Harry Taylor, TATOC's executive chairman, shares his thoughts on the TATOC Conference 2013.
Photos of the event can be found here: Friday Night Drinks Reception, Saturday Night Gala Dinner, The Speakers and Panelists.
â€śFinding Solutions was the theme of TATOCâ€™s 2013 conference - and our line-up of international and U.K.-based speakers did not disappoint.
Previous conferences had identified the issues facing the industry. We understand only too well the challenges of an ageing owner base, a difficult financial and marketing environment and the evolving requirements and expectations of todayâ€™s holidaymakers.
But the TATOC conference is not a talking shop. We do not have the luxury of having time on our side. Our speakers and panellists identified a range of all encompassing solutions and opportunities for committees and resorts of all types and size.
Homeowner associations and committees need to understand what their responsibilities are and we urge all delegates to implement what they heard when they return to their resorts.
TATOC led the way with the launch of our strategy for the next five years â€“ our new Five-Year Plan.
When the first five-year plan was launched in 2007 some doubted the goals were achievable. But we persevered and today we have close working relationships with government agencies, law enforcement and all sections of the media.
We have over 90 resorts in membership, over 400 individual members and an affiliation programme for the timeshare industry.
The jewel in the crown is the free TATOC Consumer Helpline. It has become the trusted place for guidance on all matters relating to timeshare.
In developing the new Five-Year Plan TATOC acknowledges it must grow in stature and be involved in the wider timeshare offering. We must play our part in the changing environment but be ever mindful of our core principles and values.
This Five-Year Plan is a commitment by TATOC to achieve:
Recognition: To be recognised as the largest independent representative body for timeshare consumers in Europe by owners, the industry, government agencies, public bodies, professional services and the media.
Membership: To achieve greater legitimacy worldwide through increasing membership by elected resort committees and individual timeshare owners and working closely with affiliates and industry bodies.
Helpline: To maintain and grow the helplineâ€™s reputation for being professional, well-informed and beneficial by consumers, the Office of Fair Trading, citizens advice bureaux, police, banks, solicitors, media and other government agencies.
Funding: To continue the fair unit-based membership fee for member resorts while encouraging contributions through management fees to fund the Helpline. Charitable status will be sought for the new, stand-alone TATOC Consumer Helpline.
Codes of conduct and practices: To acknowledge best practice and excellent consumer service by increasing the number of affiliated companies accepting full compliance of the TATOC codes of conduct and practice.
Accreditation: To increase the number of accredited resorts and to expand accreditation to other products and sales personnel.
Exit strategies: To work with everyone involved establishing procedures that will enable the departure of existing timeshare owners without prejudice to the interests of other owners.
TATOC will provide a health-check service for independent resorts to evaluate their future. This will include financial projections, membership opportunities and threats followed by recommendations from a panel of experts recruited by TATOC.
Europe: To increase membership by resorts where the principle ownership is not U.K.-based and establishing relationships with European consumer associations.
But what did we learn from our speakers â€“ what solutions did they identify?
Jim Wehrle, vice-president of CARE, acknowledged that the important thing about a problem is not its solution but the strength we gain in finding it.
Social media and the Internet have changed the way resorts and consumers communicate and interact. Todayâ€™s resorts need at least a webpage, a blog and the ability to e-blast owners and guests.
Younger holidaymakers want to book online, in their own time, check out reviews through Facebook, complain about bad service and commend resorts when the experience goes beyond what is expected.
This is where the potential new market is â€“ and resorts cannot shy away from social media. Many are there reluctantly and missing out on engaging with owners and potential owners, talking up successes, getting out the good word and addressing issues when they arrive.
Christine Roberts, general manager at Melfort Village, offered delegates practical solutions.
Melfort Village has six committee members, two of whom are in their 40s and they are looking for additional younger members to join.
â€śIt can be very helpful when you encourage younger people on to the committee,â€ť said Christine and she is correct.
Christine is a believer in the power of social media and uses Twitter and Facebook to promote her rental weeks. She also believes in listening to her owners and an owner survey identifies what they want.
At Melfort Village this means engaging the children of the original owners by providing what their children want. Play parks, games rooms, resort-wide Wi-Fi access, excursions and discounts make families want to maintain their ownership and return every year.
The RDOâ€™s Paul Gardner Bougaard addressed the image and legacy of timeshare. This is an area the industry has been attempting to solve for many years but progress is now being made. However, journalists are lazy and it is â€śnot what is now but what was in the pastâ€ť that makes the news.
Using the services of an on-line reputation management company, the RDO is improving the image of the industry and has enjoyed significant success with the BBC and YouTube.
In 2013, the RDO will be working with travel journalists, bloggers and supermarket magazines to focus on the timeshare holiday experience. They are talking with VisitEngland and VisitScotland and are active members of the TourismAlliance.
Club Leisure Groupâ€™s Rioma Cominelli told delegates that South Africa tackled the issues facing todayâ€™s European timeshare market 15 years ago.
â€śWe compared timeshare to other holiday products and found they were more flexible, more affordable, offered more and guests were not locked in. We realised dramatic change was essential,â€ť said Cominelli.
Research undertaken in South Africa came back with some hard home truths:
- The way the guest feels is key to their opinion of the resort.
- A well-run timeshare resort is no longer adequate.
