The Insurance Issue for Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Owners

The Insurance Issue for Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Owners

Summer Bay Resort
Summer Bay Resort (photo credit: Orlando Sentinel)

This week got off to a dramatic (and traumatic) start when a sinkhole caused the collapse of two adjoined buildings and the condemning of another one at Summer Bay Resort, just outside of Orlando, Florida. (See: Is the Orlando Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Sinkhole Growing?)  For the guests and owners at Summer Bay Resort, all are physically unharmed and it appears they will be, for the most part, fiscally unharmed as well.

Most importantly, all occupants of the building were safe. This fact alone seems amazing considering that the event became apparent around 11 PM in the evening, meaning that some occupants were already sleeping, others were in varying stages of preparing for bed, and many had sleeping children to roust and gather before evacuating. One woman was even enjoying a relaxing soak in the tub when the room around her began to collapse.

The staff at Summer Bay Resort deserves tremendous praise for its successful evacuation efforts and effectively dealing with the relocation of guests and timeshare owners who had lost everything they had with them. But the problems facing Summer Bay Resort vacationers didn’t end when the ground stabilized.

Displaced guests were without medications, eyeglasses, car keys, wallets, and credit cards. There was a temporary interruption of utilities that impacted other buildings on the property. Guests and owners throughout the resort were awakened, frightened, and were no doubt, peppering the Summer Bay Resort staff with anxious questions. And then there was the ongoing stream of news coverage, reporters, helicopters, repair crews, police, firefighters, and other emergency workers called onto the scene. This was a summer vacation gone wrong in the worst way for many people.

But when the dust, literally and figuratively settled, the obvious question on everyone’s mind is: who pays when a sinkhole swallows you timeshare, or it is damaged or destroyed by lightning, flooding, wind, tsunami, or any other type of natural disaster?

The answer to this important question can vary significantly, depending upon the resort at which you own timeshare and the type of disaster. This blog post looks only at the Summer Bay Resort sinkhole situation.

Who Picks Up the Cost When a Natural Disaster Impacts Your Timeshare Resort?

In the case of Summer Bay Resort, let’s put this situation into perspective. This resort property is very large occupying some 3,000 acres with approximately 900 timeshare units, vacation houses, and a hotel located on the resort grounds. Most of the more than 4,500 guests who were at the resort this week, were unaffected by the sinkhole and the resort has experienced few cancellations for upcoming weeks.

Timeshare owners at Summer Bay who own units in the buildings that were impacted, report that the resort management is telling them insurance will cover damages from the sinkhole. This should prove to be reliable information, backed by recent legislative changes pertaining to Florida sinkholes.

Florida Sinkhole Legislation Changed

Sinkholes were already a hot topic in Florida this year, even before the earth opened up the 120-foot wide chasm on the resort grounds of this popular Florida vacation ownership resort. Last year, Florida legislature approved a law defining that any catastrophic collapse caused by a sinkhole is fully covered under Florida property insurance. This is great news for the timeshare owners at Summer Bay Resort.

It is not such great news for other Florida timeshare owners and owners of residential property whose timeshare, homes, garages, or other structures are damaged over time by slow or small shifts in the earth. The new law clearly states that there must be an “abrupt land collapse, structural damage, and a condemned property.” However, for purposes of this blog post, let’s consider only the type of collapse and damaged experienced by Summer Bay Resort.

Many Florida insurance experts are commenting to the press that the resort’s property and casualty insurance should cover the loss and should prevent the need for any related special assessments against the timeshare owners.

Breaking Down the Insurance Issue for Summer Bay Resort Timeshare Owners

Timeshare owners and guests directly effected by the sinkhole, experiencing the loss of personal property, and who have insurance that covers their residence elsewhere, will likely find that their homeowners insurance also covers their personal property when they are traveling. Others who took out vacation insurance will probably find aspects of their time or personal property loss covered by their vacation insurance policy. And this is not to imply that personal property lost in the building collapse won’t be covered directly by the resort’s insurance that is covering this event. But some owners and guests may find they have additional types of insurance that they personally carry that also will benefit them in this situation.

Right now, Summer Bay Resort says it plans to rebuild the damaged buildings on some other part of its large property. So are the owners off the hook, for paying a special assessment or an increase in their maintenance fees?

Not necessarily. Insurance will cover the property as it was before the loss, plus depreciation, which is the difference in the cost today to replace items and property as compared to what it cost originally. But if the resort looks to update or upgrade the timeshare units in the rebuilding process, and there is added cost in so doing, that cost will be above any insurance coverage.

For example, what if the timeshare units being replaced had carpeting and the decision was made to update and upgrade to an engineered wood or other type of flooring that in the long run is more durable and perhaps more aesthetic? In that case, the insurance dollars allowed for replacing the carpet might fall short of the amount needed to switch to a more currently preferred type of flooring.  This cost could logically be borne by the thousands of Summer Bay vacation owners, in an apportionment equal to the number of units or weeks they own and the size of those units.

