Two polarizing forces control the narrative in the timeshare industry today. Timeshare companies work hard to sell customers into the product, and then exit companies focus on getting them out of it (or, at least, promising to). The tension between the two causes perception issues that make sales (and mainstream acceptance) more challenging.
The perceived inability to divest from ownership entirely (or find relief from annual maintenance fees in a given year) creates obstacles to selling new prospects, particularly among younger demographics. These tech-savvy generations can easily access data on timeshare resale or rental values that didn’t exist even ten years ago. This reduces information asymmetry — which in turn can seriously inhibit developer sales. That’s why I’m emphatic about the importance of a strong secondary timeshare market, and why I believe it will benefit the entire industry, from individual owners to developers and their sales teams.
As of late, exit companies have garnered much of the attention in the secondary market. The advertising they impose on our lives — on our Facebook feeds, YouTube videos, even between binge-watching episodes of Fargo on Hulu — is relentless. They’re making a considerably larger mainstream impact than any other timeshare entity out there. If you ask the average person on the street about timeshare, chances are they’ll mention a commercial from an exit company. And let’s be real: Are exit companies really helping anyone? Fortunately, as the timeshare product continues to get better, there are some who are working hard to elevate the secondary market too (as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats). But we need more and better options in the secondary market to improve the industry’s perception issues.
Those issues persist despite the fact that the majority of owners love their timeshare. They’re fun, provide consistency and access, and can stretch the vacation dollar. That’s the experience of most owners I speak with, and it’s my experience, too: I own Hilton Grand Vacations, I’ve used the heck out of it, and I think ownership is awesome. However, the exit industry is unlikely to embrace such a positive perspective. Their message is clear: a timeshare purchase is a bad decision made by a consumer who was misled and needs help getting out now. But that flies in the face of reality.
That said, life sometimes changes, and there are plenty of reasons why people who love their timeshare still need good options on the secondary market. Maybe their kids grow up, or they can’t travel as frequently. Maybe they’ve upgraded their ownership but now have more points than they can use. Maybe they’ve inherited the timeshare from their parents and aren’t in a position to use it (yet), so they see the financial responsibility as outweighing the benefits.
Whatever the reason, these owners don’t know about all the options out there. And that uncertainty actually creates fertile ground for actors with less than good intentions.
I’m glad to see that timeshare companies have stepped up their game by providing resources to exit safely and responsibly. Many developers are now even willing to take a timeshare back for free. That can absolutely help a lot of people. But for a family who has an investment of $50,000 or even $100,000 (not uncommon), an open loan, or kids in their 20’s who aren’t interested in owning (yet), it’s not a reasonable solution at all.
As timeshare advocates, we all should continue to evolve the conversation about what the future of the industry will look like — and our role in improving the experiences of timeshare owners throughout their entire journey.
Mike Kennedy is co-founder and CEO of KOALA (Go-KOALA.com), which provides timeshare owners with a peer-to-peer rental platform.