Categories for timeshare industry

Timeshare Industry’s Biggest Annual Convention Underway in The Big Easy

By Jeff Weir, RedWeek.com’s Chief Correspondent

Welcome to the Big Easy!

Not sure how many people own timeshares in Louisiana, nor how many timeshare owners live in Louisiana, but RedWeek can guarantee you that several thousand timeshare people — developers, CEOs, staffers, realtors, resale companies, lawyers, litigators and title experts, PR consultants, escrow agents, HOA managers, regulators, financial planners, software developers and the salt of the earth of timeshare — sales people! — are all gathered here in New Orleans for ARDA World, the annual “ain’t life grand?” timeshare convention hosted by the American Resort Development Association.  ARDA’s very capable folks spend most of their time lobbying lawmakers and regulators to make the world a safer place for timeshares (and, frequently, consumers), but once a week, every year, they take time to reconvene the faithful and celebrate the industry.  And on the last night of the convention, they give awards to dozens of people who have distinguished themselves over the past year.  We’d call the hardware “ARDA-OSCARS”.

That’s this week in New Orleans.  Let the Timeshare Mardi Gras begin.  The real one came and passed in February.

The event is happening at a huge Hyatt right next door to the Louisiana Superdome.  Every single staffer we’ve talked has first-person stories, they swear, about surviving Katrina’s downtown flooding.  Area looks great now.  All rebuilt.  No water.

The “ain’t life grand?” quote is from the award-winning 1967 movie, Bonnie and Clyde.  Clyde (Warren Beatty) uttered those fateful words before he and his bank-robbing girlfriend (Faye Dunaway), were gunned down by a battalion of cops in the Deep South in the 1930’s.  Not sure what the exact parallels are to timeshare, since the industry’s overall economy is improving, sales are up 6 percent and owner approval ratings still hover at 83 percent.  But this is pretty close to the Deep South, and it is New Orleans, which is a city very well-known as a place where anything is possible.

This four-day ARDA marathon, running early to late every day, will provide timeshare executives (and wannabes) with about two weeks of information on all timeshare subjects, including how to reinvent sales to capture new customers, to closing down a legacy resort that is running on fumes (and delinquencies).  There will be some keynote presentations from business celebrities expert at motivating next-gen sales people, meet-and-greet networking events for the passing of business cards, as well as several after-hours entertainments for people on expense accounts.  But the meat of the event is seminar after seminar on real business issues, such as: the fundamentals of timeshare, re-imagining the sales process, state and federal legislative and regulatory issues, ARDA-ROC’s agenda for owners/consumers, managing HOA boards, using technology to reach new travelers, etc.

These are real subjects that would spark the synapses of many timeshare owners, if they were here. But they are not, which underscores a curious irony.  ARDA hosts a fancy convention annually for members of the development community, which seems to hold all of the money, profit and cards in timeshare. BUT NO ONE, not NOBODY, hosts an annual educational convention for the 10 million or so timeshare owners in the United States — and these are the people who paid all the money to the developers in the first place.  Moreover, rank and file owners are, in general, the very people who need the most education about what they own, how to use it and, some day, how to get rid of it.  Failing that last option, they also need to know what their legal remedies are if things go bad.

These are the kinds of issues, and services, that RedWeek attempts to address every day for owners who want to rent or sell their timeshares.  Since ~60 percent of our 2.3 million+ subscribers are NOT timeshare owners, we’re also intent on providing usable information that potential owners can use to do research on resorts, rentals, resales, and reputable news information about the industry.

That’s what THIS blog is all about. And that’s also why we are here, holed up in New Orleans for a few days, avoiding the melodious temptations of Bourbon Street so we can arm owners with useful information.

We do have one piece of maybe useful news for folks who have read our prior posts about Diamond Resorts.  Ex-senior VP Frank Goeckel, most recently mentioned in this space as Missing in Action from Diamond Resorts, is back in action at ARDA.  While others kept speculating about Frank, we just found him at a hotel restaurant, dining with friends.  Fit as a fiddle, far as we could tell.

Now, if you know of any good timeshares to check out in New Orleans, let us know!

