A Brief History of Timeshare

There are many stories about the history and development of timeshare, it is actually rather vague with several claims as to who and where it was first developed. The story we publish today is one version and may not be entirely accurate although the concept and development of timeshare is what we have all come to know.

After the end of the Second World War, three entrepreneurs, Fred Pontin, Billy Butlin and the Warner Brothers began to expand their holiday camps using in many cases decommissioned military accommodation. These became the holiday camps we now associate with Hi De Hi, the fictional holiday camp Maplins a great British comedy, these were the first of what we now call the “package holiday”.

These holiday camps became a bit of an institution, but as time moved on and air travel for the masses became more affordable and accessible, people started to go abroad for their holidays. Spain and Portugal became the favourite destination for Brits. The decline of the holiday camp was on.

As for timeshare, there are two versions as to who was the first, Paul Doumier or Hapimag, both began to develop ski resorts, both around the same time so this is where the confusion begins.

The French developer Paul Doumier is generally credited as the “father” of timeshare, his company the Société des Grands Travaux de Marseille, began to develop ski resorts in the Alps. His famous slogan was “It is cheaper to own the hotel than to rent the room”, it was a slogan that attracted many buyers to his concept of purchasing time at the ski resort with the time being owned by the purchaser. This concept was being marketed between 1964 and 1968.

Hapimag Burnside Park Resort UK

Meanwhile across the border in Switzerland, Hapimag or to give them their full name, Hotel und Appartementhaus Immobilien Anlage AG began to develop their own timeshare business. The owners of the company Alexander Nette and Guido Fenngli began to purchase their first resorts.

Primarily these resorts were located in Italy, Spain and Switzerland, with Hapimag marketing their timeshare concept on a “right to use” basis rather than deeded ownership. This is the model that we all know today, which for Hapimag has been a very successful model. Today Hapimag is as strong as ever with around 60 resorts worldwide spanning Europe, North Africa, Turkey and Florida.

Even though Hapimag has never affiliated with the major exchange companies they are considered as one of the largest and best timeshare operations in the world. It is also very telling that Inside Timeshare has not found one complaint made public about them, they also have a very attractive buyback scheme for members who wish to end their membership.

Moving now to the other side of the world, it was 1969 that the first timeshare resort was opened in Hawaii at Kauai Kailani. The company was called Vacation International and was founded by Bob Burns and Bob Ringenburg. Their company sold their weeks in 40-year increments and they are also credited with developing the points system.

The next place where timeshare began to be developed was Florida and this was one of the first States in Continental America to develop timeshare in the early 1970s. The Californian company called Innisfree was next and they began to sell deeded weeks, then around 1973 they went into partnership with Hyatt to develop their first resort at Lake Tahoe. As legend has it, it was here that the term timeshare was first used to describe the purchase of vacation time from a resort.

Apparently, this story comes from the time when Innisfree used the word timeshare on an application to the California Department of Real Estate, the term became popular and it was then used on all promotional material. It is a term we are now all familiar with and unfortunately, it also conjures up some very negative connotations, hence the move to other names such as Holiday or Vacation Ownership.

RCI now part of Wyndham

Obviously, the way the time was originally sold with the fixed week and apartment, there was seen to be a need for “owners” to be able to exchange these weeks and resorts to give them more choice and flexibility. So it was in 1974 that RCI or Resorts Condominiums International was founded by a husband and wife team, with this development you were no longer tied to one resort and week, an idea that really took off.

During the late 1970s and into the 80s, timeshare development increased substantially with massive building programs worldwide. Spain and Portugal were at the forefront of this building and subsequent sales of the timeshares. Unfortunately, this is where the “rot” began to set in and timeshare in Europe began to develop a very nasty reputation.

It was the 80s and 90s in Europe that was the downfall of timeshares reputation, during the 80s, many timeshares were being sold “off-plan”, in other words, it was a hole in the ground and would not be completed for quite some time. Unfortunately, for many purchasers, this was their first introduction to timeshare and many lost their money as the developer crashed and the resorts were not built.

Adding to all this we then moved into the 1990s and the entry into the industry of some very dubious characters, people such as John “Goldfinger” Palmer who developed a huge timeshare organisation in Tenerife. He began overselling and basically ripped off consumers, many losing thousands of pounds in the process.

Many companies with very good reputation cottoned on to the concept of timeshare, some of these were good and some were bad. Major companies such as Marriott and Hyatt developed a timeshare model and began to market this all over the world.

