Timeshare owners get involved “Developers have been given a license to steal”

POSTED: 04/24/12 12:30 PM

St. Maarten – Trouble in the timeshare industry is not only a topic that appears in the local media. Jeff Berger published a weekly internet newsletter St. Maarten and Saint Martin Weekly News. The newsletter offers a tantalizing view on how parties that represent the interests of timeshare owners view the development surrounding the Simpson Bay Resort and Marina and other properties. Here is the content of this week’s newsletter, insofar as it relates to the timeshare industry in St. Maarten.

“The rhetoric coming out of WIFOL, the union representing employees of Simpson Bay resort, is getting thicker than molasses in Antarctica. The latest: the union is accusing Simpson Bay of practicing something akin to “slavery” at that resort. It says that payments to some employees have not been forthcoming.

This all stems from a court ruling since appealed by Simpson Bay which said that Simpson Bay resort owners must employ everyone previously employed by Pelican Resort, which by American standards is an asinine decision which hamstrings the new owners.
There are theatrics going on both sides, as we previously reported, with Simpson Bay threatening a couple of weeks ago that it might close the resort since, it said, it would not have the money to continue if forced to pay those employees and the penalties imposed by the courts. It’s a mess, caused by all three: a bad court decision; the union which has no intention of compromising; and a resort that seems to have more interest in prolonging a pissing contest than on resolving its issues and ensuring customer satisfaction.

Rumors

You would not believe the amount of behind-the-scenes intrigue going on in SXM right now. There are rumors here that are the stuff of full-length movies.

But we’ll stick to the subject. We have a hunch, and that’s all it is, that those most closely involved in this have long since figured out what they want to happen and are executing a plan to see that it does. Everything else is window dressing despite the reality that some people attribute to it — including the current union negotiation, the prospective acquisition and takeover by Hard Rock International, and the threat of closing the resort from its current owners.
They’re all acts in a play. In last week’s Weekly News we said we expected short-term disruption and we still do. If anything, WIFOL, the employee union, and Simpson Bay Resort seem to be farther apart than ever, and neither the government nor the courts seem to care particularly about timeshare owners. By their actions (or lack thereof), Dutch Side government officials underscore the fact that they just care about employees (who vote) and about businesses (that pay taxes). Timeshare owners did not fall off the table, they weren’t on it to begin with.
If Simpson Bay Resort is going to close, the resort says it will try to give advance notice — but don’t bank on it. They didn’t do that in the past and there’s no reason to think they will this time.

Mary’s Boon

Simpson Bay isn’t the only St. Maarten resort that has been in the news lately. As we reported last week, Mary’s Boon Beach Plantation was mentioned in canceled auction proceedings a few weeks ago.

Raul Maxbrown, resort General Manager, told us a week ago that it was business as usual at the resort. But then, a timeshare owner sent us a notice of auctions which included Mary’s Boon Beach Plantation.
An unconfirmed report from St. Maarten indicates that a bank possibly based in Anguilla acquired Mary’s Boon. We’re trying to confirm that.
According to St. Maarten law, when a timeshare resort is acquired, its timeshare contracts must be honored by the acquiring company.
In fact, many timeshare owners have left Mary’s Boon; they fled probably due to financial issues at the resort which we described over the last few years.
Lots of instability hereabouts and that is not at all healthy for the SXM tourist-based economy.

Consumer Protection Proposals

Jerry Wordhouse is one of a number of people concerned about the plight of timeshare owners in St. Maarten. He wrote the following:

I want to begin this report by thanking all of you who signed the letter that we submitted to parliament. I also want to thank all of you who submitted your emails to me and who responded on internet blogs. I was able to submit them all to parliament and they definitely had an effect. But first some history.
Most of you don’t know me so I will introduce myself with a brief introduction. My wife and I have owned at Sapphire Beach Club since 1992. We also own timeshares on Aruba, Mexico, and the U.S. As I am retired, we have been staying in timeshares for five months each winter. Some months ago three of us, tired of reading all of the complaints and whining on the Jeff Berger Timeshare Legislation blog [since combined with SXM Weekly News -Ed.], left the site to do something positive.