The Bottom Line

Most Summer Bay Resort owners who have commented publicly on the sinkhole have expressed relief that no one was harmed and have shown great compassion for anyone who was directly part of this bizarre event. Yet a few have demanded that the resort “guarantee” this won’t happen at other buildings on the property.

Let’s let Summer Bay Resort, and all other hotels, timeshares, and vacation properties off the hook on this type of demand. No one can offer guarantees against natural disasters, nor should we expect them to try.

Assuming that a resort makes all reasonable efforts to protect its guests and timeshare owners, and that to any degree determined by logic or law, the resort structure and property are safe, stable, and functional, then the resort has done all it can possibly do.

Things happen. You can personally procure insurance to protect you against most of them, including inclement weather and loss of vacation. If your peace of mind is enhanced by knowing you are covered against all possibilities, then you should explore the options for the many types of insurances that are available.

The Real Difference in Starwood Timeshare Resales

The Real Difference in Starwood Timeshare Resales

Harborside at Atlantis
Harborside at Atlantis

Starwood Vacation Ownership is a subsidiary of the global hotel and leisure giant, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. With more than a 30-year history in the timeshare industry, Starwood Vacation Ownership has resorts across the US, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Thousands of couples and families enjoy the spacious accommodations and delightful destinations of Starwood timeshare resales and rentals, yet the distinctions between buying a resale and buying from the developer can be confusing for new buyers.

As a company, Starwood includes multiple brands on both the hotel side and the vacation ownership side. Starwood timeshares include resorts under the brands Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, along with brand affiliation with Four Points, Aloft, Elements, Le Méridien, and The Luxury Collection – Hotels & Resorts. And one the best-known resorts in the Starwood vacation ownership family isn’t always recognized immediately by consumers as being part of the brand, the Harborside Resort at Atlantis, located in the Bahamas.

Starwood Timeshare Resales

On the secondary market, which means when the consumer who currently owns it resells the timeshare, all Starwood resort properties are sold as deeded timeshares. They can be fixed weeks or a floating season ownership, but there is always a deeded interest attached.

Select Starwood timeshare properties carry a StarOptions value. This value is determined by the size of the timeshare unit, the demand for the resort, the dates of availability, and the length of ownership. StarOptions is a program within Starwood timeshare that gives these properties a vacation ownership a “timeshare points” component and with it, timeshare exchange features.

But before we explore StarOptions, let’s look at Starwood Vacation Ownership resales that are not part of the StarOptions program. With these resales, you can, from up to one year or within 8 months of your vacation, and with a fixed or floating week, confirm your vacation week at your home resort prior to these dates becoming available to others for timeshare exchange.

Starwood Vacation Ownership StarOptions

StarOptions is also called the Starwood Vacation Network (SVN). If you want to convert your Starwood timeshare resale to StarOptions (points) you must own at one of 5 Starwood resorts. By purchasing a resale timeshare at one of these locations, you can reserve vacation time at other Starwood resort properties with no exchange fees.

These five resorts offering StarOptions for resale owners are:

  • Harborside at Atlantis (I and II)
  • Vistana Villages (Bella and Key West phases)
  • Westin Ka’anapali and Westin Ka’anapali North
  • Westin St. John (Hillside phase
  • Westin Kierland Villas

But there is a easy way to get around the caveat if you own a Starwood resale or are considering buying  Starwood timeshare resales and you want to buy a timeshare at one of the other beautiful Starwood resorts (not one of these five), yet still exchange for vacations at other Starwood destinations.

This fact is very important for Starwood timeshare resale buyers:

You can, as a resale owner at ANY Starwood vacation ownership property, become a paid member of Interval International, and then you will have timeshare exchange privileges at all the other Starwood resorts as well as at thousands of other timeshare destinations that are part of the Interval exchange network.  

Three more factors distinguish Starwood timeshare resale ownership from buyers of timeshare who purchase directly through Starwood. These are:

  • Starwood offers the Starwood Preferred Guest Program. This allows owners to exchange their StarPoints for hotel stays at Westin and Sheraton hotels or for travel perks including airline miles and car rentals. Buyers of Starwood timeshare as a resale are not eligible to exchange their timeshare in this program, but they can—just like any other Starwood hotel guest—join the program and take advantage of its other perks. By doing this, they receive all the benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest Program that any member who is not also a Starwood timeshare owner, receives.
  • Starwood owners who purchase on the secondary market (a resale timeshare) cannot become “Elite Owners.” This distinction is reserved for owners of multiple Starwood timeshares, that were purchased directly through Starwood. Sometimes, even this does not apply, as Starwood has been known to re-qualify resale weeks for resale owners who later buy more timeshare directly from Starwood.
  • And here is the most important difference of all for timeshare buyers of Starwood resales. When you buy a timeshare on the secondary market, you save thousands and thousands of dollars over the price of buying directly from the developer. You enjoy the same timeshare resorts and all the same fabulous amenities, yet as a consumer savvy enough to buy on the resale market, you will be enjoying that vacation without the cost burden of ongoing timeshare financing and with a LOT more cash still in your pocket.
The Big Value of Big Data for Vacation Ownership