Your comments appreciated.  We’ll be back with more updates soon…

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The Diamond Chronicles, Part 2: Controversial Sales Tactics Raise Their Head, Again

By Jeff Weir, RedWeek’s Chief Correspondent

Just when you might have thought things were finally settling down at Diamond Resorts, all hell broke loose all over again as 2016 morphed into the New Year. Here’s an update on what’s been happening with Diamond since our first installment of the Diamond Chronicles last September.  There are three major developments, and they’re all related, so we’ll present them in chronological order.  They cover a span of 37 days.

#1:ARIZONA AG ACCEPTS $800,000 FINE FROM DIAMOND TO SETTLE INVESTIGATION OF ALLEGED CONSUMER FRAUD VIOLATIONS

Two days before Christmas, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced the settlement of a long-running investigation into Diamond’s business practices.  Without admitting wrongdoing (a common phrase in legal settlements), Diamond agreed to pay an $800,000 fine to settle the case, including $650,000 that will be made available as restitution to eligible Diamond owners, and $150,000 in court costs to cover the AG’s expenses.  Diamond also agreed to offer a “relinquishment” program that allows qualifying owners to return their timeshares to Diamond with no further financial obligations.

But that’s just the beginning of the story.  As with all things Diamond, the devil is in the details of the AG’s case.  Here are the highpoints, or lowpoints, as publicly announced by the Arizona AG.

The investigation was prompted by hundreds of consumer complaints about deceptive sales practices, oral misrepresentations, and false statements made during sales presentations.  The complaints covered Diamond employees’ statements about annual increases in maintenance fees, the availability of resale and buy-back programs, the timeshare resale market, owners’ ability to rent their intervals, and member discounts on other travel options (including using points to pay maintenance fees).

Here are key snippets (among dozens) from the settlement agreement:

  • “The Arizona Attorney General’s Office alleged that Diamond employees’ actions and statements violated the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act.”
  • “Diamond denies that it has violated the ACFA and enters into this [settlement] solely for the purposes of efficient resolution of the matter.”
  • “At times, certain vacation counselors told some consumers that increases to maintenance fees are minimal, when the DRUSC (Diamond’s U.S. Collection) Association is permitted to increase maintenance fees up to 25 percent per year.”
  • “Some consumers alleged that Diamond failed to honor their requests to cancel the purchase and security agreement within seven calendar days following its execution.”
  • “Some consumers claimed they felt rushed to sign the purchase documents before carefully reviewing them, and that they signed purchase documents with Diamond because they felt it was the only way to extricate themselves from what they perceived as a high-pressure sales situation.”
  • “Certain vacation counselors represented to some consumers, directly or indirectly, that consumers could sell their membership if, at any time, they decided that they no longer wanted their membership.  However, some consumers have been unable to sell their membership on the secondary market.  Certain other consumers have been unable to give their membership away…”
  • “At times, certain vacation counselors represented to some consumers that Diamond would buy back their membership within the first two years after purchase if the consumer became dissatisfied, but the purchase documents disclosed that Diamond does not offer a buy-back program.”
  • “The state believes that some of the actions and statements by certain Diamond employees, including vacation counselors, sales managers, and quality assurance officers, constitute deception, deceptive or unfair business practices, fraud, false pretenses, false promises, misrepresentations, or concealment, suppression or omission of material facts in violation of the ACFA.”

You get the idea.  Many of these types of allegations have dogged Diamond since its inception in 2007, when it bought Sunterra’s bankrupt timeshare business. Now under new ownership and new management (by former Starwood executives), Diamond has been trying to put as much distance between itself and the former regime as possible, but leftover issues, such as the Arizona case, keep undermining Diamond’s bid to rebrand the company as a kinder, gentler version of its old self.

If you’re interested in reading more, go here for the full account of the AG’s case.

As part of the Arizona settlement, Diamond agreed to change or enhance its sales, training, and other business practices to ensure compliance with the ACFA.  It also agreed to adopt a host of measures to improve disclosures to potential buyers during sales presentations.  In essence, most of the measures amount to assurances that Diamond sales personnel will not make oral promises to buyers that deviate from the language of the purchase contracts.  Diamond also promised to have quality assurance officers interview potential buyers prior to signing any contracts to make sure they are aware of the details. Finally, Diamond promised to investigate any complaints of future misconduct within 30 days while launching a Secret Shopper program to monitor its employees’ performance.

