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Canada Rolls out the Welcome Mat for US Timeshare Owners

Canadian tourism officials and timeshare HOAs are aggressively reaching out to US timeshare owners as the travel economy continues to grow worldwide. RedWeek just attended the Canadian Vacation Ownership Association (CVOA) annual conference to get a first-hand view of vacation ownership in the Great Lakes Blue Mountain region north of Toronto. Here’s our report.

Go Now, Go Often for a Strong Dose of Canadian Hospitality

Despite its breadth, history, and absolute proximity to the US, Canada is largely unknown to many Americans. While Canadian travelers frequently tour the US and Mexico, Americans don’t venture north nearly as often. In terms of timeshares, there are dozens of beautiful resorts in Canada, mostly clustered around the Vancouver-Whistler corridor in the West, or along the Niagara Falls-Toronto corridor in the East. There are also plenty of exchangeable timeshares in the picturesque Banff-Lake Louise area, but that’s a virtual mountain island all unto itself — reachable by car or train, 97 miles from Calgary International Airport. Overall, Canada contains around 230 timeshare resorts, compared for 1,500 in the US. Only a handful of Canadian timeshares, meanwhile, are still engaged in active sales.

The timeshare basics in Canada are comparable to the rules and regulations in the US — reservations should be secured as far as possible in advance, particularly if you’re exchanging a week through RCI, Interval, or any other exchange company. Members of timeshare clubs (such as Embarc, which is now owned by Diamond Resorts) can use their points or weeks for multiple-night stays at any resort in their network, or deposit them for an exchange.

There are a few Canadian timeshare rentals on RedWeek, mostly offering winter ski weeks or summer mountain vacations, and a similar number of resales, with prices ranging from $0 – $10,500. Maintenance fees, meanwhile, tend to be lower than US timeshares. In addition to using RedWeek, travelers can research Canadian timeshares through online travel agencies or exchange companies. RCI, for example, lists 109 Canadian timeshares in its resort directory.

With a few exceptions, Canada is not much of a vacation mecca for beachgoers who like Hawaii or the Caribbean. It’s much more of an action-sport destination for folks who thrive on the outdoors, whether it’s skiing, hiking, golf or canoeing. There are no Disney’s or Orlando’s in Canada, either.

One visible difference: The brand-name companies that dominate the US timeshare landscape — Wyndham, Marriott, Vistana, Hyatt and Hilton — have low profiles in Canada. Wyndham has WorldMark, and Diamond has Embarc, but that’s about it. Canada is full of independent timeshare resorts managed by homeowner associations that, typically, are fiercely protective of their independence. RedWeek interviewed one timeshare executive at the Canadian Vacation Ownership Association conference who said he worked very hard, after his company was bought by a US timeshare company, to preserve the culture and style of the original company. Owners demanded it, he said.

Canadian timeshare owners and HOAs are also subjected to the same resale-and-transfer scams that target vulnerable US timeshare owners. But the scale is smaller, and the CVOA is taking active steps to educate its members on the best ways to deflect resale scams and protect owners. (In the US, where exit companies spend huge sums on Internet and radio advertising, brand-name developers are aggressively suing companies for trying to interfere with customer contracts. That kind of legal warfare has not taken root in Canada yet.)

Timeshare Trends: Make the Experience Memorable

At the CVOA conference, industry executives outlined the trends that are redefining timeshare in Canada while companies ramp up their marketing to reach the largely untapped market of US travelers.

“As long as you’re willing to evolve, your business will not become extinct,” advised Duane Lee, CEO of Safeguard, a Toronto company that sells loyalty rewards packages to timeshare companies. He and several other speakers said that survival, in a highly competitive hospitality market, depends on staying relevant, adapting to change and, above all, selling the “experience” of vacations after travelers have checked in. That means giving them much more than an extra bedroom and kitchen. Creating memorable experiences, on-site or off, is the new buzz-phrase in timeshare. It’s also what brings customers back and fuels word-of-mouth testimonials to new customers.

While trying to create unique experiences for owners, Independent timeshare resorts are also in an “eat or be eaten” mode from the competition and loyalty programs offered by major timeshare clubs, said Wendy Miron, a senior account executive for RCI in Whistler. “The independents are trying to find ways to be unique.”

Here are two final selling points for using Canadian timeshares, one obvious and one not. #1: If you’re in the US, you don’t need to fly overseas to get there. Instead, save your airfare dollars and drive to your resort, since getting into Canada is relatively easy. All you need is a passport or passport card to get in or out of Canada. Or fly first to Vancouver or Toronto, then start your driving vacation from those terminal cities. Or take the scenic cross-Canadian Rockies Amtrak! #2: Current exchange rates in Canada favor US dollars by more than 20%, which makes travel in Canada, including timeshares, much cheaper than in the US.

There’s a bit of unintended irony in the dollar vs. dollar story. While travel in Canada is more affordable than the US, most Canadians who buy timeshares spend their travel money in the US or Mexico.