- The more senses that are engaged the better the rating.
- Guest expectations are ever increasing.
- Guests want to have loads to do on-site.
The solutions Rioma identified are suitable for all types of resort.
- Focus on engagement.
- Add new affordable experiences â€“ they donâ€™t have to rely on huge amounts of capital investment.
- Add revenue-generating activities.
- Create resort brands individually
She recommends the creation of signature events such as riverside picnics, beachside dining, locally focused events and revenue producing activities.
Ramy Filo from Classic Holidays/Dial An Exchange continued the message about offering experiences and engaging with owners and guests.
He identified four areas resorts should focus on: retaining existing members, attracting new members, managing delinquent members and acting more proactively.
â€śIn an age of cheap flights and readily available, affordable accommodation, resorts need to give members a full holiday experience and offer value,â€ť Ramy explained.
Ramy provided delegates with practical ideas. These include:
- Offering ownership to existing membersâ€™ friends and family
- Offering membership to corporate suppliers for staff use.
- Investing in a professional sales team.
- Partnering with an established club that can use the inventory.
- Do not recycle by upgrading current members to new products
Alan Bentley from Diamond Resorts shared with owners the issues his company faced in 2008/9 with the financial crisis.
He confirmed that despite the economic downturn, the consumer is not dead and still wants to holiday. Diamond Resorts enjoyed record sales levels in 2012 and this looks set to continue in 2013.
Resort consolidation will be a feature of the industry as the bigger players buy the smaller, struggling groups. Ultimately timeshare owners realise the benefits of this with increased travel options, access to technology and updated resorts.
â€śWe donâ€™t have as many problems in the U.S. with rogue traders, especially not where theyâ€™re operating under one name today, then another tomorrow. Weâ€™re there with everyone else though, trying to figure out a solution to it,â€ť said Bentley.
As well as looking to the future, the conference was an opportunity to tell delegates what the TATOC team does on a daily basis.
Board member Geoff Chapman took delegates through the past five years at TATOC looking at our achivements as an organisation. In 2008 TATOC launched its mission statement. This has not changed and still governs what we do.
Our belief is that timeshare, if sold and managed well, is a great product.
Headline events over the last five years include the introduction of resort accreditation, the Code of Conduct, our new office in Manchester, the launch of Sharetime Magazine, the registration of the TATOC logo, our websites and blog and, of course, the TATOC Consumer Helpline.
As Geoff says we are proud of our achievements but we have only reached these with the help of our members and affiliates - there is no complacency.
The launch of the new Five-Year Plan has given us renewed focus, vigour and determination and established a sound and balanced platform.
We are rightly proud of the TATOC Consumer Helpline and the conference was the place where the Helpline manager, Mark Caldicott, shared with delegates the success and challenges he and his team face.
Since 2008, the TATOC Consumer Helpline has received over 45,000 calls and emails and helped consumers recover over ÂŁ5 million. A recent survey of Helpline users found 99% found the service offered to be good or better. It truly is the jewel in our crown.
Mark explained that it tends to be the elderly who are scammed and, once scammed, they are likely to be scammed again and again. He urged resorts to get the Helpline number (0845 230 2430) out to all members so that they can give support and information.
The panels are always an interesting part of the conference and this year we had two.
The first comprised representatives from the industry who were questioned by our moderator, Robin Mills. He asked if they thought the industry was in good shape and the answers were interesting. Ramy Filo answered with a positive but added that while the industry was strong globally, it still needed to review and change products so they were a better fit for today's customer. Phil Watson from Worldwide Timeshare Hypermarket agreed adding that developers need to know who their target market is and what they are selling.
Jim Wehrle and Rioma Cominelli both said no but acknowledged that the industry was at a turning point and people were working together to make improvements. "A diagnosis has been made and a remedy found," explained Rioma.
RCI's Dimitris Manikis said that fundamental changes were taking place with rationalisation, the entrance of hotel groups and the brands buying and building and he was hopeful for the future.
The second panel, Chairs in the Spotlight, was an industry first. Chairmen from a number of resorts in the U.K. and Europe took to the stage and were questioned by delegates.
James Philip Miller (Barnsdale), Jim Smith (The Osborne), Roger Goodwin (Club Viste Verde), David Eastburn (Lakeview), David Francis (Crown Resorts) and myself representing Sunset Bay were asked a number of questions. One question that stands out came from Rosemary who asked why committees seem to be "an old boys club?"
David Francis said that wasn't necessarily the case saying that at his resorts, two of the six committee members were ladies but added that they were in their 60s! Roger Goodwin also disagreed saying that the children of owners were coming back to the resort and he was hopeful they would join the committee. Jim Smith added that it was not just the board that were an old boys club - the whole of his resort could be considered that too.
In my view, many resorts do operate in this manner and long term members are re-elected time and again to the committee which is not a good thing. We hav to bring in new people with new ideas and a new approach.
This panel was a great success and the thoughts were that many of the chairmen would take back what they had learnt at the confernce to their resort manageme and fellow committees to discuss and plan for the future.
This yearâ€™s conference was a great success â€“ our speakers provided the solutions we were looking for, the new venue was popular and we had more delegates than ever before.
I believe the future of TATOC is sound with the launch of the Five-Year Plan and there is renewed confidence in the association from our friends around the world.â€ť