Disney became involved in timeshare with their Vacation Club, this model is being held up as a very good example of how the “product” should be marketed and how members are treated. So far, Inside Timeshare has not found one complaint anywhere which has not been resolved satisfactorily, this has got to be a first in the timeshare industry.

Moving back to Europe, around 2007, the UK holiday company Butlins developed their own timeshare product Blueskies at their Maidenhead Resort. This was based on the points system and was sold with a maximum duration of 30 years. It was also reported that during the presentation no pressure (which we come to associate with timeshare presentations) was being used. The sales staff did not use the “today and today only” pitch and the club became quite popular.

Again there were very few registered complaints on various forums and the system seemed to be working well, that is until 2017 when Butlins ended Blueskies and the members lost everything. Another nail in the coffin of timeshare.

They just don’t learn!

Moving now to the present, the timeshare industry probably has the worst reputation around the world than any other industry, with many complaints of “pressure selling”, “unavailability” (due to overselling the points and floating weeks systems) along with many other “mis-selling” complaints which in Spain has resulted in many court cases.

In Europe, timeshare seems to have had its day, the major developers have either completely closed their sales offices or have reduced the number of “sales reps” they have. Even before the closedowns of this year we also noticed the number of OPCs (the “scratchcard touts”) on the streets of Spain diminished considerably.

People in Europe no longer see timeshare as a better alternative to the more traditional forms of vacationing. We have increasingly seen the resorts advertising availability on websites such as booking.com and in most cases cheaper than the annual maintenance fees of members along with the huge initial outlay for membership. This has of course infuriated members who are unable to get the weeks they want due to lack of availability.

Is this familiar?

In the US, timeshare still seems to be selling well, but it must be said that the number of complaints about the lies of sales reps has been increasing dramatically, yesterday’s article is just one of many published by Inside Timeshare from our US readers and timeshare owners.

In the end, the industry only has itself to blame, it has failed to keep pace with the changing world, it has developed so many variations of the product it has become one of the most confusing purchases ever. The industry also has not really developed any sense of “customer care or service”, members are treated with contempt by these companies, all they are is a means to make money. This is seen with the ever-increasing rise in maintenance fees along with the continuous “upgrading”, yet, the members do not seem to be benefiting from it.

In Europe and especially Spain which has by far the most timeshare resorts introduced regulations for the sale of timeshare, these were the EU Directives on Timeshare. These were to be placed in each Member State’s own laws, Spain (Ley 42/98), enacted theirs on 5 January 1999, but it was not until around 2010 that the first cases using these laws went to court. Since then virtually every case which has gone to court has been found against the timeshare companies.

Again, this is having a very serious effect on the industry, but once again we have to say it, they only have themselves to blame, after all, they did not change their ways and did not comply with the law. They believed that the law was wrong and continued to sell a product that was declared illegal under Spanish law, they actually thought they were “untouchable”. Sorry to say, they certainly made a big mistake on that one.

In the end, the original concept was a good one, it did guarantee quality, it removed the uncertainty of booking in the more traditional products such as the package holiday, but it has not kept pace with the times. The new generation has been brought up with the internet, they see timeshare as antiquated compared to the freedom of putting together your own package from the many choices available. They also see the initial outlay for the purchase and the subsequent annual maintenance fees as throwing money away.

The world has changed but the timeshare industry has not, they are still working on the same old model of sales, sales and more sales without the slightest consideration for their members. Timeshare I’m afraid may just have had its day. The question is what product will they come up with now?

Inside Timeshare would like to remind you that this is one version of the history of timeshare, but it is one that seems to be the most accepted with most sources agreeing to this version. We hope that you have enjoyed this little journey into history seeing how things have changed and to be honest not really for the better.

One Comments

  • Carolyn Whomersley

    December 2, 2020

    Hello fellow timesharers.

    We have been given the opportunity to relinquish our timeshare with Azure (now VCMS). We have decided to do this as engaging the services of a solicitor is going to incur even more expense. I realise that not all timeshare companies work the same but it is worth consideration if your timeshare company will do this and probably worth it to be free from all the stress (obviously depending on how much cash you have invested). Also, as the timeshare is part of our estate, our son would have been saddled with the maintenance fee and in the event of our deaths and we were desperate to avoid this as he has been seriously ill. Good luck to you all.


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