The restitution-and-relinquishment programs are a new wrinkle in timeshare conflict regulation that will be closely watched nationwide.  The Arizona relinquishment program will be available to Diamond buyers who purchased timeshares after 2011 and before Jan. 22, 2017.  To be eligible, buyers will also have to file a complaint with the Arizona AG’s office within 120 days AFTER an Arizona court formally approves the settlement (this will happen in late April or early May).  The relinquishment remedy process is very detailed, so potential participants are advised to consult the Arizona AG for complete filing details.  The restitution program, meanwhile, will be administered by the AG’s office for owners who have filed complaints with the agency.  There is no information, at this early stage, about the amount or volume of restitution payments the state will distribute.

FYI, Diamond plans to roll out a national relinquishment (deed-back) program, called Transitions, later this year.  It has been in the works for months and is already being quietly tested, according to Diamond’s public relations firm.

Read more about the Arizona consumer filing requirements.

#2: DIAMOND ANNOUNCES A NATIONAL ‘CONSUMER SERVICE’ PROGRAM PROMOTING ETHICAL SALES PRACTICES, TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY

On Jan. 23rd — exactly 30 days after the Arizona settlement was announced —Diamond publicly introduced a brand new nationwide ethics program, called Clarity, that would govern future sales practices and provide protections for new and existing Diamond customers.  The Diamond press release announcing Clarity included self-serving statements about Diamond’s commitment to customers (“we already excel in customer satisfaction, but we are constantly looking for ways to do even better”) and promised future sales experiences that would provide transparency, accountability, and quality assurances for customers.

While not triggered by the Arizona legal settlement, the Clarity program is a natural follow on, since it covers much of the same issues — but from the company’s point of view.  It also represents an industry first, since no other company has publicly issued anything close to the ethical promises included in Clarity.

“Diamond’s Clarity consists of a series of operational procedures and enhancements, new training and compliance procedures and protocols, and other consumer-friendly changes to the sales process,” Diamond said.  These enhancements will be memorialized in a single document that will be given to potential buyers at the beginning of every sales presentation.

The changes are part of what Diamond calls its new “Promise” to customers.  Promise includes four operational programs that may be noticeable at sales presentations.

Diamond will increase training of all sales personnel, including quarterly training exercises, to ensure compliance with sales procedures. Finally, the company will place Consumer Engagement Observers at sales presentations to monitor interactions and provide feedback “to achieve constant improvement.”

Michael Flaskey, Diamond’s chief operating officer, said Clarity was “revolutionary in its simplicity” and further proof that Diamond is “doubling down on our promise to put our members first.  With the launch of Diamond Clarity, we are continuing to improve industry best practices.”

The American Resort Development Association (ARDA), the industry’s lobbying arm and promoter of industry best practices, praised Diamond for evaluating its sales practices and attempting to enhance the customer experience for members and potential buyers.

Diamond hired a Los Angeles-based public relations firm to promote Clarity’s commitment to ethical practices. But, in one of its first actions, the firm rejected RedWeek’s request to interview Flaskey.  (The mere fact that Diamond is now using an outside PR firm to deal with the news media, however, is a remarkable change for a company that, during the past two years, has been highly inaccessible and defensive when contacted by RedWeek representatives.)

In addition to the press release, Diamond emailed information about Clarity to existing owners (including this reporter).  The email reads, in part, “As part of this initiative we will strengthen our existing sales policies and procedures and challenge our competitors to adopt similar policies in an effort to raise industry sales standards across the board.”

Here’s an example of Diamond’s promise to members who attend future sales presentations: “We will provide clear, concise and consistent information at our presentations so that you can easily decide whether committing to vacation is the right decision for you and your family.  You will receive a summary of maintenance fees charged to members of the Collection associations for each loyalty level over the past five years.”

View the complete announcement.

On its website, Diamond also promised to fully inform buyers about resale restrictions, using points to pay for travel or maintenance fees, and banking or borrowing points.

As with any major corporate change, Diamond’s Clarity program proceed will succeed or fail based upon its execution and, most importantly, its acceptance by Diamond’s sales teams.  Given Diamond’s reputation as one of the most aggressive timeshare sales companies in the business — and its recent legal issues in Arizona — the internal adoption issues may prove very challenging.

#3: $1 BILLION CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST DIAMOND ALLEGING ELDERLY ABUSE, FRAUD AND FALSE PROMISES TO BUYERS.

