While Australian-based timeshare owners have been grappling with their own pandemic-induced issues in recent times, a report emanating from UK-based European Consumer Claims (ECC) paints a grim picture for their European timeshare owner counterparts.
Following two years of COVID-induced despair, even the most loyal members are questioning their holiday choices as overbookings, bankrupt resorts, mass flight cancellations and now, out-of-control bush fires in many parts of the continent have timeshare owners are bracing for yet another summer of disappointment.
According to the ECC report, during 2020 many holidaymakers’ plans were cancelled with the majority of the holiday industry giving refunds or offering alternatives.
However, the timeshare industry instead decided to charge full fees based on a proviso extra accommodation would be offered the following year whether it was convenient for their customers or not.
A spanner was thrown in the works when in 2021, resorts were forced to close again and clients were once more charged in full with the promise of all the accommodation being rolled over again to 2022.
Experts pointed out that not only would all the extra holidays be impractical for most clients, but also resorts simply would not have the available inventory. The resorts’ strategy was widely seen as a cash grab with them being paid in full, knowing they would be unlikely to ever provide the holidays.
COVID-19 has been described sardonically as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’. During lockdowns, many airport staff found other jobs. Hotels are open for business, but airlines are unable to replace their staff in time to whisk guests to holiday destinations because of the security complexities of hiring airport workers.
Without these workers, the flights can’t take off, despite airlines frantically trying to fill staffing gaps right up to the last minute, a scenario which has been regularly seen in recent weeks in Australia and particularly during the recent school holidays .
In the UK, thousands of flights were cancelled in June with over 70 percent of these being cancelled while holidaymakers were actually at the airport, often queueing at the check in desk.
Families who had arranged car hire, placed their pets in pet-care, and made all the arrangements necessary to go abroad suddenly get told “sorry, you are not going anywhere.”
Huge volumes of flights are expected to be called off this summer, with EasyJet alone announcing that they will probably have to cancel over 10,000 flights.
Quite apart from the disappointment of looking forward to a well-earned break, or explaining to your excited children that their holiday isn’t not going to happen there also follows a scramble to prevent financial loss.
Travel insurance will cover some expenses, and maybe others like the car hire and pet care can be rescheduled for a later date.
Timeshare owners however, can expect neither a refund of their fees, nor the possibility of rescheduling when the cancellation is last minute.
Timeshare owners have to pay their annual fees in advance, and exchanging their weeks requires months, sometimes years of notice if they are to have any chance of getting the location and week that they want. If they want to cancel a booked week, they have to give many weeks of notice in order not to lose the booking (and therefore money).
Certainly, timeshare owners who cancel from an airport check-in desk have no facility to bank or rebook that week for later. Their money is gone. If they want another holiday, they will have to pay for it.
The report quotes EEC CEO, Andrew Cooper who said timeshare just isn’t equipped to deal with the challenges facing the modern holidaymaker.
“New member sales have dropped off a cliff in Europe because people today need to be able to book or change holiday plans at short notice,” he said.
“They don’t want to be committed to paying every year a fee which is usually more than a regular holiday. Especially if they might not even be able to take that holiday.
“Timeshare resorts are closing down en masse, ceasing sales and filing for bankruptcy and insolvency. Members are worried that their resort might not be operating from one year to the next.”
What are the options?
ECC is offering free confidential advice to timeshare owners looking for ways to escape the commitment of their membership free, given relinquishment is generally possible.
Mike Parker-Brown is a UK-trained and qualified journalist and an award-winning travel communicator with more than 30 years experience.
Since 2002, Mike has worked as a freelance writer and PR consultant providing his services to major organisations in Australia and internationally in the tourism, aviation, hospitality, recruitment and export marketing sectors.