Observation by: Quincey Ross
If you have ever seen the movies Glengarry Glen Ross, Tin Men or Boiler Room then you have had a glimpse into the world of the early days of timeshare sales and marketing. But only a tiny glimpse.
The origin of the timeshare sales technique has its roots in land sales and indeed most of the early timeshare salesmen were former land sales pros. And as with land sales, the key to successfully closing a timeshare deal was customer emotion. The old sales adage of getting into their hearts, heads and then their wallets never rang truer than during a timeshare presentation, both then and today.
But back then the element of surprise was a great contributing factor to successful sales, too. Today most people have heard of timesharing and its associated vacation exchange possibilities but back in the seventies when a salesman spoke of the ‘pride of ownership’, ‘money-saving features’ and ‘vacation exchange options’, those were new and interesting concepts and people sat up and took notice. Not so much so anymore.
Unfortunately it was these very concepts that led to much misinformation and yes, even lies, about the possible benefits of timeshare ownership.
Enter vacation exchange.
Suddenly, as passionately extolled by the commission-motivated salesman, you could take that cheap off-season week and exchange it to some exotic location costing thousands more. No other benefit had before or since offered a solution to a major reason for not buying a timeshare, “What if I don’t want to vacation here every year?” Vacation exchange was just the grease the timeshare wheel needed and sales skyrocketed. It was also arguably the single biggest noted reason for owner dissatisfaction. Of course when those controversies arose the salesman would never admit to stretching the truth about the exchange possibilities.
Tales of deceptive marketing and sales practice abound for the era. From ‘short sheeting’ a contract, the practice of providing the buyer with an incomplete copy of the purchase contract so as to hide his rights, to dodging telephone calls from new buyers during their cooling off period.
But the most deceptive practices usually originated on the marketing side of the house.
Like most early era land tract marketing, timeshare marketing promotions did (and still do) rely on incentives to entice a prospect to visit their office or resort. And as the competition for these prospects grew so too did the need for more promotions offering bigger and better incentives. Mail pieces proclaiming “You’ve won a new car” and “Color TV pick up notice” appeared in mail boxes everywhere. And while the ‘fine print’ on these pieces was supposed to disclose that the free car would be awarded if you drew the right key from a fish bowl of thousands and the color TV notice was referring to the color of the printed piece and not the type of TV (it was actually a 5″ black and white), these disclosures were sometimes blatantly omitted from the mailer.
People couldn’t sit through dinner without getting a telephone solicitation for a free weekend at the mountains or beach. And it became impossible to walk the streets in any major resort area without being solicited for a brief timeshare ‘tour’.
Of course not all resorts were guilty of deception. Many had begun self-regulation and disclosure practices to control the hysteria. But an unscrupulous few stirred the eventual implementation of a firestorm of regulation and most resorts welcomed these changes.
Today, most of the scammers and get-rich-quick artists are gone from the industry.
Good riddance I say.