“The Canadian vacation ownership industry is healthy,” said Jon Zwickel, outgoing president of CVOA. “Many people still believe in the concept of vacation ownership, but they tend to be buying outside the country.”

 

By Jeff Weir

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Hurricane Michael Affecting Timeshare Resorts Along the Florida Panhandle

Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida Panhandle earlier today as a Category 4 storm, and several timeshare resorts have been evacuated.

At this time, we know the following resorts have been evacuated:

Destin

Ft. Walton Beach

Panama City Beach

Pensacola Beach

Miramar Beach

Resorts in Alabama are seeing high winds & rain, but so far have not been evacuated.

Our thoughts are with all affected by this storm.  We will continue to monitor and provide updates on resort status as soon as evacuation orders have been lifted and resort staff is able to return to the site to assess damages.

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Most Popular Christmas Picks

Ready to spend Christmas somewhere awesome this year?  RedWeek members are booking these weeks like crazy, but luckily there are still lots of weeks available!  Here are the most-booked Christmas destinations on RedWeek:

Hawaii

By far the top location for Christmas-travel on RedWeek is Hawaii!  Members’ favorites are:

  1. Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club on Oahu – Christmas weeks still available from $321/night.
  2. Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club on Maui – Christmas weeks from $421/night. And don’t forget to check availability at the two other phases on the property – Lahaina Villas and the Napili Villas.
  3. Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas North on Maui – only a few Christmas weeks left starting at $386/night.  A few more weeks available at sister property, Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas.
  4. Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club on Kauai – from $643/night
  5. The Point at Poipu on Kauai – from $386/night

See all Hawaii Christmas weeks »

 

Florida

  1. Wyndham Bonnet Creek in Greater Orlando – Christmas weeks from just $200/night
  2. Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers in Fort Lauderdale – weeks start at $164/night and most accept RedWeek Payments!
  3. Marriott’s Ocean Pointe in Palm Beach Shores – Christmas weeks start at $314/night
  4. Sheraton’s Vistana Villages in Orlando – Christmas weeks start at $114/night

See all Florida Christmas weeks »

 

The Caribbean

  1. Aruba Surf Club has more than double the bookings of the next most popular Caribbean resort.  Christmas weeks start at $400/night (and a couple of shorter stays available, if you must cut your stay short)
  2. Harborside Atlantis in the Bahamas, starting at $343/night
  3. Aruba Ocean Club – Christmas rentals start at $500/night
  4. Marriott’s St. Kitts Beach Club – as of today, there’s only one left, folks!  $514/night

See all Caribbean Christmas weeks »

 

Mexico

  1. Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas & Spa in Cancun had triple the bookings of the next Mexico resort, and there are still several weeks available starting at just $150/night!
  2. Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort & Spa in Cabo San Lucas. Christmas weeks start at $250/night
  3. Hacienda del Mar, also in Cabo San Lucas – has just a few more weeks starting at $250/night

Browse all Mexico Christmas weeks »

 

More Popular Destinations to Explore:

  1. California 
  2. Colorado
  3. Utah
  4. Lake Tahoe

Browse more Christmas rentals »

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Last-Minute Thanksgiving Weeks Available!

Time’s running out to book a timeshare for your Thanksgiving vacation! We’ve made it a little easier with a guide to some of the resorts that still have space. No matter where you want to be grateful this year–on a sun-soaked beach, from the powdery slopes, on a lush golf course, or out of the country–we can find a resort for you!

Orlando, Florida

Want a family-friendly and excitement-filled Thanksgiving week? Sheraton Vistana Resort and Sheraton Vistana Villages offer stunning grounds with a wealth of opportunities, plus easy access to Disney World and other Orlando attractions.

RedWeek member nicholasr19 says:

We loved this resort. (More like a home than a time share). We had many of our meals in the unit, saving lots of time and money. The full kitchen, dining room and living room made it so comfortable for our family of 7. It was truly a great place and the kids had so much fun. We stayed in a 2 bd/ 2 bath villa. (nice and roomy). The property and the villas are beautiful and so well maintained. The “heavenly” beds are more comfortable than at home! The pools are awesome and there are so many of them to choose from. Even the giant waterslide was great. The exercise room is quite nice, well equipped and always open. Fresh towels and cold water from the bubbler are always available.

The entire staff was wonderful and unbelievably accommodating….. including the front desk, housekeeping, concierge and bell services.

Very close to Disney and easy access to all of the Orlando attractions. Hundreds of great restaurants nearby for both adults and children.

Can’t wait to go back to this beautiful Sheraton property. 2 thumbs up to a fun-filled week.

Lahaina, Hawaii

Want to spend Thanksgiving in paradise? Look no further than The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas, a beachfront resort with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. Enjoy water sports like kayaking and surfing, relaxation at multiple lagoon-style pools, and luscious refreshment at Spa Helani. The nearby historic town offers top-notch restaurants and art galleries, as well as cultural experiences. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can explore the stunning island and even hike the mountain!