On Jan. 29, a mere six days after Diamond rolled out Clarity, an Arizona couple did what a lot of Diamond owners on RedWeek’s forums have long advocated.  Ilona and Lester Thomas Harding, on behalf of themselves and other Diamond owners, filed a $1 billion class-action lawsuit in Nevada’s U.S. District Court, alleging elder abuse among a raft of deceptive sales practices.

The 55-page complaint outlines a litany of supposed malpractices committed by Diamond’s sales people when they upsold the Hardings — not once, not twice, but five times over three years — to buy points they could never use.

Their tale starts on Jan. 29, 2013, in Scottsdale, when the Hardings agreed to attend a Diamond dinner that was advertised as a 90-minute update session for people who owned Monarch timeshares.  According to the lawsuit, “at or around midnight, after six grueling hours, Diamond was finally able to wear down the Hardings and convince them that they needed to purchase a DRI membership — Vacations for Life — to a couple in their 70s.”

Diamond sales reps told the Hardings that “their Monarch membership would eventually become useless.” They trusted the agents, then agreed to buy 10,500 Club points in Diamond’s U.S. Collection.  They received a credit of $22,812 for surrendering their Monarch membership, but still paid $7,895 out of pocket, plus $319 in closing costs.  Their first-year maintenance fees were $1,700.

Shortly after becoming full-fledged members of Diamond’s Club, the Hardings discovered what many other timeshare owners (at any club) have also encountered: they could not get reservations at resorts they wanted in California and Washington.

Despite that disappointment, the Hardings agreed seven months later to attend a second Diamond sales presentation while traveling on DRI points in Orlando.   At the August 2013 presentation, Diamond sales reps encouraged them to buy a “Silver Sampler Package” that included some free nights in Hawaii.  “Even though the Hardings repeatedly told the DRI sales agents that they were not interested in upgrading, DRI’s sales agents were relentless,” the complaint says.

Several hour later, “the Hardings succumbed to the cumulative sales pressure.”  They paid $15,905 to upgrade their membership and get those free Hawaii nights.

In May 2014, the Hardings flew to Hawaii to take advantage of their free lodgings.  Upon arrival, they learned that, in order to use the rooms, they would have to attend another mandatory sales update or pay full price for the rooms.

The Hawaii sales agents encouraged the Hardings to get out of the U.S. Collection and upgrade their membership to the Hawaii Collection so they could become “Silver-level” members of Diamond’s travel club.  After many hours, “the Hardings broke down” and capitulated.  They traded in their U.S. membership and”“paid DRI an additional $10,222 for the purported privilege of joining the Hawaii Collection.”  As a result of the upgrade, their maintenance fees rose to $2,257.

After heading home, the Hardings discovered, again, that they could not book rooms at their favored resorts in California and Washington.  The upgrade did not translate into reservations.

A mere three months later, in August 2014, while traveling in Palm Springs, the Hardings attended another supposedly mandatory owner update because they were not Diamond “Gold-level” members.  There, DRI sales agents “convinced the Hardings that they had made a big mistake by joining the Hawaii Collection” because the Hawaii properties had much higher maintenance fees than the U.S. Collection and “was notorious for making special assessments on its members.” According to the lawsuit, “DRI then offered the Hardings an opportunity to get out of the Hawaii Collection by once again upgrading their membership and rejoining the U.S. Collection at an even higher and more expensive level than they were at previously.”

Despite their prior experiences, the Hardings trusted the sales agents, who represented themselves as licensed real estate brokers “who had a duty to tell the truth and disclose all material facts that a consumer would deem important.”

The outcome?  The Hardings paid $13,905 to upgrade back to the U.S. Collection.

More than a year later, in December 2015, the Hardings agreed to attend one final sales presentation while staying at Diamond’s Polo Towers in Las Vegas. Nevada.  Sales agents offered them a 15,000-point bonus if they upgraded to a full Gold status membership.  One benefit of becoming a Gold member, they were told, is that they would never have to attend another sales presentation.  After seven hours of allegedly intense pressure, the Hardings agreed to buy the upgrade — even though they didn’t have the cash to buy it.  Diamond offered to finance the purchase.  Diamond gave them a $36,120 mortgage (at 12.27 percent interest) and a Barclay credit card to charge the down payment of $5,970.  In addition to agreeing to pay $524 per month, over 10 years, for the mortgage, the Hardings saw their maintenance fees increase one more time — to $5,173.

