Q&A: Timeshare 2.0 – Redefining Shared Vacation Ownership for a New Generation

Skift Take

Flexibility and unique experiences are driving renewed interest in timeshares, particularly among millennial and Gen X owners. So, what’s the appeal? It’s about being a member of a vacation club with exclusive perks rather than an owner of a specific property for the same week year after year.

Series: Megatrends 2023

Megatrends 2023

Discover the top trends that will define the travel industry for the coming year.

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Can you guess the average age of today’s timeshare owner? According to a recent report, the answer is 39, much lower than one might expect considering that the timeshare industry has been characterized as an outdated model with pushy promotional tactics since its inception in the 1960s. 

It’s true that in the past some aggressive sales and marketing practices by a few resort developers hurt the reputation of the entire industry — but in recent years, larger hospitality brands have been professionalizing the sector and providing better customer service, increased flexibility, and access to exclusive experiences, which suits the needs of today’s travelers, who are mixing business and leisure in new ways coming out of the pandemic.

In addition, timeshare resort properties are offering unique experiences and perks across member brands — with points that can be applied toward Super Bowl tickets, cruises, guided jungle tours, and other unique experiences that appeal to a younger generation of travelers. 

SkiftX spoke with John Geller, CEO of Marriott Vacations Worldwide, about the changing nature of the shared vacation ownership model, where the timeshare industry stands in the context of today’s travel moment, and how the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) is supporting both members and owners during this transformative era. 

SkiftX: How has the shared vacation ownership model evolved in the past 10 or so years since vacation rentals took off?

John Geller: The most significant change in vacation ownership over the last 10 years is the shift from a single fixed week to floating weeks to the current, popular point-based system — a product offering that is easy to use and provides owners unparalleled flexibility. For example, when you become an owner with The Marriott Vacation Club portfolio of brands, you receive an annual allotment of Club Points. These are the “currency” you use to turn your vacation dreams into reality.  

With spend on leisure travel projected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2027, we recently launched Abound by Marriott Vacations, a new owner program designed to offer more destinations, more brands, and more choices that make vacationing even better for all travelers, particularly millennials, who see travel as a key aspiration and who represent nearly a quarter of our company’s first-time vacation ownership buyers.

Abound by Marriott Vacations provides access to over 90 vacation club resorts across Marriott Vacation Club, Sheraton Vacation Club, and Westin Vacation Club, as well as access to more than 8,000 Marriott Bonvoy hotels, 2,000 vacation homes, and 2,000 unique experiences like cruises, guided and culinary tours, premier events, safaris, and outdoor adventures.

SkiftX: What are the top misconceptions or myths about timeshares? Why do those outdated notions no longer apply? 

Geller: A common misconception is that timeshare resorts are old and outdated. However, new properties are opening regularly. For example, Marriott’s Bali Nusa Dua Terrace, our second property in Bali, just opened in November. It combines the best of vacation ownership and a lifestyle resort experience, with villas that feature spacious living areas, fully equipped kitchens, separate bedroom suites, and outdoor terraces with private plunge pools. 

Another misconception is that timeshare ownership is more expensive than traditional hotel stays. While becoming an owner is a big decision, it can be extremely cost-effective in the long-term considering the money saved on purchasing food while traveling and having more space than at a traditional hotel. 

In addition, recent inflationary headwinds have helped highlight the value proposition of timeshares. We’ve seen hotels increase their average daily rate (ADR) quickly and add additional nightly fees to offset increased costs and generate returns to hotel owners. Conversely, timeshare accommodations are prepaid, thus making the cost to our owners relatively predictable versus renting two hotel rooms with similar accommodations in this period of high inflation.  

Finally, many people assume that timeshares do not appeal to younger travelers. On the contrary, 66 percent of our first-time buyers are millennials and Gen Xers, demonstrating the relevancy of our product to an audience that has indicated they plan to treat themselves by spending more on leisure services and products. 

SkiftX: What new services, offerings, and experiences are members using to engage these new owners? 

Geller: With leisure travel’s relevance and vacations being viewed as non-discretionary among key audiences — specifically with millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z — the time was right to innovate and design the vacation ownership experience for the future. To that end, Marriott Vacations Worldwide embarked on a multi-year initiative we call Vacation Next that does three things: provides access to a portfolio of premium-branded resorts with a new owner program called Abound by Marriott Vacations; connects these brands in an integrated digital experience; and transforms marketing, sales, and service for the next generation of travelers. 

SkiftX: The vacation rental industry and websites like Airbnb and Vrbo have made a substantial impact on the travel industry. How does Marriott Vacations Worldwide view these platforms as the timeshare industry evolves? 

Geller: As evidenced by the exponential growth of Vrbo and Airbnb and new products like Homes and Villas being introduced by Marriott International and Apartments by Marriott Bonvoy, the travel industry is seeing the vacation rental business boom.  

With more and more research surfacing about how remote work flexibility is causing business travel to merge with leisure travel, I don’t see that slowing down. People want the flexibility of homelike accommodations combined with the leisure experience.  

Given that many of our vacation ownership products are focused on providing homelike accommodations combined with unique leisure experiences and resort amenities in perpetuity to our owners versus renting a home or condo for a one-time stay, Marriott Vacations Worldwide does not view companies like Vrbo or Airbnb as direct competition.  

SkiftX: As a trade association, ARDA represents the interests of members and owners. What are their primary concerns, challenges, and questions? 

Geller: As a membership organization, ARDA represents not only companies that develop and manage timeshare resorts, but also millions of timeshare owners nationwide. It does so through advocacy work at the local, state, and federal levels, by providing world-class research and insights via the ARDA International Foundation, and finally, by conducting events where members can learn, connect, and share ideas with industry colleagues. 

Perhaps ARDA’s most important role in the industry is to represent the legislative interests of its member properties and, through its Resort Owners Coalition (ARDA-ROC), its consumers. With today’s political environment and economic climate, ARDA’s main challenge is to continue growing the political footing of the organization to ensure regulation maintains the proper balance of consumer protection and economic development, and to protect timeshare owners against unreasonable and disproportionate property tax burdens. It is also fighting to educate the media on the state of the timeshare industry today, as many people continue to have an outdated view of the product and the experiences that come along with ownership. 

SkiftX: We’ve seen the hotel and short-term rental sectors converging in a “great merging,” with rentals professionalizing and hotels moving into the rental space. Does shared vacation ownership fit into this narrative?

Geller: The “great merging” gives vacation ownership a place front and center as travel priorities shift toward increased flexibility. We are neither a home nor a hotel — owners can vacation in spacious accommodations without sacrificing the services and amenities they’ve come to expect from a brand like Marriott. 

While it’s true hotel brands are entering the rentals space, it is essentially a non-branded experience backed by a brand name. When staying at a resort within The Marriott Vacation Clubs portfolio, you will experience a branded experience in a home away from home.

According to Skift CEO Rafat Ali, one of the biggest implications of this “great merging” is how travel product offerings are broadening and merging. Travel brands should be prepared to offer services across the full travel value chain, including transportation, accommodations, in-destination activities, and food and beverage. We couldn’t agree more. 

For more information about the American Resort Development Association, visit ARDA.org

This content was created collaboratively by the American Resort Development Association and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX

Tags: hospitality, megatrends 2023, timeshares, vacation rentals

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