When timeshare is not a dirty word

As more companies embrace the timeshare concept, holidaymakers reap the rewards of increased flexibility and value for money, reports Ginetta Vedrickas
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Unless you have always holidayed well off the beaten track, you will undoubtedly have been stalked; touts bearing large grins and clipboards with offers of free meals, drinks and even further holidays if you'll only come along to a presentation and hear about their latest timeshare product.

Unless you have always holidayed well off the beaten track, you will undoubtedly have been stalked; touts bearing large grins and clipboards with offers of free meals, drinks and even further holidays if you'll only come along to a presentation and hear about their latest timeshare product.The timeshare hard-sell was particularly common in the Eighties but, thankfully, the industry has moved on and today's schemes are more likely to have the tag "fractional ownership". But whatever name they go by, many buyers of timeshares are finding that they still cannot resist buying – not because of high-pressure sales pitches, but because of the scheme's attractions; in Europe alone, 1.4 million households now own timeshares.

Computer broker Robert Stanlake bought his property share on a subsidised inspection visit back in 1998: "I thought little more than that it would be a cheap weekend away, it was around £99 all in, but when I saw what was there I decided to buy." Stanlake bought in the early days of Marriott Vacation Club International's (MVCI) Club Son Antem resort in Mallorca, but at the time there was little there: "There was only the information hut with a show home, but we realised that it was going to be very upmarket and it felt special that we could actually own part of something like that."

There was little to see when Stanlake paid £8,000 for his week, but today the golf and spa resort has two golf courses, plus the amenities of a five-star hotel, and a similar week to Stanlake's now costs £14,500. Buyers can choose from weeks which are divided into peak and off-peak times, with prices ranging from £8,850 for a week in the "silver" season (the less popular months), up to "platinum" weeks, which include most school holidays, and are currently priced at £13,650 for a share of a two-bedroom property, and £21,550 for a platinum week within a three-bedroom townhouse.

MVCI have 52 resorts around the world. An additional benefit of buying into their system is that you may never decide to take your holidays within the resort in which you buy, as you can exchange your time for holidays in other resorts. Stanlake has also bought a week at Marriott's Marbella resort, but has never used it: "We've always dobbed it in and gone somewhere else instead." Marketing manager Michiel Van Gorp says that many buyers prefer not to visit the resort in which they have bought: "Many Americans have bought in Mallorca as it's cheaper than many other resorts. This then gives them access to other resorts around the world, which would actually be more expensive to buy into."

Buyers who choose not to use any of their weeks earn reward points, which can be exchanged for holidays, hotels, airfares or car hire. Stanlake has found this to be a major benefit and has so far enjoyed holidays in Moscow and Luxor: "Last year I got married and we stayed in a five-star hotel in the Cayman Islands, all for free, including the air fares."

Many buyers of homes abroad find that the maintenance costs are prohibitive and unpredictable. "I have thought about buying somewhere permanent abroad, but it's the worry about upkeep and also the fact that you have to go to the same place all the time that puts me off," says Stanlake, who will own his share for 85 years: "It should do us for holidays and our kids are already rubbing their hands."

MVCI buyers at Club Son Antem pay around £350 per year in maintenance charges, but they do gain flexibility and the assurance that wherever they choose to spend future holidays, standards will be high. In the Nineties, legislation started to be brought in to protect customers and today the Organisation for Timeshare in Europe represents around 170 companies, including resort developers, management companies, finance houses, trustees, exchange and marketing companies. All members abide by a strict code of ethics, to ensure that both consumer and business interests are protected. Peter Van der Mark of the OTE says that the bad old days of timeshare have well and truly disappeared: "This was due to a lack of regulation in various EU states, notably in Spain. Whereas certain sales practices were indeed deplorable and led to many complaints, timeshare owners consistently rated their holidays as satisfactory." He sees many improvements: "The industry today is very different to the Nineties. Not only has the timeshare concept been continuously adapted to reflect timeshare owners' and holidaymakers' wishes, it has become a holiday concept that is generally embraced by the tourism industry and almost all major hotel chains and tour operators; companies such as Disney now have timeshare businesses, too."

Marriott recently launched their resort in Disneyland Paris – Village d'Ile-de-France – where a two-bedroom villa within the silver period is €13,600 and platinum costs €25,200 per week of ownership.

Clive and Heather Hayler own two weeks at Club Son Antem, which they also bought while attending a preview visit. Like Mr Stanlake, Heather didn't intend to buy: "I didn't think for a minute that we would, but there was no pressure, no hard sell at all and that was what persuaded us to buy." Hayler's main incentive was the cost of holidays: "We love going to nice places and have been to the Caribbean many times, but for four it starts to get quite expensive."

It was this rather than the investment potential which was attractive but she adds: "With the golf courses there this will always be a popular resort so it will always go up in value." So far the Haylers have exchanged their two weeks at Club Son Antem for holidays in Aruba, Madeira, Lake Tahoe and Norway, where they enjoyed a skiing holiday, and they are looking forward to visiting Phuket, Thailand this summer: "The main thing is that all the resorts have been of the same wonderful quality and all we have to find is the airfare."


Timeshare tips

If you are considering buying a timeshare, ask the following questions:

* Have I fully understood all my rights and obligations?

* Does a known trustee underwrite the timeshare interest?

* Is the money I am paying secured through a trustee, bank or other body?

* Do I get time to change my mind? (the so-called reflection period, which should range from 10 to 15 days)

* Is the company I am considering buying from a member of the OTE?

* If I am buying into a "holiday club", is that club providing me with all of the above, and who actually manages it?