All told, the Hardings paid Diamond $75,000 for upgrades at five presentations over three years and also surrendered their Monarch membership to Diamond (valued by Diamond at $22,812).  But they still couldn’t get their preferred reservations.

In January 2016, the Hardings, who live off social security payments and modest savings, ran into a financial wall.  They paid their 2016 maintenance fees, but then tried to sell their timeshare points.  They contacted “surrender” companies that wanted to charge them thousands of additional dollars.  Over time, they discovered that there was no viable resale market for their DRI membership.  They also found out, after corresponding with Diamond, that they couldn’t even give it away.

“The Hardings finally realized that they had been scammed by DRI,” the lawsuit says.

Months later, after contacting an attorney, the Hardings sent a formal demand letter to DRI on Oct. 11, 2016 to opt-out of the otherwise automatic arbitration provision in their contract.  They also demanded a 100 percent refund of all their payments to DRI.  Diamond never responded to the demand letter.

The class-action lawsuit claims that Diamond used similar coercive sales tactics to pressure thousands of vulnerable older customers (defined as over 60) to buy Diamond memberships without fully disclosing the risks of ownership, such as the potential inability to make reservations.  The Harding’s decision to “opt-out” of arbitration is crucial to their legal case, because the arbitration clause bans class-actions and private attorney general actions to resolve contract disputes with Diamond.

Predictably, because of the newness of the lawsuit, Diamond offered no substantive comments about it.  The company’s PR representative said, “Diamond Resorts is still looking into the facts surrounding the lawsuit.  Therefore, it has no comment at this time.”

Robert Tarics, one of the Harding’s attorneys, was equally circumspect.

“We are very proud to represent the Hardings and look forward to having our day in court,” Tarics said.  “We’ll answer any questions once the case is over.  However, in general, we hope this case will reform and clean up some of the abuses that exist generally in the timeshare industry.”

The Hardings, meanwhile, are trying to make ends meet in Arizona while their potentially landmark case heads to some preliminary hearings on the arbitration clause and the certification of the class.  As a result of their experience with Diamond, Tom Harding, 74, has had to forsake retirement and go back to work part-time as an electrical inspector.  Mrs. Harding, 76, remains retired from her former work as a licensed substance abuse counselor.

The Harding case, like other class-actions filed before it, faces many legal obstacles, including Diamond’s proven penchant for litigation (see our stories on Tahoe Beach and Ski Club for one example of Diamond’s legal muscle).

However, most timeshare cases like this never get near a courtroom.  Confidential out-of-court timeshare settlements are much more commonplace.  The last timeshare case to go to court, in November 2016, ended with a California jury awarding $20 million in punitive damages to a former Wyndham sales rep who got fired after she blew the whistle on sales tactics she found objectionable.  Less than two weeks later, and one-day after the New York Times ran a long story on the case, Wyndham’s longtime CEO was fired.

RedWeek.com will keep owners posted on all developments in future installments of the Diamond Chronicles.

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ARDA Reaches Out to Timeshare Owners

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.
ARDA’s vacationbetter.org

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.comalso 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.

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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.

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ARDA World 2013 Annual Convention and Exposition April 7-11, 2013

This year, the annual American Resort Development Association (ARDA) Convention moves from its bi-annual location in Orlando to the beachside resort destination of Hollywood, Florida. The Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa will host the convention from April 7-11.

This premier gathering for the vacation ownership industry attracts more than 3,000 participants from over 20 countries and offers attendees a myriad of educational, networking and social opportunities. This is the largest show specifically geared toward the resort development industry.

ARDA World Convention is the premier opportunity for industry leaders to network, share insights, and discuss issues on a global basis with attendees from varying backgrounds and markets. The convention also provides prominent exposure for sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees among a diverse collection of over 3,000 industry players.

“Along with our terrific new location, we have also shifted the schedule to better accommodate the attendees,” said Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of ARDA.

“Monday is Key Constituent Day for our most involved members, and we are featuring several new receptions and networking events,” Nusbaum said.

This year’s convention has a full schedule including meetings, exhibitions, and outings. On Monday, Key Constituent Day, ARDA’s most engaged and involved members can attend committee meetings and forums, as well as four targeted fundamentals sessions for new industry entrants.

Also on Monday is a VIP Exhibitor Networking Reception. This year’s keynote speaker is Don Tapscott, a best-selling author and speaker. He will share his insights on the strategic value and impact of information technology on the timeshare industry.