We spent several months communicating on the internet as we formulated a list of Timeshare Legislative Proposals which we hoped to submit to government. When we placed them on the Berger website for comments we got very few comments. After final formulation we found that there was limited access to government. I personally visited with the Prime Minister’s office and left a copy of our proposals. I then sent a copy to the President of Parliament for comment. In each case our proposals were forwarded to persons or committees unknown. When we asked who we could contact we were told we would be contacted when it was necessary.

It soon became clear that the St. Maarten Time Share Association, (SMTA) which is the association for the developers, was working with Bruce Cameron to write legislative proposals which will require a Timeshare Commission at an annual budget of $500,000.00. Of course the funding will come from a fee charged to all timeshare visitors. The proposals are also slanted towards the developers and when we tried to discuss changes with Mr. Cameron he felt he could only discuss changes if we would talk to him on the phone. As the three of us were unable to do this because of scheduling, job and travel issues we were left without having much input into his proposals and he wouldn’t discuss ours. At the present time it looks like a Dutch Judge, in Curacao is putting the final touches on the legislation. We are trying to contact him now.

With the forgoing as background I was determined to have a meeting with as many people as I could while on the island. I did meet with three well connected people who, while not directly involved in government, were most helpful and promised to get our message and our proposals before the right people. As a result of one of these contacts I was able to meet with two members of parliament for a period of two and a half hours. The meeting was scheduled to be a half hour. I met with MP Romain Laville, who is a young first term parliamentarian Member of the UP party. Also in attendance was MP Jules James who is the Manager of Simpson Bay (formerly Pelican) as well as a parliamentarian in the UP Party. Obviously, he wanted to know what I was proposing and what the nature of my visit was. We need to understand that the week I visited with these MP’s they were having a series of continuous meetings in an attempt to put together a final government budget, which needed to be finalized by Friday. In spite of this MP Laville scheduled me in.

I submitted a letter to both of them. I went through the letter paragraph by paragraph elaborating on the details and giving examples as they presented themselves. We then went through the legislative proposals on an item by item basis as well. Several times Mr. James interrupted with his point of view which in every case I was able to counter with the viewpoint of the timeshare owners. Mr. Laville was not at all aware of what our problems were as timeshare owners and asked a lot of questions. He took a lot of notes and asked a lot of questions.

When we finished he agreed that the government had to, in some way, begin to communicate with the timeshare owners. Some of the ways we discussed that this might happen would be for a government timeshare blog open to all timeshare owners. We also discussed a government timeshare newsletter that each of us could subscribe to and respond to. We also discussed at depth the need for accountability on the part of the developers so that we owners can approve, and audit the needs for maintenance fee and special assessment increases. He was truly shocked when I gave him examples of the outrageous increases in these fees on an annual and cumulative basis. He then understood that the developers, under the present system had been given a license to steal, a comment that Mr. James was not too pleased to hear.

I summarized the meeting by emphasizing the need for accountability on the part of the developers and communication on the part of the government. Mr. Laville understood that government had to do something soon to counteract the perception, which has become reality that the government doesn’t care about the timeshare owners. I told him that the timeshare owners do not want to leave the island but we will continue to do so unless things change.

At this time while I am skeptical I am willing to wait things out for the next 30 to 60 days and see what happens. I am also in contact with the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as the director of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority. I want to assure you that I have no agenda other than to see the timeshare industry controlled by government regulation in such a way that both the developers and the timeshare owners are treated fairly. Only then will we have peace on our beautiful island. Even beyond these desires are the needs of the citizens for a stable economic climate which will surely suffer if the timeshare industry continues to deteriorate. This issue is that large and that important. It isn’t only us who have suffered and will suffer.”

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