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

If you’re seeking plenty of sunshine and warm weather for Thanksgiving–maybe trying to cope with a long, cold winter?–Puerto Vallarta is the place for you. Temperatures average 90 degrees and more in November, with minimal rainfall. Two resorts still have Thanksgiving listings on RedWeek–Club Regina Puerto Vallarta and Villa Vera Puerto Vallarta. These resorts are great for fishermen, with easy access to the marina. They also offer an opportunity to easily immerse yourself in the rich culture of the city.

New York City, New York

Want a culture-filled, bustling-big-city Thanksgiving? Wyndham Midtown 45 has several openings for Thanksgiving week! Relax in style and explore with ease from the heart of Manhattan. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will even cross the city less than a mile from the resort!

Limited Listings

Some amazing locations have only one listing left for Thanksgiving:

 

 

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Welcome to Summer, While a Soggy Florida Braces for Hurricanes

RedWeek just returned from a long road trip where we attended industry conferences in sunny Las Vegas and supposedly sunny Orlando, but as soon as we got to Orlando, we got the word: Rained Out.

Not really, but the Sunshine State turned into the Soggy State during our visit, just in time for the start of Summer, which in Florida rhymes with Hurricane Season (June 1 to Nov. 30).  The region deserves a break, because it’s still recovering and rebuilding from the last two years of hurricanes.  The sticky weather took a huge bite out of Florida and Caribbean tourism and timeshares in 2016 and 2017, and it looks like the weather gods are hungry for more.  Meanwhile, big brand hotel and timeshare resorts are rebuilding while independent timeshares are still negotiating with, or suing, their insurance companies to cover repairs from 2016 and 2017.  Welcome to 2018, ready or not.

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Industry Tries to Debunk 6 Myths about Timeshare Owners

Timeshare owners are a mixed bag: younger, older, wealthy and educated

Younger.  Smarter.  Wealthier — and tougher to fool.  That’s the new look timeshare owner for 2018, according to surveys commissioned by the timeshare industry’s trade and lobbying group.

In a recent column posted in Developments Magazine, Howard Nusbaum, president of the American Resort Development Association, debunks 6 “fluffy myths” about timeshares that have haunted the industry’s public persona for years.

The results of ARDA’s survey are interesting but not always conclusive.  But they should trigger many spirited conversations around your resort’s hot tub.

Here are the top six myths that Nusbaum wants to eliminate:

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2018 Starts Off with a Bang as Timeshare Universe Adapts to Major Changes in Travel Industry

Forget January.  February 2018 is a great start for the new year.  All maintenance fees should be paid by now, and if you want to go to your Hawaiian timeshare next winter, now is also the time to make that 12-months-in-advance-of checkin reservation at your home resort.

But it’s also a good month for most timeshare football fans, and they tend to go together, based upon our experience watching NFL games from swim-up pools and hot tubs in all the places that snowbirds escape to during winter months. The Eagles surprise Super Bowl victory over the Patriots was a win for all underdogs, which pretty much takes us all back to our roots as regular people struggling to make our mark in the world.

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Stayin’ Alive: High Drama at Two Lake Tahoe Resorts During Timeshare Election Season

Most people know that fall and football go together.  But only a handful know that fall is also election season at timeshare resorts across the country, where very few people vote and, in all likelihood, even fewer care about the outcomes.  All owners generally care about is #1 reservations and #2 maintenance fees.  HOA board member elections probably rank way down there, like #41.

Not this fall.  While thousands of timeshare owners worry about their vacations and resorts in hurricane-ravaged areas of the country, others are paying attention to all the home-grown issues at their own resort.

In fact, from California to Kauai, Idaho to Orlando, RedWeek keeps hearing from timeshare owners who are getting more involved in the governance of their resorts.  At a handful, owners are starting to organize themselves to take greater control of management issues.  At others, owners are simply getting rid of board members who have overstayed their welcome — and failed to fulfill their fiduciary duties to make the best decisions on behalf of all owners.

In this spotlight on legacy resorts, we will focus on two aging but desirable timeshares where owners banded together, in dramatic fashion, to prevent their resort from being taken over, or at least controlled by, major timeshare companies.

Both happen to occupy prime real estate around Lake Tahoe, which is a hotbed of timeshare resorts, old and new. Marriott, Diamond, Wyndham, Hyatt, and Welk have major presences and appear to be looking for more.  It’s also a smorgasbord of older independent resorts facing major renovations, rising defaults, plus rental and resale issues that not only threaten their economic existence, but make them ripe takeover targets for well-financed timeshare companies or investor groups.  Some of these aging resorts, according to real estate folks in the area, will eventually fall into the hands of new developers who will invest and re-purpose the timeshare into a modern hotel or other business that is more profitable than a struggling timeshare.

The rest of this blog is about two Tahoe resorts caught in the middle of this struggle.  Simply put, they are just trying to stay alive.

PART I: Tahoe Beach and Ski Club Owners Re-elect Board Member Who Cast Key Vote Against Diamond’s Potential Takeover, But Tensions Remain

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA — Sedric Ketchum, the swing vote on a divided board that decided to reject Diamond Resort’s takeover moves three years ago, won re-election to another term in September, but it wasn’t easy.  Recovering from serious surgery, Ketchum barely made it through the obligatory candidate forum, then retired to his room at Tahoe Beach and Ski Club as soon as the votes were cast.

