Timeshare companies are trying to reach more customers without appearing predatory.
By Ken Ibold
You've heard the pitch before: Sit through a sales session for a timeshare resort and get something free, from kitchenware to a vacation. The come-ons -- and the salespeople -- can be hard-sell. The editorial board of the Daytona Beach News Journal likened the recent tactics of some beach-combing sales agents in that town to shark attacks.
Generally, however, the industry has rebounded from the scandal-plagued era that gave timeshares a bad name. And timeshares themselves continue to be popular with middle-class vacationers looking for vacation value. Sales of timeshares leaped from $1.9 billion in 1987 to $6.2 billion in 1997, according to the American Resort Developers Association, as companies such as Marriott and Disney entered the game and helped burnish the industry's image.
Timeshare companies are still looking for ways to reach more potential customers without conjuring the theme to Jaws -- often by focusing on big-name marketing partnerships.
Orlando-based Fairfield Communities and Carnival Cruise Lines abandoned merger plans earlier this year but announced an alliance enabling prospective owners to "test drive" Fairfield timeshare units for a year and combine a cruise with a stay at a timeshare resort.
The deal gives each company access to the other's database of customers and potential customers. Fairfield purchasers get free Carnival cruises, while Carnival gets access to Fairfield's Apex telemarketing operation. Both companies plan to sell so-called "land and sea" vacation packages that combine stays at Fairfield resorts with three- to five-day cruises.
"There is a natural affinity among our vacation ownership for cruising," Fairfield President and CEO Jim Berk says. "More than half our vacation owners have taken a cruise and fully three-fourths of them intend to. Through this partnership, both companies can leverage their expertise and infrastructure to cross-promote their products."
Other companies have also used big names to improve their brand's cachet. Island One and Ron Jon Surf Shop, for example, recently struck a marketing agreement that creates Ron Jon-branded timeshares in Volusia County.
Not all the deals work, however. A marketing agreement between SunTerra and NASCAR fizzled despite similarities in the demographics of each company's customers. The dynamics of trying to market vacation investments at noisy racetracks didn't work.
And the public is still wary of the hard sell. Volusia County passed an ordinance last year severely restricting the ability of timeshare solicitors to peddle their wares. Daytona Beach has toyed with a similar plan. So have timeshare developers turned down the volume on their sales pitches enough?
"We have gotten more customer-friendly," says Pat Joyce, who sold more than $1 billion worth of timeshare units in central Florida in the past two decades before relocating to Branson, Mo. "Yeah, we have cleaned up a lot. I've cleaned up my act in the past few years. I had an epiphany."
In the News
Altamonte Springs -- Real estate website rHome.com has linked up with Time Warner's high-speed Internet service and Paxson Communications' network of 72 TV stations to create the Real Estate Channel. The original website was a clearinghouse of properties for sale by owner. The company's expanded vision includes providing real estate and home-improvement shows as video-on-demand over the Internet and broadcast on digital television.
Celebration -- Oriole Homes Corp. of Delray Beach has agreed to build 99 condominiums starting at $130,000 in the 4,900-acre Celebration planned community. The community features many homes worth more than $500,000 and a few $1-million mansions. This year, the average price is about $300,000.
Daytona Beach -- A class-action settlement involving alleged price fixing by track vendors of NASCAR souvenirs has been settled for $11 million. International Speedway will pay about $3.5 million in cash and $4.35 million in coupons to souvenir buyers. The price-fixing allegedly occurred throughout the Winston Cup circuit from 1991 through 1999. Eighteen other defendants will pay a total of more than $3 million in cash and coupons.
Lake Mary -- PTG Precision Technology Center, a manufacturer of industrial lasers, has signed a deal with EO Technics Co. of Korea to sell PTG's products in Asia. PTG recently received $2 million in venture capital from Advantage Capital Florida Partners of Tampa.
Orlando -- Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. said it would add 100 engineers and other support workers on the heels of landing a half-dozen contracts that could eventually be worth $2 billion.
The troubled Harley Hotel downtown has been reincarnated as the Sheraton Four Points, with a fresh $10-million renovation that includes a new exterior, fewer but larger rooms, a smaller restaurant and new banquet space.
Broadband wireless equipment maker Triton Network Systems bucked a turbulent stock market and launched an initial public offering of 5.5 million shares, generating $82.5 million. Triton, created by Military Commercial Technologies, a high-tech business incubator, targets companies with far-flung data transmission requirements.
Lockheed Martin Information Systems has landed a contract to provide special-operations aircrew training at Eglin Air Force Base and Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. The six-year deal could be worth $227 million.
ECC International Corp. (NYSE-ECC) laid off a quarter of its workforce when it lost out on a $50-million extension of a training contract it had been working on since 1989, producing simulation programs for Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co.'s Javelin anti-tank field trainer.
Real 3D, a spin-off of Lockheed Martin that was once a rising star of central Florida's high-tech industry, closed after investors tired of its continuing losses. The company built chips and accelerator boards to make computer graphics more lifelike.
Lucent Technologies said it will spin off Cirent Semiconductor and the rest of its microelectronics business in an initial public offering expected early next year.
Holiday RV Superstores (Nasdaq-RVEE) has continued on the acquisition strategy it launched when it went public, announcing plans to buy Hall Enterprises, a Lexington, Ky., RV dealership with about $13 million in annual sales. The acquisition is Holiday's ninth in the past eight months, and the company expects to add six more by the end of the year.
Osceola County -- A New York businessman has sued Walt Disney Co. for $1 billion, saying Disney ripped off his idea when it built its Wide World of Sports complex. The case went to trial in July, with Nicholas Stracick of Buffalo saying he met with Disney officials many times in the 1980s and early 1990s to pitch the idea. He says Disney showed no interest, only to launch a similar project on its own a few years later.
Titusville -- Command and Control Technologies Corp. has landed a contract from Spaceport Florida to reduce the cost of commercial space launches. CCT, which was founded by alumni of McDonnell Douglas, says it will develop a system for increasing the automation of launch sequences, slashing the cost of a launch from $50 million to $1 million or less.
Now Filming ...
ORLANDO -- Jodie Foster's production company, Egg Pictures, has begun shooting a feature film titled Flora Plum in central Florida. The film, which will shoot until just before Christmas, will star Russell Crowe and Claire Danes. Sixth Sense producer Barry Mendel is listed as a producer.