What happened to Wyndham's Ovation exit program? Can owners really get out of their timeshares without getting scammed?
Many readers have asked us for more information about Wyndham's exit program, known as Ovation, which we featured in an Ask RedWeek article in April 2015. They want to know whether it is working and, just as important, whether other timeshare companies will offer a similar exit strategy for longtime owners.
To answer this question, RedWeek's Chief Correspondent, Jeff Weir, interviewed the Wyndham executives who run the Ovation program: Adam Schwartz, Senior Vice President, Brand and Communications; and Kim Thompson, Senior Vice President of Legal Services. Here's the update:
One Year Later: 10,700 Wyndham Owners Have Used Ovation Program to Get Out of Their Timeshares
After a very soft launch in 2015, it seems clear — one year later — that Wyndham's exit program, known as "Ovation," is gaining traction with owners. It may also be trailblazing a path that other major timeshare companies emulate as owners seek legal and dignified ways to get out of their timeshares.
According to Wyndham's top executives, more than 10,700 owners have used the Ovation program to get out of their timeshare obligations. Overall, the company has received inquiries from more than 25,000 owners (out of an overall pool of 900,000). Of that number, Wyndham says it assisted 12,827 owners who were seeking an exit plan.
But it hasn't been an easy road. Forums on RedWeek.com and other sites are full of good-and-bad Ovation stories from owners who tried to use the program. It is also clear that some third-party timeshare-relief companies have invaded the program (probably without Wyndham's permission) by reaching out to Wyndham owners and offering pay-upfront schemes to dump their timeshares.
What Exit Options Does Ovation Offer?
Ovation, which was created in part to protect Wyndham owners from being victimized by relief-company scam artists, is a no-fee program that offers qualifying owners three exit plans:
- For owners who want to sell their timeshares, Wyndham will provide referrals to licensed realtors and other resellers that abide by the "no upfront fee" mantra. Wyndham does not keep track of what happens to those owners who use the preferred list of resellers. So far, this option appeals to less than 1 percent of the owners who contact Ovation.
- Qualifying owners can also transfer their club points or deeds back to Wyndham under what is called the CAP program. This is the most popular Ovation program by far, appealing to owners who simply want to get out, relinquish ownership and stop paying annual maintenance fees.
- A third option, called the Limited Edition program, enables Wyndham Club owners to surrender their Wyndham-purchased points back to the club while retaining user rights to travel, with no maintenance fees, for three years. This option is favored by roughly 10 percent of the Ovation participants.
- Wyndham also offers a hardship exit program for people under financial stress, but it is not technically part of the Ovation umbrella. Most reputable timeshare companies offer similar-sounding hardship programs, but they are reluctant to publicize them — and for obvious reasons. Their business models hinge on selling new timeshares, not taking back old ones.
Wyndham executives say, in fact, that the company incurred a cost of approximately $20 million over the past year by taking back unwanted timeshares through Ovation, and paying off their maintenance fees and taxes. This so-called carrying cost should come back to Wyndham, eventually, when it resells those deeded-back club points on the retail market to existing or new buyers at the rate of $20,000 per week-equivalent (approximately).
What Other Timeshare Brands Can Learn From Ovation
So, on paper, Ovation appears to offer a win-win scenario, enabling owners who are aging-out to divest themselves of their timeshares. Wyndham, meanwhile, increases its inventory at preferred resorts (at low or no cost) and reaps the public relations benefits of launching a consumer-friendly program for longtime loyal owners. And, as the world's largest timeshare company, Wyndham is setting a standard that the rest of the industry will either follow or, perhaps, improve upon. One thing for sure: major brand timeshare companies cannot afford to ignore Ovation. They all have similar issues with owners who want to get out of their timeshare obligations. And the demand for exit strategy answers will increase as the owner base continues to inflate.
"This is important for our company and it's an industrywide issue," said Schwartz. "Many companies are without a solution."
(RedWeek.com, with nearly one million timeshare owners signed up, is a testament, all by itself, to the need for industry exit programs. These subscribers are trying to sell or rent their weeks, not use them or keep them.)
Ovation, while a yearling, is still an open experiment. The company is committed to tweaking it as necessary to meet demand, but the overall goal is to generate a sustainable program that is transparent, easy to use and workable.
"A big part of why we are doing this is the incessant barrage of attacks that owners are under from third party scammers," Schwartz said. "We see the prosecutions about this around the country. We want to make sure our program is well enough known by owners that they call us first before they seek alternatives that leave them holding the bag."
Still, there are issues with getting the word out on Ovation. Owners who participate in social media platforms, including RedWeek.com, are already airing various grievances about Ovation. Examples: Some owners don't qualify for the program. Others own resorts that Wyndham does not want to take back. A third group of owners are interested in Ovation, but can't find out much about it on the Internet or Wyndham's Web site. Another group of Wyndham owners are totally suspicious of Ovation because of their prior experience with Pathways, a Wyndham exit-program where transfers were tied to upgrading ownerships.
Wyndham, with an extensive web-monitoring operation, knows all about the owners' issues. The company readily concedes that not all owners will qualify, such as those who have not paid off their mortgages or belonged to other timeshare clubs that were subsequently bought by Wyndham. The company also deliberately prioritizes the inventory that it is willing to take back into the system --- which means this: if you own a shoulder season week at a legacy resort in a condo-glutted beach town, Wyndham may not want your interval back.
Wyndham has increased its owner-outreach in recent months to educate owners about Ovation, but it's not a full-throttle campaign. For example, as of this week, the company would not release to RedWeek the names of the resorts that qualify for Ovation because, as a spokeswoman explained, the list changes depending on time, season and inventory needs.
Even with its caveats, Ovation appears to be providing serious services to thousands of Wyndham owners who might otherwise get ripped off on the resale market. But is it strong enough to really meet demand? Will others follow suit? Stay tuned.
"This program brings peace of mind to owners," Schwartz said. "Now they know, 'I've got a way out of this.'"
To get more information, Wyndham Club owners must log in to their password-protected account on wyndham.com, then search for Ovation. There is no detailed information about the program on Wyndham's public web pages. Owners can also e-mail email@example.com or call the Ovation desk at 855-312-9040.