As we continue to analyze the COVID-19 responses by major timeshare resorts across the country, nothing said has been too surprising. At the same time, vacation owners are still left with their questions unanswered – some even feeling trapped in their agreements. Although Wyndham Hotels and Resorts was one of the first resorts to publish a statement, it didn’t provide much more information than the rest. On the last day of March, they announced that they were “forced to make incredibly difficult decisions that affect our entire Wyndham family.”
The more you begin to analyze these Coronavirus updates, the more you realize there is a common theme. It’s almost as if each company is seeking pity for the financial toll it’s taken on the business. When you think about it, timeshare owners aren’t exactly treated like family. Wyndham Hotels, in particular, has recently struggled to communicate this type of atmosphere. So if timeshare owners can’t reap the rewards of billion dollar earnings, why are they expected to endure the hardships as well?
It might even be fitting to ask if they’re even being offered a seat at the family table. History tells us timeshare owners have never had a say in resort decisions. The simple fact that most resorts are avoiding these realities – and the direct impact of timeshare contractsright now – while putting company losses on a pedestal is despicable. Although job loss is never good to hear, it’s discouraging to know that many families are directly hindered by timeshare fees during this pandemic. To some, every penny counts.
What Wyndham Discussed Regarding COVID-19.
According to the timeshare company’s statement, their cost cutting endeavors included layoffs, reduced work hours and salary reductions that impacted “nearly half” of their “2500 corporate teams members around the globe.” The announcement also explained how Wyndham Hotels and Resorts planned on using furloughs and property closures similar to other high profile brands. What made their public notice a little more elaborate than others was a verbal promise of goodwill by some of the company’s leaders.
President and CEO, Geoffrey A. Ballotti, told the press that he was planning on forgoing “100% of his salary” due to the impact of the Coronavirus. Wyndham’s board of directors also stated they were going to forgo all of their “cash compensation.” At the end of the day, there’s no way to tell if this will ever occur – or if it’ll actually impact the lifestyle of any of these wealthy businessmen. But it’s probably safe to say they’re going to be just fine now that less important people have been let go. Like most of their competitors, the message seems clear. Protecting equity is a priority.
Is Wyndham Actually Helping Franchisees and Interval Owners?
The COVID-19 response from Wyndham Hotels and Resorts went on to say, “We also know this is an incredibly challenging environment for our thousands of franchised hotel owners. To help them weather operational difficulties, we’ve taken a number of proactive measures around the world to support our franchisees during this challenging period.” It would be good to know the details of this “help” and if vacation owners can expectsimilar programs. Today, most buyers probably view ownership as a burden.
Although Wyndham earned more than $2 billion in 2019 alone, it appears they’re only willing to offer advice to vacation owners in the midst of the pandemic. “We’re also providing guidance and resources designed to help owners identify and, if appropriate, leverage government-sponsored programs that may help them and their businesses.” Are they offering financial assistance or even a helping hand to their owners though? So instead of reassuring timeshare owners in this press release in any kind of way, it seems like Wyndham is waiting on the government to step up.
Why not take care of your highest paying customers then pursue government relief on their behalf? This is a huge opportunity for timeshare companies to rejuvenate their market share. These resorts can’t really expect owners to remain compliant in the event that they can’t use what they paid for, can they? A willingness to only help distraught buyers seek federal aid so they can continue making payments doesn’t seem like the best course of action. Especially if they plan on penalizing them for walking away.
What About Wyndham Resort Safety in the Future?
At the end of the the day, the timeshare industry’s updates haven’t provided owners with much clarity. Financial relief isn’t buyer’s only concern. There has been almost nothing said about protecting guests in the future. While safety is recognized, a plan of action is rarely present. “While these are extraordinary times, we know they will pass. We remain confident in the strength and resiliency of our business and we are committed to the health and safety of our team members, owners and guests,” they said. If owners have a chance to use their week at some point in 2020, it would be nice to know the status of the environment they paid for.
