Opinion: The never-ending story (Timeshare)

POSTED: 02/20/12 12:49 PM

Maybe it’s just us, but we get the strong impression that there is something seriously amiss in the state of timeshare-land. One attorney told us recently that we ought to stop writing “one-sided stories about the timeshare industry.” We thought about that remark for quite some time.

One-sided stories are usually perceived as slanted, meaning that there is an agenda behind the way the story is written. But if there is a lack of credible information stories also quickly seem one-sided.

So what is going on here? The tourism industry is our bread and butter, and the timeshare sector is probably the most important part of it. There are tons of foreigners who love our island so much that they have bought into a timeshare project. Unfortunately, a lot of these investors now have the feeling that they have been had by pirates of the Caribbean.

Timeshare owners are people with money, and they spend it at their discretion on our island. In that sense they contribute much more to our economy than those hordes of cruise passengers. Where the cruise sector stands for quantity with its impressive numbers – the timeshare sector stands for quality with the financial power of the people who’ve bought into these projects.

It seems therefore imperative to keep timeshare owners happy, and that is where St. Maarten is coming up short. Attorneys in criminal court are fond of this expression: one witness is no witness. In the same vein timeshare companies could argue: one complaint is not a complaint at all.

But we are not dealing with one complaint; it is one thing after the other. Royal Palm, the Rainbow Beach Club and the former Pelican Resort (now Simpson Bay Resort and Marina) and the fledgling Aquarius-project have all made headlines over the past couple of years and seldom did those headlines contain good news.

A persistent stream of complaints and conflicts amounts to a pattern, and that is where things get worrying. The timeshare industry is sick, and the patient seems unable or unwilling to find a cure. It does not matter whether the controversies are about the ousted workers at one resort, or about the outrageous maintenance fees at another one. What matters is that all this information together gives the sector a bad name and that it drags St. Maarten’s reputation as the to-go-to destination in the Caribbean down with it.

Against this background we notice a stunning lack of initiative from several parties: the St. Maarten Timeshare Association, the ministry charged with tourism, the Tourist Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, the government and the parliament.

Apparently nobody gets the idea that something needs to be done to turn this situation around. The timeshare sector itself has a vested interest in an improved image. All these conflicts of the past years have gone global via the internet and based on all this negative information only certified idiots would be silly enough to buy into timeshare in St. Maarten. We hear that some resorts have not sold any units like forever.

The government, and with it the relevant ministry and the tourist bureau also have a vested interest. After all they are investing good money in promoting St. Maarten abroad. Bad news has the tendency to travel faster than polished Cinderella stories about our beaches, our casinos and our whorehouses. (Oops, sorry, that last category is only actively supported, but not promoted abroad).

The effect of island-promotion is virtually annihilated by the never-ending stories crammed with bad news about the timeshare industry. Dropping the whole promotion-budget until everything is as it should be in timeshare-land would probably have no noticeable effect on the number of foreign visitors.

Now we understand that MP Leroy de Weever has initiated legislation for the timeshare industry. We have not heard anything about this positive initiative for quite some time now, other than that the subject matter is complicated.

That may very well be but how long could it take to write a piece of legislation? Three months? Half a year? We have to admit: we don’t know, though we realize that one does not hastily write legislation overnight.

At least there could be some communication about the intention of this legislation. Is it geared towards giving investors the protection they deserve? Is it geared towards improving the reputation of the industry?

Communicating these intentions to current and prospective timeshare owners alone could do the island a world of good. Unfortunately there is only silence on this front.

Another angle that deserves attention is local employment. What we get from Friday’s court hearing where the Wifol-union took another shot at the Simpson Bay Resort is that the dismissed union-members have been replaced with illegal aliens that work for manpower agencies.

That statement alone ought to be reason for the labor inspection and immigration to spring into action. This statement needs to be investigated on its accuracy, and if it turns out to be correct, measures are the logical next step.

There is also the financial aspect. There is probably some truth in the position that business partners are allowed to make any agreement between them as long as it is not against the law. But the unlikely high interest the Simpson Bay Resort is paying on its mortgage to Quantum Investment Trust feels a bit like daylight robbery. Again, this information needs to be investigated, and if the interest-agreement turns out to be an ingenuous construction set up to drain money from the resort, the government ought to at least investigate its options.

All these actions could install some trust in foreign investors who now at times have the feeling that their investment is welcome here but that they can drop dead once the money is in the bank.


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