Sedric Ketchum won re-election to Tahoe Beach and Ski Club Board despite a no-confidence vote from Diamond Resorts

He won re-election handily, despite a defection from one of his fellow board members and a decision by Diamond, which owns 23 percent of all timeshares at the beachfront timeshare, to vote for no one.  Right up until the vote was announced, no one knew what Diamond planned.  The company wanted to dump Ketchum, but couldn’t find a suitable candidate to back, so it sat on its votes.

Tahoe Beach and Ski Board President Al Fong urges owners to stay vigilant against Diamond.

Not exactly a vote of confidence for Ketchum, who was key to the board’s rejection of Diamond’s perceived takeover bid in 2014.  Diamond played cat-and-mouse with the owners in 2017, just as it did in 2016 (when it was also declined to announce its intentions).

In months leading up to the vote, Diamond asked first-year board member Bill Costa to find a replacement for Ketchum, but his recruitment efforts fell short.  (Most owners had no knowledge of Costa’s activities, and they also seemed to like Ketchum, so why vote against him?)  During the past year, Costa also worked on his own to broker a deal between TBSC and Diamond to settle litigation that Diamond initiated in 2015. So it was not much of a surprise that Costa also worked with Diamond on a possible alternative to Ketchum.

We interviewed Ketchum and Costa about their split.  It seems to be more personal than professional, so we’ll leave it at that.  We also interviewed other owners who were brought into the schism, including one owner who was recruited to oppose Ketchum, but they seemed puzzled about it as well.

Ultimately, the tensions within the board did not matter. With more than 175 owners huddled together under a beachfront revival tent on a cold, blue sky day, Ketchum collected 1,985 votes, including 39 voted by the board (Costa abstained).  Diamond had 1,750 votes, but kept them in the corporation’s pocket for another day.  No Diamond representative even showed up to address the crowd — a far cry from a year ago, when a Diamond VP rankled the audience with a tone-deaf explanation of the benefits of Diamond’s presence and points-and-trust program.

“Never take your ownership for granted,” warned a somber but jubilant Board President Al Fong after the vote. “Diamond is a sleeping giant.  They are waiting for you to fall asleep.”

Diamond started buying foreclosed TBSC units at auction several years ago as part of its bid to increase its presence in South Lake Tahoe, where it already operates several timeshares, including the majestic Lake Tahoe Vacation Resort, which is right next door to Tahoe Beach and Ski Club.  Diamond was well on the way to becoming the dominant majority owner of TBSC when the board, awakening like a slumbering giant , refused to accept Diamond’s purchase of several hundred intervals in December 2014.  That HOA action triggered threatening letters from Diamond, and eventually a lawsuit — which continues to this day.

Since then, the TBSC-Diamond story has devolved into an “us-against-them” fight where owners rallied to elect board members, in three straight years, who are dedicated to keeping Diamond at bay.  The anti-Diamond board members ran annual grassroots campaigns, with beachfront owner-update meetings on Mondays and Thursdays, to energize owners about the perceived threat that Diamond, one of the largest and most acquisitive timeshare companies in the world, posed to their traditional legacy resort.  So far, they’ve succeeded in warding off the giant.

Barring a major change in direction, next year’s HOA election will put two more anti-Diamond board members onto the same hot seat that Ketchum just occupied.  President Fong and Treasurer Jake Bercu, Diamond’s most vocal critics, will face re-election while promoting the dividends of maintaining the independence of Tahoe Beach and Ski Club.  No matter what else happens, they already know that at least 23 percent of the owners — Diamond — will vote against them.

Diamond is not the only major timeshare company seeking a larger footprint in Lake Tahoe.  Wyndham, the largest timeshare company in the world, is also seeking a bigger stake.  But its plans for a smooth transition — takeover or otherwise — just ran into an owner revolt at the Olympic Village Inn.

‘PART II: Gang of Four’ Owners at Olympic Village Inn Fire Longtime HOA Board Members who Hired Wyndham to Run Resort in 2016

  • Rebels promise to review Wyndham’s contract and end foreclosure agreement

SQUAW VALLEY, CA — A ballot box rebellion at Olympic Village Inn (OVI), a bucolic Alpine resort in North Lake Tahoe, triggered a palace revolt in October that resulted in the ouster of four HOA board members who agreed, one year ago, to turn the resort’s management and all defaulted units over to the Wyndham timeshare conglomerate.

Standing Room Only at annual board election for Olympic Village Inn in Squaw Valley.
Gang of Four rebels routed incumbents who hired Wyndham to manage resort.