The Big Value of Big Data for Vacation Ownership

Big Data for Vacation Ownership
Is the vacation ownership industry beginning to embrace the value of big date for its future?

Each month The Resort Trades updates the timeshare and resort industry on new strategies, products, properties, and events that serve and enhance vacation ownership. This month’s issue includes the following article by Jason Tremblay on the exciting potential for utilizing “big data” to better serve the timeshare marketplace. The article includes a very interesting study generated by Shell Vacations which should give insights to us all about the dynamic tech future of the timeshare industry.

Thank you Resort Trades for permission to reprint this article here.

The Big Value of Big Data for Vacation Ownership

by Jason Tremblay

Most timeshare owners or resort guests have a smart phone within easy reach at all times. When owners or guests begin planning a vacation, they typically make one or more visits to the resort website, perhaps to a timeshare exchange site, and to the Facebook pages for the resort itself or the resort brand. At check-in, a tablet, a laptop computer or both will be among the items packed for the trip.

At every step along the way, owners and guests are exchanging data with websites, and a great deal of the information exchanged is with the websites of their vacation ownership company and related timeshare services. Yet until recently, much of the online data that businesses collected (across all types of industries) went unsorted, unparsed and unused. Companies failed to recognize the goldmine they possessed.

Our own company, SellMyTimeshareNOW.com, has been guilty of this type of oversight. When we originally founded our vacation ownership resale website, now a full decade ago, we were so focused on connecting timeshare buyers and renters with timeshare owners that initially we didn’t track the amounts of the offers being presented.

We weren’t offering timeshare brokerage at that time and the offers weren’t part of our revenue; nevertheless they were a highly relevant piece of data we should have been tracking.

Although our website now proudly states that since 2006, our company has delivered more than $2.4 billion in offers to timeshare owners, we don’t (and can’t) make any claims about the dollar value of the offers we facilitated between 2003 and 2006. That data is lost to us forever.

As obvious as it seems in hindsight that we should have collected this information, we are not alone in this type of omission. Just like the error we made in our resale company, developers, brokers, exchange companies and others in the industry have permitted too much golden data to slip through their fingers.

Perhaps we all assumed that by virtue of being the “hospitality” industry we were focused on face-to-face interactions and could leave the business of creating fancy algorithms for data analysis to Google. We couldn’t have been further off base.

Professor Thomas Davenport, Harvard Business School, and author of the study, “At the Big Data Crossroads: Turning Towards a Smarter Travel Experience,” writes, “The travel industry stands at a big data crossroads today, the new technologies and techniques offering the potential to translate increasing volumes of data into higher profits and more efficient operations.”

So what makes “Big Data” distinctive from any other type of data? Partially, it is the scope of the information. Data tends to yield the greatest insights when it represents big numbers – a large volume of respondents. Big Data is also far more correlational than it is causal, so part of the key in reaping the benefit of Big Data comes in recognizing which questions to ask and which answers to ignore.

In finding the big picture of Big Data, you have to be willing to overlook the small detractors that could derail your effective analysis.

Earlier this summer, Shell Vacations made technology industry headlines with its use of Big Data. Working with ZDirect and Arizona State University, Shell Vacations LLC, a Wyndham Vacation Ownership subsidiary, utilized an eight-question survey designed to determine the willingness of consumers, based on demographics, to pay for vacation rental amenities, such as larger timeshare units with additional bedrooms. The study sought to understand how timeshare owners perceive price in relation to value.

Although the concept of asking a few questions in order to gain information sounds simple, there are inherent challenges. Which questions do you ask? Do you ask eight questions, ten, or perhaps only three? How do you get people to respond to your questions, how do you manage the data and most importantly, how do you translate the data you acquire into dollars and cents?

In the Shell Vacations study, called the “Shell Vacations Hospitality 2013 Logit Study,” Arizona State University was involved for the specific purpose of determining whether the traditional survey method used by academia could be made to work by practicing revenue managers. In other words, can the hospitality industry take data collection and turn it into response and revenue?

According to information released by ZDirect, the Shell Vacations study generated $100,000 in room revenues for the company. To put the success of the Shell Vacations study in perspective, the standard click-through return rate in the timeshare industry for questionnaires is only 3 percent, with Shell Vacations projecting their questionnaire would receive only 1,500 respondents. Instead, 10,000 timeshare owners replied.

