeshare to participate in my "5 and Almost 10 With..." mini-interview series. If there is anyone who you'd like to know more about, let me know and I'll send them the link.

We're also kicking around the idea/need for a timeshare covention aimed at selling involved. If you'd like to be included, we need as much input and assistance as possible.

Finally today, I filmed this piece several months ago when I was freelancing as Director of Communications. It piggy-backs nicely on the piece that I wrote for The Resort Trades some time ago on the need for consistency and transparency in the timeshare industry.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Come Together (With Apoligies to The Beatles)

It is time for the various "do-gooders" and forward thinkers in timeshare to band together to bring some order and sense into the timeshare arena.

I've said it before and I will say it again...timeshare is a wonderful product and I believe that more people would benefit from it. Clear enough now for everyone who says that I am "anti-timeshare"?

There are however, some problems: marketing practices, sales techniques, the lack of transparency, the whole issue of "real estate" and all that it implies, rising annual fees, consumers' evolving vacation patterns, the entire resale issue, owners who don't take an active role in their ownership and the lack of centralized, realiable, non-sales oriented information.

Some resort developers have an open door policy, some publications and websites do offer great information, some organizations have some dedicated people running them and do their best to keep their members up to date. ARDA-ROC does a good job and some timeshare owners and resort personnel do their best. And some writers/bloggers have been trying for years!

But it is very fragmented and very sorry to say, ego-driven. This person doesn't like this person, so they stay on opposite sides of a room. One organization doesn't like the fact that the other organization charges an annual fee, so they don't cooperate with each other. One website doesn't like the fact that a certain person decided to become a full-time paid author, so allowed insulting comments to be posted for the world to see, causing said author lots of tears and anguish.

My goal for the next year is to bring all of these persons, companies, organizations, publications, etc. for the common good. We all have much more in common than we disagree on. And the bottom line is that the consumer doesn't know we are out there, the traditional media outlets don't know we are out there and frankly, none of us are large enough or vocal enough on our own to be the catylst for positive change that we can and should be.

Gather around's time to make a positive difference and bring timeshare into the 21st century. Who is with me?