Popular convention sessions throughout the week will include educational discussions on innovations in the industry, such as the new fee-for-service model, hot industry topics such as aging resorts, and best practice sessions on subjects from marketing to technology.

The ARDA-Resort Owner’s Coalition (ARDA-ROC) is the first line of defense against legislation that may negatively impact timeshare owners and their well-being. Through ARDA-ROC owners can be part of an effective grassroots lobbying coalition of timeshare unit owners dedicated to preserving, protecting nd enhancing vacation ownership.

The American Resort Development Association (ARDA) is an industry leader in advocating members’ interests, providing advanced professional education opportunities, educating the teleservices industry, and acting as the industry’s information clearinghouse.

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How is the Timeshare Industry Going Green? Part 1

The American Resort Development Association (ARDA) recently announced the names of six of its timeshare industry members who are making a concerted effort to create a greener, more environmentally-friendly world.

“It’s one thing to recycle at your resort or participate in a clean-up once in a while,” says Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of ARDA. “But it’s quite another to develop and carry out the major initiatives that our members have done. It’s a real model for other industries.”

In a 2-Part series we’ll look at the six, and what specific green initiatives each company has developed. Part 1:

1. Marriott Vacation Club recently announced a partnership with “Clean the World,” a group that recycles partially used bars of soap and bottled amenities from resorts in the United States and distributes the new soap and hygiene kits to communities that lack access to these essential items. Each day 9,000 children around the world die from diseases such as acute respiratory illness and diarrheal diseases, which can be prevented by washing with soap.

Clean the World also conducts soap drives for the collection of new soap that can be immediately used and distributed in hygiene kits to those in need. In just eight weeks, 500 Marriott Vacation Club Owner Services associates based in Salt Lake City turned in a cumulative donation of 16,918 bars of new soap.

Photo is of the Marriott Grande Ocean resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where currently you can get a timeshare rental for just $71/night.

2. Bluegreen Wilderness Club at Big Cedar (see photo) is also a participating property in the Clean the World effort. In addition,  Bluegreen Vacations has been recognized for using supplies made only of recycled materials and equipping their guest rooms with a master switch to cut a unit’s power when not in use.

At their Hammocks at Marathon resort, they use non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaners, have a linen reuse program, and discuss environmental policy at monthly employee meetings.

Currently you can stay in a Wilderness Club at Big Cedar timeshare rental for just $9/night

3.Grand Pacific Resort Management, the California management company of 15 resorts for over 50,000 owner families in the U.S. and Canada, formed a “Going Green Squad”—a group dedicated to a culture fully committed to being environmentally friendly. Several of their resorts are engaged in unique efforts.

For example, The Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort collected a thousand plastic bottles destined for landfills and contributed them to artists who crafted a 10’ x 10’ picture of Marilyn Monroe.

After Grand Pacific Resort Management’s Mountain Retreat resort experienced a fire that damaged its clubhouse, the resort “made lemonade from lemons” and implemented a number of environmentally friendly changes, such as double pane windows and motion sensors to control the resources needed to heat and light the space.

Currently Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort timeshare rentals (see photo) start at just $143/night.

Image Credit (top): lincolnwoodil.org

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Timeshare Crusader’s Manifesto: All Timeshare Owners Must Read

Lisa Ann Schreier, The Timeshare Crusader, has written a manifesto addressed to all timeshare owners.

DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, DO BUSINESS, OR EVEN ENTER INTO A CONVERSATION, E-MAIL OR MEETING, WITH A COMPANY THAT INITIATES CONTACT OR A COMPANY THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE A PRIOR RELATIONSHIP WITH, IF IT PERTAINS TO TIMESHARE.

Her post deals with the unsolicited phone calls, e-mails, and direct-mail pieces that timeshare owners are flooded with to either “get-rid of” or sell their timeshare.

At the just-concluded Timeshare Board Members Association (TBMA) meeting, of which Lisa Ann took part, there was a lot of talk about the need to educate consumers, as well as about the financial damage that is being done when owners fall for, “I have a buyer for your timeshare, just send me $1500 for the paperwork” schemes that seem to multiply daily.

While the TBMA works on coming up with one concise message for unsuspecting timeshare owners, Lisa Ann has published her own manifesto. “It’s simple. I’ve been saying it for years. But now I’m asking everyone to read it, remember it, and pass it on.”

