Internet an information tool for developers

Internet an information tool for developers – Timeshare: technology

M.A. Baumann

The timeshare industry is realizing the sales-and-marketing potential of the Internet, which has redefined how consumers access information and has become part of developers’ growth strategies.

Companies such as Fairfield Resorts have embraced the Internet and implemented an online strategy.

“We view the Internet as a positive, multidimensional tool to communicate to a variety of audiences,” said Mary Mahoney, Fairfield’s senior v.p. of service and resort hospitality. “It can educate about the quality of Fairfield, help them understand the benefits of purchasing from a reputable developer and showcase [our] resorts. The other positive benefit is to help owners maximize the value of their ownership.”

Fairfield’s site contains detailed information about its points program, property exchanges, vacation planning and frequently asked questions. E-mail blitzing is a common practice for special offers or events. Also, an interactive “webanar” tool is being development to help the company serve its owner base better.

The cyber-business model also includes a dedicated site for new owners to help acclimate them to the product and welcome them.

“It’s a ‘bear hug’ process with extensive hand-holding,” Mahoney said.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Bluegreen Corp. uses distinct links to inform and educate owners and nonowners.

“It explains who we are and what we do,” said Chad Jernberg, Bluegreen’s marketing and e-business strategist. “It offers information about resort acquisitions, how the company is growing, what the vacation club is, the points system and its flexibility, and testimonials.”

David Pontius, president of Resort Condominiums International North America, an exchange company, said he’s encouraged by what he’s seeing.

“We think the Web is turning out to be a good cross-communications tool,” Pontius said.

RCI is well positioned in an electronic world to accommodate a sophisticated member base, Pontius said. The RCI community Web site was designed as an information resource and a communications link to its members.

Pros and cons

Jernberg said the Internet has shown a positive and negative impact on the industry.

“It has made for a more-informed consumer, with so much information available at their fingertips,” he said. “On the negative side, there are so many online wholesale outlets for unused timeshare weeks.”

Mahoney isn’t threatened by consumers who use the Internet to look for discounted inventory. She said most consumers shop around, but ultimately want a greater sense of confidence found in a well-known entity.

“Aftermarket sales are tricky,” she said. “There’s no name or face. You can’t touch or feel the product, and no one is held accountable. Today’s consumer is a brand purchaser. If you’re a good operator and have extensive value-add, they are more likely to purchase at a reputable developer than aftermarket.”

Howard Nusbaum, c.e.o. and president of the American Resort Development Assn., said the majority of consumers who purchase resales already own timeshare.

“Because it’s a complicated process, many first-timers are afraid of resale,” Nusbaum said. “There are no consumer protections when you buy on the Internet.”

Nusbaum said he has observed the positive impact of the Internet in two distinct areas. Operationally, the Internet has proven to be a powerful communication and information tool. From a rental standpoint, it gives owners a cost-effective means to post unused inventory through links to convention-and-visitors bureaus and other travel sites.

Chris Tivey, v.p. of Star Resorts in Scottsdale, Ariz., touts the Internet as a vehicle to drive traffic to a respective resort with mini-vacations.

“It’s a great way to expand your marketing efforts and offer a reason for the consumer to go to the location and expose them to the product,” Tivey said. “It’s an extension of old [marketing] techniques. It’s an important enough part of the future that people are trying to perfect it.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group