Nonetheless, the timeshare industry doesn’t seem the least bit worried about the outcome. Maybe it’s because timeshare owners are still expected to foot the bill – for better or worse. But high expectations are usually the culprit of failed relationships. So will Wyndham recognize this? Will it be addressed?
The statement concluded with: “The travel industry will inevitably rebound, and when it does, Wyndham will be there, ready to welcome the everyday traveler to its approximately 9,300 hotels around the world.” They seem pretty confident that a financial rebound is on their horizon. So will vacation owners be able to say the same? It’ll be interesting to see how much maintenance and assessment fees are at the end of the year.
For months now, vacation owners have been waiting for answers regarding their timeshare contracts. In the meantime, resorts have been more concerned with promoting their losses. It’s almost as if they’re looking for pity because an unexpected event altered their fortunes. The thing is, many businesses experience unforeseen circumstances that hinder their cash flow. The ability to retain customers is key during this time. So when the biggest news story out of Westgate Resorts is that they had to furlough working class employees – or “people who were not needed” – it seemed a little odd. What about loyal vacation owners?
If you weren’t already aware, the timeshare industry generates billions of dollars per year. Westgate is actually one of the nation’s largest privately held firms. Anyone keen in business knows that hiring and training can be one of the biggest bottom line expenses. So, burning bridges with employees and staffing agencies after one week of being shut down seems a little drastic. At the same time, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. Maybe timeshare companies are simply proceeding to deflect vacation owner concerns by promoting that “we’re all in this together.”
Let us not forget that many timeshare owners have lost their paid vacation this year. Some have even been told that they didn’t cancel far enough in advance. So their paid week was voided. It’s obvious that there is some confusion and concern here. So why aren’t resorts addressing this or offering any type of reassurance? What happens when a majority of owners refuse to adhere to their contractual obligation? If this actually transpires, what will Westgate Resorts do to deflect the blame?
Westgate President Appears to be Deflecting Responsibility.
A few months ago, the resort’s current president, founder and CEO, David Siegel, had this to say about their latest decisions. “Our resorts are shut down, so we had to [furlough.] But we are trying to get money from the government to bring them back.” But according to the Orlando Business Journal, Siegel mentioned “the coronavirus impact on travel” as the primary reason for layoffs.
So, did Westgate need to let go of “non-essential employees” because they were losing too much money or because the government hasn’t helped them enough? Another published article stated that Westgate did, in fact, receive coronavirus relief money from the federal government. Supposedly, they’ve pursued travel bloggers to promote their resorts with these funds. It appears that Westgate has some explaining to do.
Is Westgate Really Doing What’s Best?
Siegel added even more context by saying, “If you are not renting rooms, you don’t need people to clean rooms. If you are not running the spas, you don’t need technicians.” In other words, it could be said that these positions aren’t valued by the chain. With that being said, how is Westgate preparing to reopen?
What are they going to do to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t spread in their hotels and condos? Are vacation owners safe? Since most of Westgate’s furloughs affected resort operations (housekeeping and daily guest services), it seems as though they’re not actually preparing for anything. In the meantime, owners are beginning to feel trapped in their agreements!
Was an Essential-Worker Furlough Necessary?
When asked, Siegel wasn’t even sure how many of his employees were affected. He was adamant that it wasn’t his fault, in our opinion it appears there is zero sense of compassion for the workers. A yearning for justification is evident. Even though he praised the federal government for “providing additional unemployment benefits to all Americans,” his statements don’t appear to be aligning with the resort’s actions. Apparently, taxpayers are supposed to care for essential Westgate employees during closings – Even though the company made $1.3 billion dollars in 2018.
Are timeshare companies punishing their employees and owners for the government’s travel ban? Are these types of strategies really what they seem? Even though Westgate says they’re just doing their “part to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus” – it sure is creating a lot of devastation for lower income families. According to the Orlando Business Journal, Westgate is said to have over 5K local workers and around 7,600 across the world.