Read Lisa Ann’s article in its entirety

The Timeshare Crusader is a monthly contributor to Redweek.com where she answers questions from members about timesharing and the timeshare industry.

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Timeshare Industry Says Wellness Trend Is Here To Stay in 2012

Is the resolve to become more mindful of one’s health just a passing New Year’s Resolution? Not according to the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), who says the wellness trend is here to stay throughout the year as consumers want their vacations to reflect a healthier lifestyle.

While the timeshare industry has long advocated the healthful benefits of regular time away to rejuvenate and relax, resort developers continue to expand their vacation products with more options and access to healthful programs and activities.

“Health and wellness amenities are growing in popularity among timeshare owners and resorts are now using these programs to attract new timeshare consumers unfamiliar that such vacation products exist,” says Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of ARDA.

Many timeshare resorts have expanded their offerings to include health and wellness components such as fitness programs, enhanced spa services, cuisine packages, weight-loss regimens and concierge services to customize a specific healthy vacation experience.

“It makes good business sense to offer wellness programs at our resorts, for they complement the active lifestyles of our owners and guests,” said Ed Kinney, vice president, corporate affairs and communications, Marriott Vacations Worldwide. “Since 1984, we’ve been committed to offering relevant activities for all ages that balance our owners’ desires for relaxation and fun with staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle during their vacation.”

For example, The Wellness Center at Marriott’s Desert Springs Villas (see photos) offers classes ranging from yoga and Tai Chi to water fitness and shoulder and back strengthening. Timeshare rentals here start at just $73/night.

Timeshare exchange companies RCI and Interval International enable owners to experience new resorts and vacations through access to their resort member network, particularly access to international resorts where wellness programs have been offered for a while.

“Many of our clients’ properties in the Americas and the Caribbean have fitness centers and full-service spas,” said David Gilbert, executive vice president of Interval International resort sales and marketing, Americas, “and those with restaurants are presenting healthier menu options.

This increased consciousness of wellness is reflected in Interval’s most recent U.S. member profile. Reporting on their preferred vacation activities, nearly half of those surveyed include working out and exercising while close to 40 percent cite spa services.

“Timeshare developers are always innovating to meet the changing demands of consumers and to offer products to make vacations more memorable,” added Nusbaum. “That is why our owners have repeatedly given the products an 85 percent satisfaction rating for the past five years, recognizing the value of an annual vacation.”

Source: ARDA

Photo Credits: marriott.com

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An Interview with Randy Conrads – Part 2

In this second of our 2-Part series we continue excerpts of Perspective Magazine Editor Matt McDaniel’s interview with RedWeek co-founder Randy Conrads.

When you started Redweek.com, what was the emphasis on?
The idea was that people could get more for that asset that they owned if they themselves were to rent it out. And so our first focus was on the rental – they can rent out their unit and it’s not all that difficult.

When people rent them out on our site they get to keep all the money – it’s not somebody taking it away from them. They pay pretty high commissions if they have somebody else do it. In our case, if they rent it, they keep it all. So that was our original plan.

And then we thought, as long as we’re there, these same people are looking to sell too. We said it’s the same units; they could put it up for sale, just put their price on it and list it. So that was our starting point.

Have you been affected by the recession?
We haven’t. We’ve been going through a certain amount of organic growth year over year, and it continues.

So you’re actually growing during this time?
Oh yeah. It’s a nice, solid, continuing organic growth. We are relying a lot more heavily now on word of mouth. We’ve got good traffic and transactions are happening, and we’ve got our people coming back, and they’re telling their friends about us, and so we’ve grown right through it.

So what is it that distinguishes you?
A couple of things that distinguish us from the people we see as competitors is that we’re actually recognized as being pretty honest; we have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. We try to protect people. We invented an escrow service for the rentals and got First American Title to back us on that – so when you don’t know someone and rather than sending them a check, you send it to the escrow service and it’s held there until after the vacation is taken. That stops fraud dead.

And our site has a forum for people to talk about their different experiences within the timeshare industry, and they give advice to each other. There’s a place there for them to share bad experiences that they’ve had and help other people from going to places that they shouldn’t go to. There are some bad players out there, and it’s better that people are able to talk about them.

One of the things that makes a free market work is a free flow of information – and that’s what the Internet is doing. You can rely on people learning the truth, and working with it.

