Meet the new sheriff for holiday cowboys...

Timeshare's tarnished image could be helped by a program that lets you see your apartment before you buy it.

Every year, thousands of people are attracted by the idea of timeshare ownership. A timeshare involves owning an apartment or villa in a holiday resort for part of the year. When your allotted time slot comes up, you go to your holiday home rather than slumming it in the local hotel. It sounds appealing, but the image of the timeshare industry has suffered from the antics of some cowboy operators: some timeshare owners have discovered that their holiday dream home turns out to be a half-finished complex on the edge of a dirty beach.

But a new program, entered for the Independent Award for the Most Innovative Business Use of Multimedia at this year's Multimedia '96 show, could help to raise the credibility of the timeshare industry, and also make it easier for people to find the right holiday home for them.

Bringing the Dream Alive! has been developed by the Brighton-based multimedia company EMG for RCI, the world's largest timeshare company, with more than 2 million member families and nearly 3,000 resorts affiliated to it. RCI not only arranges holiday exchanges for timeshare owners, but also books flights and arranges car hire, holiday insurance and more.

Until recently, there were two ways of viewing a timeshare property. On-site marketing takes place while you are on holiday and involves looking around the resort complex. But many people also view properties "off-site", typically in an office in their home country where they can read directories describing the apartment and facilities and watch videos of the resort. Multimedia offers a third option.

"Around 18 months ago, RCI began looking at new technology, and the company spent about six months evaluating the benefits of multimedia," says David Coplestone, EMG's account manager.

The result is a multimedia program, Bringing the Dream Alive!, which uses a PC and touchscreen technology. Instead of operating the computer by a mouse or keyboard, users touch pictures on the computer screen to activate parts of the program. Bringing the Dream Alive! uses around 450 megabytes of hard disk space and includes high-quality video, photographs, text and sound (some of it is atmospheric, so that if you're watching a section on, say, an Australian resort, you'll hear Aboriginal music). A database holds information on almost 3,000 resorts around the world.

The program is designed to be used by a timeshare salesperson as they talk to a potential client. It includes a description of the timeshare concept, introduces RCI and describes various resorts. There are also video testimonials from timeshare customers, and a cost-benefit analysis of timeshare.

"The program gives the timeshare selling process some structure," says Paul Ruffle, head of RCI's multimedia development. "It doesn't get tired, so there's a consistency and quality to the sales pitch. Most importantly, it also ensures that no exaggerated claims are made by the salesperson."

After demonstrations of the system at timeshare exhibitions around the world last year, EMG was given the go-ahead to develop the program. Two prototype systems have been tested at British resorts and the final version of Bringing the Dream Alive! is about to be shipped to a number of key resorts in the UK. The program is being localised for the French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese markets.

The shortlisted nominations for the 'Independent' Award will be on view on the Bima Awards Showcase and Unipalm Pipex stands at Multimedia '96, which takes place from 18-20 June at the Business Design Centre, London N1. Details: 0171-288 6408. Fax back: 0171-288 6407. E-mail: http://www.bdcevents.co.uk/multimedia96/. EMG: (01273) 728686.

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