|By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 23, 2010 -- Marriott Vacation Club is changing its sales model for North America and the Caribbean, joining the growing number of time-share companies that sell vacation points rather than the once-usual week at a designated resort.
The new points system, called Marriott Vacation Club Destinations, is designed to accommodate new trends in travel and increase flexibility for time-share owners, allowing them to book multiple, shorter stays rather than a single, full week.
The system also includes adventure packages, cruises and related offerings.
"Certainly the primary thing is flexibility," said Ed Kinney, vice president for Orlando-based Marriott Vacation Club. "We've recognized that consumer patterns have changed."
Marriott isn't the first to embrace such a model. Operations such as Disney Vacation Club, Holiday Inn Club Vacations and Wyndham Vacation Ownership already sell points. Such programs generally include a certain number of annual points that can be redeemed as vacation time at various destinations.
Marriott already operates a points-based system in Asia, where customers have preferred shorter stays and access to more destinations.
Points-based programs are growing in popularity within the time-share industry because buyers perceive them as more flexible, said Howard Nusbaum, president and chief executive officer of the American Resort Development Association, the industry's leading trade group.
When the time-share business was young, buyers usually purchased a specific week in the same unit for each succeeding year."When we started out, it was a very static product, and today it's almost a vacation currency," Nusbaum said.
The sour economy has accelerated the points trend, because such programs allow time-share companies to sell in less-than-one-week increments, which lowers the buy-in price for their most basic packages and eases the cost of entry for cash-strapped vacationers.
A points system makes it easier for customers to choose among resorts and allows them to book stays of varying lengths.
"In this economy, it allows you to buy more bite-sized product," Nusbaum said.
For Marriott and others, that can mean repeat sales, as owners add to their point totals so they can extend existing vacations or try new packages.
"It allows them to increase their vacation portfolio, but not with as large as a commitment of buying another deeded week," Kinney said.
Current owners of Marriott time shares will maintain their full rights and privileges, Marriott said, but will also have the option to enroll in the new program.
Sara K. Clarke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5664.
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