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Timeshare Technology Steps Up
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By Elizabeth Lauer / Reprinted from the Summer 2000 Issue of Hospitality Upgrade Magazine, formerly the Hotel & Restaurant Technology UPDATE Magazine / elauer@hvsinternational.com

As a consultant to hotel and interval ownership developers, I am privy to brilliant concepts for vacation lodging products.  Timeshare developers have sought distinction by routinely reinventing marketing efforts, inventory systems, contract terms, membership levels, and reservation policies.  Until recently, many timeshare developers have found limited functionality in the marketing and management systems. 

Over the past 10 years, interval ownership has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the hospitality industry.  Current sales levels are estimated to be over $3 billion annually at resorts located within the United States, while worldwide sales have surpassed $6 billion. Growth of the industry has been rapid, up more than 20 percent from 1994 levels worldwide. 

Hospitality companies, land developers, and other entities are discovering that the interval ownership industry has developed and matured considerably, and conditions for entering the market are extremely favorable.  The industry is now on a growth track that reflects the substantial acceptance among vacation and leisure-lifestyle consumers around the world.  Despite its growth, the timeshare market has been somewhat overlooked and most likely misunderstood by many hospitality technology vendors.

As developers and properties have become more sophisticated, so have the amenities and guest service tools.  Some companies are differentiating their timeshare products with spas, golf courses, restaurants, and retail.  Owners at these properties expect the same ease of vacationing as they would from a luxury hotel, where they can move from activity to activity without reaching for their wallets.  This requires well- integrated systems that combine member servicing and property management. 

Timeshare system developers such as Resort Computer Corporation (RCC) have focused on the comprehensive sales and marketing tools, principal of which evolved from the real estate industry.  Historically, the successful vacation condominium developer seeks systems to manage the voluminous tour flow of prospective purchasers while measuring the effectiveness of marketing programs.  Second to sales and marketing is a robust receivables system that manages the many accounting functions of a timeshare resort. 

A more recent challenge of interval ownership management systems is the transition to points-based membership programs.  These programs have capitalized on the widespread acceptance of “points” as an alternative currency.  Frequent customer and loyalty programs that reward users with points are offered throughout the travel and leisure industry.  In the timeshare industry, members purchase an annual allotment of points used to redeem vacation lodging at affiliated resorts and clubs. 

Not surprisingly PMS has been less relevant and in some timeshare resorts, continues to be a separate system or even a manual process.  It is hard to say whether the timeshare development industry has been alienated by, or alienated itself from, the PMS industry, but the schism has been apparent as the hotel and interval ownership industries have begun to converge. 

Unlike traditional PMS software, timeshare inventory management is highly customized and governed by the ever-changing marketing programs.  Many large timeshare corporations have spent millions developing their own systems.  Most companies rely on a hodge-podge of turn-key and archaic proprietary systems.  New standards, however, are promoting the integration of highly evolved sales and marketing components with high-caliber property management systems and allowing a true customer-oriented resort environment. 

Many PMS products are simply not prepared to compete in the timeshare information management arena.  Those that have proven themselves in the condominium and destination resort environment, such as Resort Data Processing (RDP) and Springer-Miller Systems are emerging as qualified providers to the burgeoning vacation ownership industry.

Springer-Miller Systems (SMS) and Resort Condominiums International (RCI) have strategically aligned to develop and integrate the products developed by RCC with SMS’s robust resort property management systems.  “By building on the powerful timeshare business logic that exists within the RCC system, Springer Miller Systems will offer a comprehensive management tool to destination resorts that include a timeshare component.  The system will also be better suited for the stand-alone timeshare projects committed to a superior guest experience,” said John Springer-Miller, founder and president of SMS.  The SMS alliance with RCI is anticipated to include central reservation interfaces with RCI’s Global Points Network, an exchange system created specifically for points-based ownership programs.

Vermont-based SMS has been serving the information management needs of major resort operators for two decades.  The company has provided American Skiing Company (ASC) with CRS and PMS for a variety of lodging products including daily and weekly rentals, timeshare and whole ownership.  When ASC introduced the Grand Summit Resort concept at its most popular ski destinations, SMS demonstrated the flexibility of its PMS by accommodating the diverse usage patterns of a luxury quarter-share hotel.  Each owner has 13 weeks of use, each of which can be reserved, placed in a rental pool, or exchanged through RCI. 

Due for release later this year is the fully integrated timeshare resort management system from CCS International, an affiliated company of Interval International.  Resort Solutions will manage most aspects of timeshare operations-- from lead generation, marketing, contract administration and commissions through member servicing, reservations, and resort financial management.  According to Assistant Vice President of CCS International Gene Pence, “The new system includes a sophisticated business-rules engine which allows the end-user to define any type of timeshare product, how it will be sold, and how an owner can use the inventory.”  The need for customized programming to accommodate evolving membership options is greatly reduced. 

Perhaps the most exciting feature of Resort Solutions is a central contact management database that allows any authorized user to view previous customer contact and account activity.  From a customer service perspective, having access to all databases is critical for efficient response and reduction of departmental workload.  No longer do employees have to refer prospective leads or members throughout various departments in order to gather relevant account data.  Recognizing the strengths of the existing property management systems developed for the resort hotel market, CCS International is also seeking partnerships for PMS integration. 

The demographics of potential timeshare customers approximate those of frequent Internet users.  A study conducted by Interval International in 1999 revealed that 88% of their members used a personal computer at home or at work.  RDP, based in Vail, Colorado has been selling PMS solutions to a variety of timeshare concepts for 18 years.  Founder Barry Biegler is quick to acknowledge the importance of Internet reservation capabilities for this market.  Biegler said,“RDP offers 24-hour Internet reservation access allowing owners/members to make reservations at their convenience, and increase rental income for unsold inventory.  Not only is room revenue maximized, but leads are generated and the cost of both transactions is greatly reduced.”

Now more than ever timeshare and interval ownership developers require flexibility and scalability.  The industry has rapidly evolved to satisfy consumer demand for flexible vacation options, yet the number of software and technology system providers has not increased proportionately.  Alas, hospitality technology suppliers are seeing the untapped potential of the timeshare market.  Partnerships between vendors will create “best of breed” solutions and the most well rounded of resort management tools. 
In the future, Hospitality Upgrade will report for timeshare decision-makers and the vendors who can offer them competitive technology products.


Elizabeth Lauer is an Associate with HVS International, a global hospitality consulting firm offering a variety of specialized services.  She can be reached at   elauer@hvsinternational.com or (303) 443-3933.
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Contact:


Geneva Rinehart
Associate Editor
Hospitality Upgrade magazine 
and the Hospitality Upgrade.com website
http://www.hospitalityupgrade.com
grinehart@updateplus.com

 
Also See: Boldly Computing Where No Wires Have Gone Before / Elizabeth Lauer / Winter 1999 
Hotel Business Centers: Finally a Revenue Producer / Elizabeth Lauer / Summer 1999

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