Many of the workers in the timeshare industry have been left reeling ever since the layoffs – along with a number of timeshare owners facing hardship. At the end of the day, did Westgate Resorts really have to furlough working class employees to save the business? Or are they simply trying to keep margins as high as they can through a global pandemic? If you were to ask us, there’s a bigger story here.
As our country’s lockdown progresses, more timeshare companies are publishing news releases to speak on the impact of the Coronavirus. No matter who we’ve covered over the past few weeks, all resorts seem to be singing the same tune. The Hyatt Residence Club is the latest conglomerate to promote patience and appears to be pointing blame at the government for induced inconveniences. In the meantime, vacation owners are waiting in limbo for answers on how they’re to use their expensive interval in the future.
Even though the purchase may not have been a burden in the past, it most certainly can be viewed that way today. Millions of people are jobless and grounded and it’s only a matter of time before those experiencing hardship speak out. Expecting them to wait on something they’ve spent a lot of money on isn’t exactly realistic. But for whatever reason, timeshare companies continue insisting that owners should stop worrying and focus on “what’s most important right now.”
How Hyatt Residence Club is Following Suit.
Keep in mind, the above quote comes directly from a recent COVID-19 statement made by Hyatt Residence Club. Apparently, the obvious cost of ownership isn’t worth considering right now. It’s almost as if buyers are supposed to accept that the perpetual agreement they signed gives them no choice but to adhere. While it’s nearly impossible to speak on all timeshare contracts, we do find it hard to believe that most are binding during a global travel ban and resort closings. So why is there no wiggle room here?
When you take the time to assess the strategies behind the timeshare industry, you’ll quickly realize that decisions rarely benefit timeshare owners. Whether it be an increase in maintenance fees or unexpected assessment charges, resorts clearly have an agenda: To make a lot of money. Vacation ownership is one of the easiest ways for them to guarantee income. Binding contracts always allow them to spread out costs or losses so their obligations remain low.
Timeshare Companies Want to Avoid Complaints.
To resorts, vacation ownership only becomes a hindrance when a majority of buyers complain. This is why they usually downplay disappointment or concern and blame other factors for the poor experience. Hyatt’s opening statement regarding COVID-19 clearly avoids the financial strain their agreements could be causing.
It says, “We understand you have a lot on your mind. You’re facing unprecedented disruptions to your day-to-day life — and your vacations.” Instead of acknowledging that the customer’s primary concern is the cost of ownership (and no return), they’d rather distract and deflect. The intent of this introduction is to establish a sense of understanding or empathy and is followed up by an attempt to garner trust.
“We are here to help, with the most current information on reservation flexibility.” But if you really read between the lines here, information is the only guarantee. It seems like Hyatt Residence Club believes this is all they owe timeshare owners. Their promise is to provide up-to-date information regarding the “Novel COVID Virus.” Nothing in the publication actually communicates a plan to aid their primary customer with relief, rewards, benefits or any type of restitution. They simply ask for patience.
Are Hyatt Cancellation Policies Really Altered?
While the response is quite vague, Hyatt Residence Club did mention adjustments to their cancellation policy* (see below). This is something other resorts have yet to address. Truth be told, many timeshare owners have been penalized for untimely reservation cancellations while quarantined – waiving their right to use the property in 2020. Although it’s refreshing to see an olive branch being extended for those stuck at home, we’re still not sure what this actually entails (as a login is required).
What’s Really Important to Hyatt Residence Club?
No matter what Hyatt thinks, telling timeshare owners to “pause now [and] play later” probably won’t sit too well with most. Even though resorts are losing money, those that were looking forward to a vacation (that they already paid for) can’t be too happy. But if you’re a Hyatt Residence Club owner, the resort only wants you to focus on, “taking care of yourself and those closest to you,” right now.
But what if you need to get out of a timeshare in order to do so? What if the financial burden isn’t allowing you to focus on important things – like your family? These are all questions owners shouldn’t have to ask. Listen, nobody thought a global lockdown would last this long, but buyers shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill.