Read An Interview with Randy Conrads – Part 1

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An Interview with Randy Conrads – Part 1

Perspective Magazine Editor Matt McDaniel is continuing his look at timeshare industry A-Listers, by talking with RedWeek’s own Randy Conrads. In a 2-Part series we are bringing you excerpts of McDaniel’s article and interview, which was published November 15, 2010.

Randy Conrads is co-founder of RedWeek.com, an online marketplace connecting travelers to the timeshare community. Now a leader in the secondary marketplace, RedWeek is the largest, most reputable online timeshare marketplace with more than 1.5 million registered users and an A+ Better Business Bureau rating.

Before starting RedWeek.com, Randy’s entrepreneurial spirit and vision created Classmates.com, one of the world’s largest online communities. Under Randy’s direction, Classmates.com grew from a startup operating in his basement to one of the top 15 most highly trafficked websites on the Internet, with 38 million members and 2 million visitors each day.

Prior to Classmates, Randy spent 21 years in senior management positions with Boeing Aircraft in Seattle. He received his Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Oregon State University and his MBA from Pacific Lutheran University. Randy and his wife, Sharon, have been happily married for nearly 40 years and have 2 children.

How did Classmates.com come about and why was it so successful?
There are a lot of things that add to it, but Classmates was an idea I came up with back in the early stages of the Internet. The Internet was showing that you could connect with somebody without actually going to a place, which I thought was pretty powerful.

I do remember seeing your banner ads everywhere.
Well, we did find that advertising on the Internet was the thing that worked for us and we were one of the largest advertisers. We were just about everywhere because we needed to get the word out, and almost everybody we were exposing it to was qualified to be one of our customers because they would have graduated from high school.

How did you end up getting involved in timeshare?
As Classmates grew and we brought in some investors, a decision was made that I could move out of the CEO position and be chairman of the board. That meant I didn’t have to run the day-to-day of Classmates, so I had some available time. Then, some friends of mine came to me and talked about a need for an Internet site that would do something to help the people who own timeshares.

They told me there was a need there and that the Internet wasn’t being used very well, and that we could do something on the order of a Classmates. We could connect people who have timeshares with people who would like to use them, and we could probably fill a niche. And I said, okay, let’s go do it. We put it together and the site went up in 2002.

Read An Interview with Randy Conrads – Part 2

(Top left photo – perspectivemagazine.com. Right photo – alumni.orgeonstate.edu)

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How ARDA Helps Timeshare Owners

If you are a timeshare owner, or are considering becoming one, you’ll want to learn about the American Resort Development Association (ARDA). ARDA is the main trade association for the timeshare industry. It has almost 1000 members, ranging from privately held companies to major corporations, in over 20 countries. This Washington, D.C. – based association promotes the growth and development of the timeshare industry in a variety of ways.

Of particular interest to consumers is ARDA’s Advocacy program. ARDA is actively involved in local, state and national governmental affairs, monitoring regulatory issues that affect timeshare. The ARDA “…actively engages in lobbying efforts focused on the establishment of a legislative environment that fosters an industry growth that further enhances consumer confidence and protection.

In this same vein, the ARDA’s Educational Institute offers its membership professional and educational development covering the industry’s ethical, legal and regulatory areas.

Through the ARDA-Resort Owners Coalition (ARDA-ROC), owners can be part of an effective grassroots lobbying coalition of timeshare unit owners dedicated to preserving, protecting, and enhancing vacation ownership. ARDA sees this as the first line of defense against legislation that may negatively impact timeshare owners and their
well-being.

ARDA’s Outreach program provides news of the bright future and positive economic impact of the timeshare industry. To assist in this, an on-line newsletter, “ARDA NewsFLASH,” provides up-to-date news on legislation, events, and other important industry and membership information.

The news posted on ARDA NewsFLASH this week is the just-released report “State of the Vacation Timeshare Industry: United States Study, 2010 Edition.” The study states that timeshare occupancy is on the rise, indicating recovery with a healthy trend. The timeshare industry reported an average of 79.7% occupancy rate in 2009, compared with the 54.7% occupancy rate at the hotel industry. (Source: “STR Trend Report,” Smith Travel Research, April 2010.) Around 54% of resorts are at least 80-percent occupied, and 34% have occupancy of at least 90%. Only 12% of resorts are less than 60-percent occupied. This is good news for the timeshare industry, of which every timeshare owner and timeshare renter is a part.

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