In a record turnout on a spectacular fall-colors October Saturday, the so-called “Gang of Four,” led by a hard-nosed and proudly profane prosecutor named Bob Bone, dumped four longtime board members who, despite having their own misgivings about contracting with Wyndham, turned the keys to the resort over to Wyndham’s management company in 2016.  Bone and his co-conspirators, all of whom proudly own the Gang of Four appellation that was hung on them by a hostile board member, immediately fired Board President Alan Traenkner — Wyndham’s primary champion — and board counselor Joan Wright.  They also agreed to dismiss a legal fight, launched by Bone months ago when he was just a fledgling activist, to force the HOA to disclose owner rosters (including emails) to members for campaign purposes.

Elected in a landslide, the new majority at the seven-member HOA is composed of Bone, who replaces Traenkner as president, and fellow activists Julie Feldman, Sandy Farrow and Greg Rankin.  They replace former board members Connie Gast, Ron Spiller, Wayne Hooper and Mike Harper (who also opposed Wyndham’s hiring but ran afoul of Bone months ago).  Holdover board member and CFO Brad Hartman also opposed Wyndham’s contract, so he could be considered a potential “Gang of Five” member in the future. The other holdover, Larry Grace, faces the same fate as Traenkner — obscurity at the end of the HOA bench.  In many ways, the election represents a generational pivot as well as a policy change.  In with the new, out with the older.

New Board President Bob Bone (top) led a multimedia campaign to oust four longtime board members.

Bone’s first move was to fire former Board President and Wyndham advocate Alan Traenkner (bottom)

When the results were announced, the 200 OVI members who shoe-horned into an overfull hotel conference room erupted in applause and shouts — as if their favorite football team had just scored a touchdown.   A record 58 percent of all OVI members voted (in the industry, 20 percent would be normal, 30 percent a milestone). Bone got 2,017 votes, followed by Rankin, 1,997, Farrow, 1,992, and Feldman, 1,818.   The incumbents received 139 to 149 votes each, plus 436 votes cast for each incumbent by Wyndham.

Afterwards, the defeated incumbents — all longtime board members — exited muttering while Traenkner took stock, shaken if not stricken by his landslide loss in an election that was a total referendum on his move to hire Wyndham.  Then with a wave, he was gone.

“I’m not the Gang of Four,” Traenkner said, his face flushed. “My job is to make the transition as smooth as possible. We represent the whole association.  That’s important for people to know.”

Several Wyndham executives attended the SRO meeting, wearing casual business outfits and frowns.  They said afterwards that they would work with the new board to resolve all issues of concern.  But their furrowed brows told the story: Wyndham’s experiment with OVI was going south.

Moral of this Election is: Don’t Mess with Bonus Time — or Bob Bone)

Olympic Village Inn, set in an elbow pasture at the base of Squaw Valley’s majestic ski area, is probably one of the last places one would expect to morph into a launching pad for timeshare-owner activism.  The resort came to fame decades ago as the US host of world-class skiers and other Winter Olympians in 1960.  While the Lake Tahoe resort area grew, OVI stayed the same: laid-back and serene, it was a tiny 90-unit timeshare getaway with 3,300 owners and 4,590 intervals that catered to skiing families from the Bay Area. OVI was stable for years; its financials were OK, maintenance fees stayed low ($800)  and default rates (from owners) hovered in the single digits.  But then things changed.

In April 2015, Traenkner and the OVI board hit a wall: the resort’s longtime general manager (who had taken care of everything for 32 years, according to Traenkner) announced he would retire in July 2016.  That triggered a search for replacement that forced the board to look outside its local circle of associates.  Traenkner attended Timeshare Board Members Association meetings to meet and interview management companies.

Traenkner and other board members talked to several companies, then picked Wyndham, which offered a management deal that no other company came close to matching: Wyndham would spend $1.25 million on renovations, pay $10 for 253 HOA-owned units (and pay all of the maintenance fees for those units), launch a rental and resale program, and fold OVI into Wyndham’s global reservation system.  In addition to the management contract, Wyndham, a timeshare giant with worldwide experience managing 200 resorts, offered to take responsibility for all future OVI units that go into default (thereby guaranteeing those maintenance fee payments as well).  No surprise, the board said YES.  As a result, Wyndham took over in August 2016.

Traenkner said recently that he thought he was doing OVI members a great service by hiring Wyndham.  Unfortunately for him and his fellow board members, it all went awry.

Olympic Village Inn on a perfect summer day at base of Squaw Valley ski area.

At first glance, this sweetheart deal appeared to take care of all OVI problems: Wyndham would run all resort operations, pay up all late dues, plus guarantee payment of maintenance fees on all future defaulted units.  In return for its oversight, Wyndham would gradually acquire an increasing share of the intervals at OVI — and, potentially, gain voting control oF the board.  As of this writing, according to Traenkner, Wyndham owns 436 intervals, or approximately 10 percent of OVI. (Wyndham executives say the company has no plans to take over the board or the resort.  At other comparable legacy resorts around the world, Wyndham has used its ownership stake to install corporate execs on the HOA board to protect the company’s investment.)

