Ask RedWeek / August, 2019

Why are timeshare brands pitching more urban destinations and home rentals?

I've been hearing about timeshare brands moving into more urban locations, and now even luxury home rentals. I like the idea of different options, but curious why brands are expanding on their traditional model, and what this means for me as a timeshare owner?

Expanding on the traditional beach-and-ski resort model, most, if not all, major brand-name timeshare companies are aggressively creating and promoting urban vacations. Several are also pushing home-sharing stays in luxury homes or condos. Their goal is to provide more options for owners and attract younger travelers who shun lifelong contracts. Their motive is obvious: they want to sell more timeshare points to Millennials and Gen Xers while keeping older owners — now mostly Baby Boomer empty nesters — happy customers. The sweet-spot of these initiatives, for RedWeek users, is that they should enhance the resale and rental value of brand-name postings on RedWeek.com.

Spurred by the phenomenal, Internet-fueled growth of alternative vacation companies, such as AirBnb and online travel agencies (OTAs), as well as in-depth surveys of traveler preferences, major timeshare entities publicly acknowledge that they must offer new and expanded vacation opportunities to stay relevant in a fast-moving travel market. It's all about embracing change, which is a relatively new concept to companies that have been comfortably selling weeks and (more recently) points for 50 years.

To research this, we stayed at Wyndham and Marriott timeshares in San Francisco. We are omitting Las Vegas, Honolulu and Orlando timeshares from this review, because those cities are already bursting with long-established resorts that are rarely viewed as "urban."

Wyndhams Increases Their Footprint in Most Popular Cities

Wyndham Destinations, the world's largest timeshare company, which claims to be twice the size of the next two largest competitors, combined. With an existing portfolio of 35 resorts in 20 urban areas, Wyndham opened an urban timeshare in Austin, Texas in 2018 and a new Worldmark by Wyndham timeshare in Portland, Oregon (the city's first-ever) this past June. Next up, Margaritaville Vacation Club in Nashville, this fall.

In a May 31 press release, Wyndham clearly declared its intentions with a headline that said: "Wyndham Destinations is Shaking Up Timeshare with New Branding and Urban Resort Openings." Wyndham execs said their owners want more vacation options, and that urban sites offer a "different dynamic than beach or mountain locations where many timesharing locations originated." They're also squarely fixated on the travel preferences of Millennials whom, according to one survey, chose city locations as 17 of the top 25 destinations they want to visit during the next two years.

Not to be overlooked: thousands of longtime owners whose kids are grown but still want to travel, as couples, to the world's most famous cities. These are empty nesters who enjoy the timeshare experience but no longer need two-bedroom, two-bath accommodations.

An added bonus: Wyndham and its urban competitors plan to add sales centers to the new metropolitan sites so they can showcase their entire vacation portfolio to potential buyers who may be staying in nearby hotels (and paying top-dollar nightly rentals).

With existing timeshares in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and San Francisco, Wyndham clearly plans to stake a dominant footprint in America's most popular cities. The amenities, in general, won't match those of oceanfront resorts in Hawaii or Florida, and the rooms won't be as large, either. In most if not all urban resorts, the primary amenity is the "city" and its attractions.

(Side note: Wyndham also plans to open a new timeshare in Moab, Utah, next year, but it is the antithesis of an urban experience. That red rock resort, located outside Arches National Park, is for what Wyndham describes as its more adventurous travelers.)

Marriott Vacation Club Expanding Urban As Well

Marriott Vacation Club has set similar sights on the urban market. After opening its first urban timeshare in 2016, the Pulse San Diego, MVC has added five more, with the newest being the Pulse San Francisco, which opened in May and is conveniently perched three blocks from Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli's Square. Its renovated former hotel rooms are spartan but sparkling studios with modern furnishings and everything most owners would want. Only thing missing? A microwave. No room service, either, but that's by design.

Without divulging any corporate data, Marriott execs said their "Pulse" portfolio continues to gain popularity as they add more sites. So far, they've established other urban beachheads in New York, Miami, Washington, and Boston, with more to follow. How do they do it? Buy an older hotel, gut it, and renovate with state-of-the-art travel furnishings and Starbucks-like communal lobbies. Plus, lots of outlets for cell phones and laptop computers.

"These properties appeal to older owners and younger travelers who want higher energy (environments) without the long-term commitment," said Ed Kinney, MVS's VP of corporate affairs and communications. "The response has been fantastic. Two things make it advantageous: our owners would have gone there anyway (using hotel points or cash); we also offer shorter lengths of stay."

These are the talking points for all companies that are increasing their presence in urban environments. By renovating old hotel properties, they also plan to be hip and modern. The others include Bluegreen Vacations, which just opened its Marquee in New Orleans; and Hilton Grand Vacations, which just announced The Central at 5th to complement its four other timeshare resorts in Manhattan. The Central should open in 2020.

Timeshare Companies Expanding into Home-Sharing Markets, Too

In addition to targeting urban environments, some timeshare companies are actively pursuing the home-sharing market. One prime example: Marriott Vacation Club.

On its Web site, MVC offers 2,640 vacation homes or condos that members can reserve with Destination Club points. Many are luxury homes with four-to-five bedrooms that would cost the equivalent of two or three weeks of typical timeshare points. Not for the faint-hearted or owners who only have one week (or point-equivalent) to use per year.

Marriott doesn't own these properties. Instead, a couple of unnamed corporate partners provide the inventory, which fluctuates throughout the year. Here are some examples of current luxury home listings on MVC's Web site, from the seemingly affordable to the incredibly expensive:

  • Mammoth Lakes, California; 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath, sleeps 10, on Sierra Golf Course. Points needed for a weekly rental: 5,500 to 13,500.
  • Prescott, Arizona; gated community, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths: 5,500 points.
  • Villa Machiavelli, Tuscany, Italy, in a 15th century villa with 10 bedrooms and 10 baths that overlooks 750 acres of vineyards. Sleeps 20. Comes with staff. Available for 35,500 points per week until Sept. 15, when the price drops to 27,700 points for a seven-night minimum stay.

Despite these high price tags, the luxury home-sharing market seems to be finding a nice niche at Marriott, according to execs who describe it as "promising."

One downside for Marriott owners. You can't reserve, then rent these out on RedWeek.com, because Marriott does not own the inventory.

We expect to see timeshare brands continue on this trajectory — offering more varied lodging and experiences going forward.

What do you think? Do you appreciate these new moves into urban destinations and home rentals? Have you been able to book one of these experiences using your own points?

About the author

This answer was provided by RedWeek contributor, 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.

4 Comments

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  • Avatar for juanp83
    juanp83
    Aug 28, 2019 (3 months ago)

    I'm curious why Diamond Resorts Int'l was omitted from this article. As I understand it, they have a significant footprint in this article's topic.

  • Avatar for durlacher
    durlacher
    Sep 10, 2019 (3 months ago)

    We are in the empty-nest category and have tried one of the new "urban" properties. There are privacy and noise factors that could render them less desirable.