Resort Trades Pioneer: Richard (Dick) L. Ragatz – Timeshare Market Research Specialist

The Timeshare Pioneers series for Resort Trades was created to chronicle and honor the involvement of a handful of true pioneers whose early contributions and entrepreneurial spirit paved the way for today’s nearly $10 billion a year timeshare industry.

As a highly-respected market research professional, Richard (Dick) L. Ragatz has played a quiet but significant behind-the-scenes role in the growth of the global timeshare industry. Since founding Ragatz Associates in 1974 in Eugene, Oregon, Dick has worked with nearly every major participant in the resort industry, conducting over 500 consumer surveys, 2,000 feasibility studies and consulting assignments in 48 states and 73 countries. About 90 percent of this work has been for timeshare clients and the balance for other resort properties.

Recognized and applauded internationally for his timeshare industry expertise, Dick has published more than 50 articles in academic journals and trade magazines and has delivered more than 250 speeches on resort development and tourism at conferences held throughout the world.

While his over four million miles of airline travel probably exceed those of any U.S. Secretary of State, his clients for the past four decades have been timeshare developers from Australia to Kenya. Some travel assignments resulted in not-so-happy endings, including his trips to the Philippines where he contracted malaria and Africa Tick Fever while working on a project for Fairmont Resorts in Kenya, requiring several weeks to be properly diagnosed.

His amazing career began in1969 as he was completing his Ph.D. on the vacation housing industry, planning to become a college professor. After colleague Carl Burlingame (another true timeshare pioneer) was just starting to write the industry’s first newsletter, Vacation Ownership Review, Carl told Dick he had heard of a “new” product called timesharing. This led to Dick completing the first survey of resort timeshare owners in 1977, funded by RCI founders Christel and Jon De Haan … two more major timeshare Pioneers!

After ALDA (the precursor to ARDA) learned about the survey, they hired Dick in 1978 to conduct the first industry research, involving consumer input and economic impact case studies. The widely-publicized results of this survey – indicating high satisfaction levels among timeshare owners and positive contributions the resorts made to local communities – were instrumental in establishing a strong foundation for the industry, then in its infancy.

In 1978, most Americans had barely even heard about timesharing. It was a totally new star on the real estate and hospitality horizon. The true benefit of those early surveys was that their recognition of high consumer satisfaction played a huge role in helping to generate credibility to a brand-new product. “They really helped substantiate and influence the new timeshare industry,” added Dick, “and documented the popularity and importance of exchange to the consumer.”

As developers jumped on the timeshare bandwagon, Dick began doing more research for private companies, conducting early studies on the concept of floating time, split weeks, and points … all instrumental in creating and ultimately shaping the entire industry.

“Soon, we started conducting feasibility studies and consumer research, helping all of the major hospitality firms and branded hotel companies enter the industry. We surveyed their hotel guests to determine their interest in timesharing, what kind of resort they wanted, the number of bedrooms, amenities and preferred locations. As market researchers, we helped lead Marriott, Four Seasons, Disney, Welk Resorts and Hilton into the TS industry.”

As the shared-use industry began to mature, Dick began providing feasibility studies and market research to fractional and private residence clubs, ultimately becoming the “guru” of sorts for this shared-use hospitality segment. For the past 17 years, his firm has conducted annual surveys of the fractional interest industry and sponsored 15 national conferences. He believes that the fractional interest industry will soon come back following the recent recession. A fractional is three weeks to three months of ownership and usage at higher end resort real estate. Owners generally have an annual income of $250,000+ and pay about $7,500 per year in maintenance fees on a fractional priced significantly higher than a regular timeshare, all determined by usage.

In reflecting on past travels, Dick shares that one of his favorite assignments was working for Fairmont Resorts in Kenya on a safari camp that was transitioning to timeshare.

A current client is a company in Paris considering timesharing a network of historic French chateaus.
Two assignments that did not turn out as planned include a feasibility study he conducted for a commune in Iowa that was planned as a timeshare property. He still remembers being in their “health and wellness” facility without clothes, having hot wax dripping from his forehead. Another was a property in Nevada that was a (legal) house of prostitution, intending to be a timeshare property. Fortunately, the chickens flew the coop on this one. But Dick adds he DID enjoy the “field work” involved with his research.

Where does someone like to visit who has literally been everywhere and has over four million frequent flyer miles? Favorite vacation destinations for Dick and Annette ¬– his wife of 56 years – include India, Egypt, Morocco and Kenya because of the uniqueness of each place, their differing landscapes, food, color and friendliness of the people. They also try to visit New York City several times a year.

“These travels have resulted in our home looking somewhat like a multi-cultural museum, housing our collection of ethnic art with dozens of masks from all over the world.” Dick brings them back, Annette is the interior designer, lovingly placing them in their home. When he’s on terra firma Dick enjoys golf, photography and even more adventures with Annette, including their favorite Oregon Ducks football games.

Back at the office, business is still thriving. So much so that three years ago at the age of 75, Dick started a new career with Ragatz Realty, a commercial brokerage arranging for the sale of land, hotels and golf course and other resort properties. It is highly unlikely that there is anyone more qualified to recognize value in this highly-specialized market. The best part is that daughter Tracy Ragatz has been at his side for over a decade serving as Vice President and handling all of the same assignments with grace, equal skill and industry knowledge. Son Todd is a business manager for a retirement home in San Diego.

While truly humble about his role in the growth of timesharing, Dick adds, “It was the early pioneers who really ‘invented’ today’s multi-billion-dollar industry. They should be commended for their foresight, visionary skills and deep belief in their product and the great risks they all took. While the industry is also indebted to the hoteliers who ultimately joined our ranks, they didn’t really create the product or stick their necks out to make payroll when sales were slow. It was the early pioneers, who truly paved the way to the industry we know today.”

In looking ahead, Dick predicts, “The industry we knew in the past may be running its course. Currently, the top 12 companies control 90% of the market. Today’s consumers want more experiences, learning opportunities and greater value with an easy-exit program. They have less interest in a long-term ownership commitment. Because more than half of all the timeshare sales are made to existing owners, the industry’s challenge is to create a new product that is flexible, contemporary and matches changing lifestyles, leisure time and vacationing habits. ARDA must also become better at understanding today’s consumer.”

Dick’s suggestion to industry newcomers and resort professionals: “Remember that it is the front-line people like you who make this business great with their genuine customer service, not Wall Street accountants.”