How Long Will Timeshare Owners Wait For Answers?
At the end of the day, timeshare companies are fully aware of the hindrance their perpetual agreements cause. Unfortunately, it seems as though most are content with blaming the outbreak, government, CDC, W.H.O. and the timeshare owners themselves for the current hardship they may be enduring.
The longer they’re able to buy themselves time and keep owners in limbo, the better the outcome will be – for them. It’s why their salutations include stuff like “we’re in this together,” when it’s not even close. In the meantime, Hyatt Residence Club (and the timeshare industry as a whole) could easily debunk this with adequate updates that actually address the current concerns of many timeshare owners. We’ve heard from plenty over the past few months.
Maybe ARDA could even take the time to shed light on anything that timeshare owners would find valuable. After all, they claim to represent more than 1.5 million timeshare owners. Since vacation owners pay them a fee alongside maintenance costs, it would seem they’d be inclined to keep owners informed. It can’t be easy to make payments if you’re struggling financially from COVID-19.
What Should Owners Ask and What Can They Do?
Many questions remain unanswered. Will Hyatt Residence Club reimburse the annual dues of those that couldn’t use their timeshare? Will they free up the inventory that’s sold to Expedia and Priceline for their owners? Or will they continue to profit off the general public, making it even more difficult to find availability? How are they ensuring the timeshare offers a safe environment when an approved cure for COVID-19 doesn’t exist?
While we wait for the industry to respond accordingly, we urge vacation owners to publicly share any information that might help somebody else. If you’re a Hyatt Residence Club member and you’re not sure “what your vacations are about” anymore than we’re always available for a free consultation.
In the beginning stages of the Coronavirus outbreak, Americans weren’t too worried by the idea of a pandemic. Mixed signals from the media, governments and health organizations didn’t help. Once New York was bombarded with new cases, people started to take notice. In the meantime, timeshares have been buying themselves time while ignoring the concern of vacation owners. But resorts can’t expect their highest paying customers to wait in silence much longer.
Are Vacation Owners Starting to Lose Patience?
One Marriott timeshare owner is already seeking help online. By the end of March, he became so fed up with the way the hotel chain was managing his timeshare that he posted a “rant” on The Business Traveler to let out some steam. Although his opening statement included an apology for publishing a personal topic in a business forum, he felt as though his issue with Marriott was similar to other threads.
Several users on the site had already complained about the issues they were having with “airlines and hotel groups” during the Coronavirus outbreak. So the Marriott timeshare owner wanted to see if there was anyone else out there experiencing similar inconveniences. In his post, he did a good job painting a picture of his disappointment after years of loyalty.
Apparently, he and his wife have spent tens of thousands of dollars on “several timeshare-like arrangements with the Marriott Group in Phuket.” Over the years they’ve also been required to pay thousands of dollars towards annualmaintenance fees on multiple contracts. They each have one in their name and own another jointly. It’s obvious why he mentions these things right off the bat. No Marriott timeshare owner should have to pay this much money for something they can’t use.
The Marriott Timeshare Owner’s Story.
After making an Easter reservation at their home resort in Phuket several months in advance, the couple was eventually notified that they wouldn’t be able to use their timeshare week. The “quarantine requirements imposed by Thailand” made it “impossible.” According to the Marriott timeshare owner, they tried for weeks to move their interval to September without prevail.
Not only did Marriott refuse their owner’s request and deny restitution, but they advised them to pay for an exchange company – in order to try to use it. But this concerned the author of the post. He knew that paying more and hoping for the best would probably have the same outcome. “They have lost so much goodwill over this,” he said. “We can’t get a refund because we already own the week.. they are just expecting us to pay an additional fee with no guarantee of getting anything in return, or forfeit our week.”
Sounds like a sweet deal. They can’t be the only Marriott timeshare owner experiencing this right now. Sadly, many probably took the bait and now wish they hadn’t. It’s safe to say many more will give it a shot too. So what are they to do if this worsens their situation? Will timeshare companies provide refunds for contractual travel purchases that occur during a pandemic? It’s hard to tell, but this Marriott timeshare owner is definitely disappointed.