The deal might have worked out famously, in fact, if Wyndham had delivered a gold-medal performance during the transition period.  Instead, it stumbled, repeatedly.  Wyndham installed a new GM with no timeshare experience who, for various reasons, irritated owners and board members, including Traenkner, Wyndham’s champion.  Over the next year, Wyndham installed three additional GM’s or interim GM’s. The company also fired most of the housekeeping staffers because they were not legal residents.  Wyndham’s reservation team also took over, which surprised owners who knew nothing about the changes. Owners used to calling OVI at Squaw Valley suddenly found themselves talking to Wyndham operators back East.

While Wyndham had some (predictable) hiccups implementing changes, the OVI board overlooked a key issue, and it turned into a fatal mistake: The board failed to tell owners about Wyndham until after the deal was done.  Bone, for example, knew nothing about Wyndham’s presence until November 2016, when he tried to use his “bonus time” privileges to reserve rooms at a discount so he could bring his ski-oriented family to the resort on winter weekends.  Instead of securing an easy last-minute weekend reservation, Bone discovered, from a Wyndham operator, that the bonus time rules had changed.

That innocuous first contact with Wyndham’s presence at OVI started a chain reaction that, over months, led to the revolt that deposed four OVI board members, including three who approved of the Wyndham deal.  Here’s how it all fell apart.  Bone, a very outspoken lawyer from Santa Rosa, complained to Traenkner and other board members about the bonus time changes, then started digging into other things that were shifting at OVI — including the unannounced staffing changes that left the housekeeping team in shambles.  Bone, contentious by nature, also had conflicts with the new GM and other Wyndham corporate executives.  Over time, an exasperated Bone mounted a very public campaign against the board based on what he perceived as the board’s negligence and Wyndham’s negative presence at the resort.  His efforts not only stirred up other owners, but helped persuade the board to abort the HOA-default foreclosure agreement in March.  In June, Bone successfully sued the board in small claims court to secure the membership roster so he could communicate his displeasure about the board and Wyndham with other owners.  Instead of turning over the rosters, the board fought the lawsuit.

The campaign got personal in a hurry.  Bone called out Traenkner on many occasions and offended other board members as well.  He accused the board of election fraud and sent a stream of combative emails demanding documents and explanations of board policy.  At the same time, Bone’s “gang” launched a phone bank to contact owners and created a “SaveOVI.org”website where they posted information about the board’s actions, attacked Wyndham’s motives and generated support from owners.  The outreach campaign was critical, because Traenkner and the incumbent board never responded in kind.  (In fact, after the vote, Traenkner lamented that he never mounted much of a campaign and, worse, conceded having no insight about why owners voted against him.)

“Thanks to this board, the resort is falling apart,” said the hyperbolic Bone, an owner since 2012 who primarily uses his timeshare for bonus time. “Wyndham is trying to run the resort into the ground for the sake of consuming it.  But I don’t really view Wyndham as an evil empire.  I’m more concerned about HOA boards that are filled with individuals who don’t read documents when they are charged with the responsibility of protecting a public trust.”

Greg Rankin, a Gang of Four member and original sales manager at OVI, said he decided to run because “the board made a terrible mistake in selecting Wyndham.  And, despite overwhelming evidence over the past year,…they refuse to admit and acknowledge their mistake.  The board’s unwillingness to provide meaningful oversight of Wyndham…has result in rapid deterioration of the property and a significant decline in both the level of service and overall quality of experience our owners have enjoyed over three decades.”

Traenkner, interviewed several times about the transition over the past year, is understandably defensive about hiring Wyndham. “They put money into the association to help with remodeling, so we were able to reduce dues from $840 to $800,” he said. “And their rental program has been good.”  Still, he admitted having numerous “startup issues” with Wyndham that created consternation on the board and within the membership.

Wyndham Very Experienced Running Resorts, but Stumbled at Olympic Village Inn

We interviewed two senior vice presidents at Wyndham about the controversy.  They conceded making some mistakes during the transition, but otherwise defended their contract and intentions at OVI.  They said Wyndham, which now owns an estimated 10 percent of the intervals OVI (436 intervals) has no plan to take over the board or the resort.  In separate interviews over many months, Traenkner and other board members also voiced dissatisfaction with Wyndham’s first GM and other aspects of Wyndham’s transition, but otherwise defended their decision to bring in a major company that, in their eyes, would ensure the longterm financial stability of OVI.

Consultants familiar with the timeshare industry say there are many ailing legacy resorts in the US that probably need a Wyndham or similarly equipped timeshare-and-management company to advise boards and run resorts.  But OVI, they said, did not need Wyndham, because its financials were in generally good shape (thanks to the work of the former GM, who appeared to handle everything.)  What OVI needed, these consultants said, was a robust rental and resales program to monetize units that were going into default due to the resort’s aging owner base.

In a post-election moment of calm, Bone said: “We ran on a simple pledge of transparency and openness.  We also pledged that we would immediately engage in oversight of the new General Manager Wyndham Resort Development Corporation.  We promised our fellow members that we  would not do what the prior Board did by entering contracts in secret Board meetings where there are no meeting minutes in violation of the resort governing documents and the law.”

