The legal definition of timeshare is a holiday product ‘of a duration of more than one year under which a consumer, for consideration, acquires the right to use overnight accommodation for more than one period of occupation’. In short, timeshare is a long-term holiday product giving owners access to a wide range of holidays each year for a number of years.
Timeshare began in Europe in the 1960s as an innovative way for increasing holiday choice. Instead of booking a week or two at a resort every year, or purchasing a holiday property outright, timeshare offers holidaymakers the ability to buy rights of occupancy in a property, typically in multiples of one week, either for a fixed number of years or ‘in perpetuity’. It puts a holiday home within the reach of millions who could never afford to buy a property.
Once owners have purchased their timeshare product, they can either use it themselves, share it with family and friends etc., or rent it out. Owners’ demand for greater flexibility led to the growth of exchange systems and, more recently, point systems. These systems allow the owner to exchange their timeshare week for either another week at the same resort or for a week in another resort within the exchange network. Exchange networks give access to over 5,400 resorts in more than 90 countries.
The popularity of exchange systems has led to a new flexible product, often called vacation clubs or points clubs, where consumers buy points in a holiday product instead of a specific week in a specific resort. These points then act as a holiday currency. Each time the owner wants to take a holiday, they choose the size of apartment, duration and location they want and pay accordingly from their allocation of points.
Timeshare has come a long way since the first resort was developed in the 1960 and today there are 6.7 million satisfied timeshare families world-wide. With high occupancy levels, averaging at 72% year round, the industry is an important contributor to economies in parts of Europe that traditionally suffer from high unemployment.
As the needs and aspiration of buyers has changed over the years, so has the industry and holiday ownership. It now includes high-end concepts such as fractional ownership, condo hotels, destination clubs, canal boats, caravans and cruise ships.