Will Timeshare Inconveniences Ever Be Resolved?
The author went on to say, “One would have thought that in these circumstances Marriott Vacation Club would show a bit of flexibility. We have been members for many years and only want to move our booking to another week later this year when, we hope, travel restrictions have been relaxed,” he said. All he wants to do is reschedule his vacation in confidence. He’s not even looking to cancel the timeshare contract but the response from Marriott may cause him to second-guessing his loyalty.
If these types of emotions are felt by satisfied timeshare owners then how do those that despise the Marriott interval feel? Timeshare companies extending a helping hand during the pandemic has got to be the hope of millions of timeshare owners right now. At the same time, how will the industry handle so many inconveniences and will complaints be properly addressed?
Either way, the true colors of timeshare companies are beginning to shine through. The author closes out his rant with a dash of disgust and subtle plea for help. “The idiocy of this is that if we forfeit the week, they lose the revenue they would have earned if we were in the resort. The stupidity of this situation just infuriates me,” he said. “They are ultimately losing potential revenue and pissing off a loyal customer. What is the sense of that?”
His guess is as good as ours but it probably has a lot to do with money.
For more than a month, the entire country has been patiently waiting for the Coronavirus to run its course. As more time passes, restlessness increases. While it may be difficult to know what the aftermath of the pandemic will bring for timeshare owners, it’s safe to say resorts are hoping things return to normal sooner than later. The longer paid travelers are forced to stay home, the more likely they’ll be looking for some sort of restitution. But will they get it?
At this point in time, it’s hard to tell what will transpire down the road. A majority of timeshare resorts have been rather quiet during this international lockdown. Even those that have spoke on the pandemic have been rather vague regarding timeshare ownership. Diamond Resorts is the latest conglomerate to offer a COVID-19 update.
COVID-19 Update From Diamond Resorts.
The written statement on their website opened up by highlighting their current Coronavirus efforts. Diamond’s resorts “around the world” are stating they are housing “medical personnel and first responders” as they provide attention to those with the viral disease. They also took the time to comfort staff and team members while the doors are closed by publishing a link to a note from their CEO.
While it’s good to know that the company is aiding those in need, it’s interesting that they made sure to start with their contributions. But it’s not surprising. Most good sales organizations know how to create trustworthiness in order to buy time. If you’ve ever taken the time to assess the art of the timeshare presentation, or the sales process in general, you’ll see that all pitches begin with a focus on credibility.
So What Should Diamond Timeshare Owners Think?
Although the information Diamond provides is valuable, highlighting closings and links to CDC articles, it doesn’t exactly reassure their highest paying customers. The update concludes with an eerie reminder of the way timeshare companies persuade timeshare owners to remain under contract. They long to be trusted as it buys them time. It says. “At Diamond Resorts, we take pride in providing exceptional vacation experiences to everyone. Our teams are available to answer any questions. Thank you for your trust and support, and we look forward to welcoming you home soon.”
Nothing in the timeshare industry’s history books tells us they’re going to look to accommodate their owner’s inconveniences. COVID-19 updates from the industry such as this one doesn’t exactly encourage us to believe otherwise either. If you take the time to read the entirety of the statement, it goes on to explain how the resort plans to invest in “frequency and enhanced cleanings,” training courses on sanitation and an influx in disinfectant products.
It’s great they’re taking extra precautions but who’s paying for these things? Would timeshare owners see this as a benefit if they were to be held responsible for the added expense? While Diamond Resorts may be doing good by hosting the heroes of the pandemic, could the costs turn into maintenance fees or a special assessment? Is the resort hoping their genuine hospitality will discourage timeshare owners from complaining if they have to pay for something they don’t get to use?