Bone, who contended all along that OVI didn’t need Wyndham, plans to make Wyndham’s management team prove their value — or pack their bags.  The company’s management contract comes up for renewal in 2019, unless Bone and company take moves to shred it in the meantime.  The 2019 year is also when Bone and the Gang of Four will stand for re-election — and face the same kind of referendum that ended Traenkner’s reign as president in October.

NB: this is not an unusual story; most if not all major developers are collecting deeded-week inventory from legacy resorts, frequently at zero-dollar prices, to replenish inventory for their trust associations, which then re-sell the legacy inventory as points, instead of weeks, for a retail price average of $20,000 or more per week.  For the major developers, this is smart business, and it also relieves the financial pressure on legacy resorts, such as OVI, that are losing 100 or more owners per year, every year.  Wyndham’s timeshare business, which will be spun off into a stand-alone public company in 2018, reported $2 billion in sales for 2016.  It has 900,000 owners and owns or operates 221 timeshare resorts in the US, Canada and the Caribbean.  OVI, while extremely important to owners, is just a twinkle in the constellation of Wyndham’s timeshare universe.

What IS unusual about this story is the unprecedented activism of owners at Olympic Village Inn, rank and file timeshare owners who banded together to initiate changes at their resort.  We’ll report on the outcomes of their efforts in future installments of  ‘Staying’ Alive.’

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Call Your Company or Resort for Hurricane Updates and Reservation Cancellations

The horrendous hurricanes in Texas and Florida have taken a huge toll in human life and billions of damages in property losses across several Southern states and the Caribbean.  To help timeshare owners assess what is going on, RedWeek contacted several companies for updates on their resorts and how to handle cancellations, etc.   While the situations are continuing to unfold, here is a quick handle for timeshare owners to monitor the hurricanes and their aftermath.

1. Call your home resort or timeshare company, owner services, to get updates on damages, reservations, and cancellations.  Many independent resorts update their Facebook pages with their status faster than they can update their websites, so be sure to check. Most reputable companies are bending over backwards to help travelers rearrange their schedules or, in some cases, get refunds if applicable.  We also encourage owners to post their own messages, in the forums on your resort’s page on RedWeek, to help inform other owners.

2. Call your preferred airlines as well to determine their policies.  All airlines have posted updates about Harvey and Irma on their websites, usually referring people to hotlines for real-time information.

3. The devastation at many Caribbean resorts will probably require many months for reconstruction and resumption of anything close to “normal” vacationing.  Owners on St. Martin resorts, for example, may be unable to use their intervals for months, if not years.  Here are some examples of what companies are communicating to timeshare travelers.

4. The Vistana timeshare company (formerly Starwood) sent members an email urging owners at Florida’s Vistana Beach Club, Sheraton PGA Vacation Resort, Sheraton Vistana Resort, Sheraton Vistana Villages and Sheraton Broadway Plantation to seek updates on vistana.com.  Vistana’s crisis hotline reported that the Westin St. John on the US Virgin Islands would suspend all near-term incoming reservations until further notice — since the airport and all local ports are damaged and closed.

5. Marriott Vacation Club’s owner services department offers a crisis hotline that is updated every morning at 9 a.m. EST. The Sept. 11 update said Marriott’s Frenchman’s Cove resort in St. Thomas was closed until further notice while damages are being assessed for “heavy” landscape losses and water intrusion. Marriott also reported no injuries or loss of life at the resort, and said the resort would reopen “as soon as possible.” Marriott posted a more positive outlook for the St. Kitt’s Beach Club, which is also closed. The resort suffered “no significant damage” and reported that guests are safe.  Marriott also urged travelers to contact their travel insurance companies and exchange companies, if applicable, to find out their options.

TimeSharing Today, the industry’s only independent site (other than RedWeek) for national timeshare news,  just released a number of hurricane-related stories that are worth review.

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MAJOR NEWS: New York Attorney General Settles Case Against Manhattan Club and Promises $6.5 Million Restitution to Owners

AUGUST 16, 2017 — MANHATTAN.  After more than three years of investigation and litigation, the New York Attorney General’s Office today announced the settlement of the Big Apple’s most notorious timeshare case.

The AG announced that hundreds of owners at The Manhattan Club will share in a $6.5 million settlement approved by the long-troubled operators of the swank timeshare near Central Park.  While details of the settlement are still to emerge, it is clear that this is not only a victory for the AG, but for thousands of TMC owners who paid top dollar for timeshares that, over time, they could not easily use.  As part of the settlement, the operators of TMC agreed to sell the club to a new company that, presumably, will restore some order and confidence for club members.  RedWeek talked to attorneys who represent owners and will share their comments as more details emerge.  For the meantime, please see the complete announcement from the AG’s office.