Shayne Paddock, ZDirect CIO explains, “Shell Vacations Hospitality was able to learn far more than originally intended; they not only understand future booking probabilities, but they know how to structure questionnaires that get big results and drive big revenues.

By asking very real questions, rather than hiding behind a lot of marketing smoke and mirrors, and being honest and upfront as to why they were requesting the information, they produced a huge amount of intelligence.”

We are already living in a Big Data world. Google, eBay and even Facebook were conceptualized with Big Data methodologies in mind, and in many ways, their resources can be there for our benefit and utilization. Cited in the “At the Big Data Crossroads” study is this example of MGM Resorts putting Big Data to work effectively.

Recognizing Facebook with its 1.1 billion customers as clearly being Big Data, MGM Resorts uses Facebook advertising in sophisticated ways. Facebook targets keywords in user profiles and other social signals, utilizes third-party data, and even offers tools such as Custom Audiences, (for advertising to your own client list via Facebook) and Facebook Exchange for real-time bidding on ad placement and retargeting.

By using a refined advertising strategy that takes advantage of these and other Facebook tools, MGM Resorts estimates a return on Facebook advertising that is between three- and fifteen-fold.

Only a few years ago, companies did not have the capability to acquire the scope of information that is available today, nor could they have handled the data flood it would have produced. The technology and systems weren’t in place.

Today the situation is very different. With big picture data, we can make better decisions, we can respond to our markets in more targeted ways and at the same time, implement plans that work faster and return more profits because much guesswork will be eliminated. Big Data doesn’t have to replace traditional data management, but we will be called on to find ways for the old and the new systems to coexist in a hybridized way.

As with other business practices, it seems that vacation ownership is on the brink of playing catch-up before many people even realize the game has started. Yet because of the types of data our industry obtains in order to function and the additional data we could all so easily obtain in order to function better, timeshares, travel and the hospitality industry is an ideal environment for Big Data implementation to thrive.

Big Data offers so many ways for us to get creative, inspire partnerships, and distinguish ourselves as front-runners; we’d be small minded to miss the opportunities it affords.

Vacation Ownership Software SPI chosen by Playa Linda Beach Resort

Vacation Ownership Software SPI chosen by Playa Linda Beach Resort

Great vacation ownership resorts are more than beautiful views and comfortable beds (although both of those are important.) As the Playa Linda Beach Resort in Aruba recognizes, keeping your resort operations running like clockwork is critical too. That’s why the Playa Linda Beach vacation ownership resort has selected to upgrade its systems to SPI Software, a leading provider of timeshare and resort ownership systems.

Here is their news media release provided by SharonINK PR & Marketing:

Vacation Ownership SPI Software Chosen by Playa Linda Beach Resort

Vacation ownership software leader SPI Software is pleased to announce that Playa Linda Beach Resort, a top-rated resort located on Palm Beach in Aruba, has selected SPI Orange as their future software platform.

Richard Betrian, financial director of Playa Linda Beach Resort, commented, “We selected SPI Software based on their product functionalities with the objective to improve the service to our members and guests and also to streamline our accounting processes.”

“We are delighted that Playa Linda Beach Resort selected SPI Orange to manage reservations, property management and owner financial transactions. We want to thank management and the owner’s association for making the move. Playa Linda Beach Resort joins a growing family of vacation ownership companies on SPI Orange, the industry’s most advanced platform,” adds Matt Brosious, vice president of sales for SPI Software.

About Playa Linda Beach Resort

Rated internationally as a 5-star resort, Playa Linda Beach Resort is comprised of 214 units, among them studios, one-bedroom, lanai suites, two-bedroom luxury suites, town-homes and a luxurious penthouse. Each of these beautifully decorated and fully appointed vacation homes is spacious and exceptionally well-designed. Playa Linda Beach Resort has won the RCI Gold Crown Award for twenty one consecutive years (1992-2013), a designation given to resorts that have attained the highest level of excellence in resort accommodations and hospitality. Interval International also bestowed Premier Status on the resort for 2005 through 2013. Playa Linda Beach Resort has the distinction of being a Green Globe 21 and ISO 14001 certified resort, an honor shared with only six hotels in Aruba.

About SPI Software

SPI Software provides developers and operators of vacation ownership (timeshare, fractional, private residence club and others using either traditional or points-based usage strategies) with Web-based and Microsoft.NET-based software as either an enterprise suite of software called Orange, or in specific modules to handle marketing, sales, property management, finance, maintenance fee and receivables servicing, centralized reservations or owner website access. Founded in 1978 and based in Miami, FL, SPI can be reached at 305-858-9505, [email protected] 

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