It’s not for us to say, but it is concerning to see all of these timeshare companies sidestepping the disadvantages vacations owners will eventually face. Thousands of people have already had to cancel their plans. How will an influx in bookings play out when the economy reopens? Who will gain precedent? While Diamond’s COVID-19 update did provide temporary “reservation options,” it’s still unclear how it will all play out.
Diamond Timeshare Owners Will Just Have to Wait.
Today, the travel industry is experiencing a boat load of losses. For the average person, it’s hard to even wrap your head around the number of transactions that used to occur on a daily basis. Diamond makes it very clear throughout their article that government officials and health organizations are forcing them to shut their doors. A blockage of international travel is a problem for them as well. But there are also thousands of helpless timeshare owners out there that simply can’t afford the purchase any longer. Let’s hope Diamond sees this as well.
No matter where you’re surfing online, it’s nearly impossible to avoid any type of news about the coronavirus disease. Some people want stay at home orders in place while others demand that the government reopen the economy. While a few businesses may be thriving during the pandemic, many industries are losing millions of dollars daily. If you’ve read any of our recent articles, then you know the timeshare industry is “uniquely positioned” here. So when we heard Bluegreen Vacations downsized sales staff, we weren’t surprised.
Here is the statement from Alan B Levan, Bluegreen Vacations’ President, CEO and Chairman. “We remain committed to our owners and the future of Bluegreen and are taking these difficult necessary measures, which will adversely impact our associates and our business, only after careful consideration of the challenges we face and with a view to protecting the long-term best interests of our associates, owners and our company. We look forward to the end of this global crisis and the reestablishment of our full business operations.”
Will Laying Off Sales Staff Really Hurt Bluegreen?
At the end of the day, the prominent resort chain still hasn’t specifically communicated a plan to aid vacation owners during this economic crisis. Because of this, we have to assume that payment obligations will resume. But don’t worry, the resort has a plan to ensure they don’t go under during this pandemic. While you, as a timeshare owner, might struggle tremendously, the resort will be available for use once the economy reopens.
Levan went on to say they’ve been forced to shut down transfer programs at Choice Hotels amongst other things. “The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event in the United States and globally, and the domino effect has directly impacted Bluegreen’s sales and operations,” he said. According to other press releases, the Florida-based conglomerate (NYSE: BXG) has also closed most sales kiosks in retail centers like Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops.
When you think about it, is the downsizing of timeshare sales staff really a bad thing? Many buyers credit misleading sales practices for their grief. Levan makes it pretty clear what Bluegreen’s goal is. They want to end the loss for everyone and eventually reestablish their hard working sales teams. So should vacation owners anticipate enduring some loss too?
Bluegreen Vacations experienced an increase in timeshare sales through February (16.5%) and are now in a “unique position” to collect payments while eliminating their biggest cost.
Bluegreen Still Needs to Answer Some Questions.
What happens if new buyers – those that just took out a huge, perpetual loan on February 26th – are now unable to pay? Will there be any rule changes or temporary exceptions for those that have yet to use the property? Over the next few months, will Bluegreen count on timeshare payments and maintenance fees to sustain? Is a future vacation what struggling Americans should be striving for right now? While Bluegreen does an admirable job seeking sorrow for their losses, they’re not exactly suffering like most operations.
Either way, there are at least 220K Bluegreen owners out there (2019 data) that may not be able to use or afford the sneaky-expensive-product during a hardship. This isn’t even including those that signed up in the last 6 months. In comparison, Bluegreen is said to have just under 6K total employees, 3,300 of which are sales teams. Just because Bluegreen Vacations downsized sales staff doesn’t mean they’re hurting. On March 19th, they drew down $60 million out of a $125 million revolving credit facility and had $240 million cash on hand by March 30.
Although the travel industry is at a stand still, Bluegreen Vacations – like others – has set themselves up nicely to endure a recession. This is what makes the timeshare sales model so concerning. No matter what happens to the resort, country or destination; the industry can always lean on their owners. That contract you signed almost always keeps it that way. If you’re concerned about your future as a timeshare owner, we’d be more than happy to listen.