A.G. Schneiderman Announces $6.5 Million Settlement With Midtown Manhattan Timeshare That Scammed Purchasers

The Manhattan Club, Timeshare In Midtown Manhattan, Will Pay Restitution To Hundreds Of Purchasers That Were Misled About Their Ability To Reserve Rooms And Resell Shares

Settlement Is The Largest In Recent History Of The AG’s Real Estate Finance Bureau

Schneiderman Reminds New York Residents To Be Wary Of High-Pressure Sales Traps Utilized By Some Timeshare Companies

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a $6.5 million settlemnt with the owners and operators of the Manhattan Club, a timeshare building in Midtown Manhattan, over the sponsor’s repeated false promises to potential and current share owners.

The settlement is the largest in recent history for the Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau. Under the terms of the settlement, the operators of the Manhattan Club, at 200 West 56th Street, acknowledge that they repeatedly misled shareowners about the club’s reservation process, their ability to sell back their shares, and the details of the club’s state-approved offering plan.

“The owners of the Manhattan Club lured thousands of timeshare buyers with false promises and shady sales tactics that violated New York law,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “While timeshares can be legitimate enterprises, scams like this one are common. To avoid becoming a victim, always be wary of high pressure sales tactics.”

The club bills itself as a “unique” “residence-style boutique hotel” that blends “a vacation ownership retreat with a luxury suite hotel” and that offers “a hard-to-find haven in the midst of this active city.” The website appeals to people who “frequently visit New York City to enjoy Broadway theatre, fine dining and shopping, [and] classical performances.”

The owners and operators in this case are T. Park Central LLC, O. Park Central LLC, Park Central Management, LLC, Ian Bruce Eichner, Leslie H. Eichner, Stuart P. Eichner, Scott L. Lager, Hospitality Advisors, LLC, New York Urban Ownership Management, LLC, and Manhattan Club Marketing Group LLC.

In addition to the $6.5 million restitution to eligible timeshare owners, the settlement requires:

  • The owners and operators to be barred from the timeshare industry
  • The owners and operators will sell their stakes to a third-party purchaser and relinquish management control
  • Remove all sponsor-appointed current officers and directors from their positions as members of the Board of the Timeshare Association.

Eligible timeshare owners will be contacted by a Claims Administrator at a later date about disbursement of the restitution.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) began investigating the Manhattan Club in 2014 after receiving repeated complaints from shareowners who paid tens of thousands of dollars to become Manhattan Club “owners,” but were unable to make reservations due to a claimed lack of available rooms by the hotel’s operators. At the same time, rooms in the Manhattan Club were being rented over the internet to the general public, in violation of the timeshare’s offering plan.

In Spring 2014, OAG sent undercover investigators to record the Manhattan Club’s “Vacation Ownership Experience” sales presentation. Investigators found evidence indicating that the Manhattan Club’s sales tactics amounted to a bait-and-switch scheme.

Prospective purchasers were baited by a relentless sales pitch that included a number of misleading promises, including that ownership in the Manhattan Club is “better than money in the bank.” Prospective buyers were also told that the club does not rent rooms to the general public, that reservations were easy to make, and that few restrictions apply to reservations by owners.

But these promises were false. For example, contrary to the club’s explicit promises in its offering plan, room availability to owners was greatly limited because rooms were being rented out to the general public. That means that all reservations are subject to availability and owners, in some cases, were unable to use any of the time they purchased. Further, the owners’ annual common charges jumped approximately 200% in the last ten years – to about $2,000 per ownership interest per year for the smaller units – on top of the upfront purchase costs that ranged from just under $10,000 to over $40,000 per ownership interest. Some frustrated owners have sold their ownership interests back for a mere $1, just to escape the burdens of paying these charges.

In July 2014, pursuant to General Business Law section 354, a provision of New York’s Martin Act that confers broad powers on the Attorney General to investigate and halt fraud, a Manhattan Supreme Court justice barred the Manhattan Club from selling timeshare interests, preventing them from withdrawing money from certain bank accounts, and stopping them from foreclosing on Manhattan Club purchasers during the pendency of the investigation.

For information about how to protect yourself from timeshare, home improvement and vacation scams, click here for the Attorney General’s brochure “Don’t Get Burned: Attorney General’s Guide To Protecting New Yorkers From Summer Scams.”

This case was handled by Louis M. Solomon, Chief of Enforcement in the Real Estate Finance Bureau, with assistance from Assistant Attorneys General Nicholas Minella and Kimberly Ver Ploeg in the Real Estate Finance Bureau, as well as Matthew Woodruff, Senior Enforcement Counsel, Assistant Attorney General Tanya Trakht, and paralegals Natalya Fadeyeva and Pascual Noble in the Investor Protection Bureau with notable contribution by Jonathan Werberg, Senior Data Scientist, Research & Analytics. This case was investigated by former Supervising Investigators Luis Carter and Michael Ward, Supervising Investigator Sylvia Rivera, Investigators Karon Richardson, Elsa Rojas and Former Sr. Investigator Richard Friedman, under the direction of Deputy Chief John McManus and Chief Dominick Zarrella of the Investigations Bureau. Former Assistant Attorneys General Serwat Farooq and Elissa Rossi also assisted on the case. The Real Estate Finance Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Brent Meltzer and overseen by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Manisha M. Sheth.

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