C.A.R.E. : Aggregation Nation

This author and Resort Trades CEO/Founding Publisher Tim Wilson recently represented Resort Trades at the Cooperative Association of Resort Exchangers (c.a.r.e.) annual conference held in Annapolis, Maryland. The group is a tightly knit collection consisting principally of entrepreneurs. They reminded us of the early days of timeshare when developers were laying the groundwork of a brand new industry. Most of the attendees have worked at resorts or for resort developers at one time or another before starting their own businesses or joining an existing entity. The members support one another by exchanging inventory and maintaining an ethics committee. If a c.a.r.e. member behaves unethically, they can be expelled from membership sending a signal to fellow members. But the most salient aspect of a c.a.r.e. meeting is “Roll Call,” an event during which each attendee approaches the podium and introduces their business and announces what their interests are. In most cases they would list the areas in which they have or need inventory. During the three-day event, attendees are given the opportunity to network together and do business together.

Timeshare in the U.S. no longer follows the classic “vacation ownership” model of purpose-built or converted properties being sold by a single entity. The word timeshare doesn’t even appear to properly reflect the ever-developing trend in the resort industry: the aggregating and repackaging of inventory by a growing number of small businesses and midsized players. The language of the industry is no longer principally that of the developer, but has become a polyglot of clubs, mega renters, travel companies and reselling. Sharing vacation property can now make for less of a long-term commitment and greater flexibility for the consumer, rather than purchasing a deeded property with annual fees stretching on in perpetuity.

The attendees at the conference included representatives of several fast-growing companies that aggregate inventory to convert into RCI points, which are then sold as memberships with underlying deeded property. Another popular scenario is the travel club or agency that similarly accumulates inventory and sells anything from a one- or two-year to longer-term membership and then services the customer by utilizing its own inventory or working with other entities to trade or purchase time.

Most of these clubs operate strictly online using web sites to present their wares. These players must necessarily become experts at search engine optimization and struggle to stay current with trends in social media and in interpreting the continuously changing Google algorithms.

Formerly, timeshare sales and marketing activities were led by the developer. These days, travel providers most likely to excel are those offering flexibility in usage with a lower buy-in fee and less long-term commitment.

This makes the activities of c.a.r.e. more relevant than ever before. Most c.a.r.e. members who have been in the business for a while have become stronger than ever over the last few years. The consolidation of developers and the recession has meant an absence of new developers and new, purpose-built projects are being undertaken only by a very few. Aggregating timeshare points and/or weeks, repackaging them into your own, unique club and selling memberships are the new frontier and it’s growing fast.

The question remains: Will there ever be a resurgence of timeshare development and new products? Recent turbulence in consumers’ economic standing has many spooked and unwilling to commit to a long-term annual obligation. The answer lies in determining what the future preferences of consumers will be. For this year and most probably the next five years or so, the arch-typical buyer may be more likely to purchase a membership interest with less of a long-term obligation. And for them, c.a.r.e. members are perfectly positioned.