Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Timeshare Real Estate Pumps Millions Into Area

The timeshare industry contributes up to $343 million to greater Williamsburg's economy, according to one study.

The very nature of the service inspires something lusted after by hotels and attractions repeat customers.

“We've got 4,000 units here, and I'm told by people in the industry that we could have 12,000 units at build-out,” said Dick Schreiber, president of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance.

That would put them ahead of the 10,000 guest rooms of the local motel and hotel industry.

Kevin Jones, CEO of King's Creek Plantation, said that's a realistic projection. “I can see that happening,” he said. “If we reached our full 1,500 and other resorts reached their build-out.”

King's Creek recently cleared 26 acres off Route 199 for another 400 timeshare units.

Jones said King's Creek has also begun construction of what will be the “highest-end” timeshare product in the area, 52 “manor homes.” An interest in those units will sell for “more than $39,000.”

An estimated 90,000 owners of timeshare units comprise a solid base of visitors who travel to Williamsburg yearly. If that number triples along with the 12,000 build-out, Williamsburg is looking at 270,000 potential timeshare customers annually.

According to a 2004 study of the timeshares in Virginia funded by the industry and prepared by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the industry contributes nearly $1 billion to the statewide economy.

Although the study was not broken down by region or locality, rough figures for greater Williamsburg can be extrapolated. According to the Department of Professional & Occupational Regulation, 11 of the 31 timeshare developments registered in Virginia are in the Historic Triangle.

That works out to $343 million in economic impact. About $210 million is direct impact in the form of business generated by and salaries paid by the timeshare companies. The other $133 million is in indirect impact.

The study indicates that the timeshares create about 1,330 local jobs in direct sales, management and operations and another 1,120 jobs created indirectly by the increased economic activity in the area generated by the timeshares.

Jones said he thought these figures accurately portrayed the timeshares economic impact on the area.

Timeshares here generated $43 million in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments. That includes not only property taxes paid by the resorts, but income taxes paid by employees and sales tax paid on everything the timeshare companies purchase in the local economy.

Because extrapolation is ambiguous and the 2004 report is based on 2002 data, Ernest Liberatore of Vacation Time Inc., a marketer with ties to the local timeshare industry, suggests that an updated and more localized economic impact study be conducted.

Schreiber said having such a study would be helpful, but it's pricey. “To do a good economic impact study would cost about half a million dollars,” he said.

Schreiber said the importance of the timeshare industry to our tourism economy can't be overestimated.

He said a study done by the Virginia Tourism Corp. showed that 20% of the area's visitors stayed in timeshares and that they stayed about three times as long as those visitors who stayed in hotels. That translates into more money poured into local attractions and restaurants.

“I know there are people who wish they weren't here,” Schreiber said. “But they are. The timeshare operators know how to make money, they're smart and aggressive.”

That aggression is one reason that shoppers don't want them here.

Timeshares tend to buttonhole people on the street while out shopping.

“I know people don't want to be approached on the street, I don't like it either,” Schreiber said. “But while there are a few that give the industry a bad name, like in any industry, most operate in above board manner.”

Liberatore, who called the street approaches “intrusive” said, “There's a better alternative, and that's ‘vacation stores,'” he said. “Look, this is a young industry, only about 30 years old. We need to recognize the things that don't work and fix them.”

Vacations stores are self-contained shops that offer a number of vacation products.

Jones said that King's Creek already owns two vacation stores and plans to open another. He said that although the resort used “off-property contact” personnel, he's not sure that's the future of the business. “It's better when the customer come to you,” he said.

Liberatore said the timeshare industry has to “evolve to match the sophistication of our customers.” He said marketing schemes that are appropriate for Las Vegas might not be appropriate for Williamsburg and that the timeshare operations need to adapt.

“I agree with that absolutely,” Jones said, saying that Williamsburg was a more upscale market, like Hilton Head.

A big reason for opposition to timeshares here is the belief that they hurt the hotel industry. Booming attendance rates at area attractions this summer haven't translated into improved occupancy rates at motels and hotels.

Liberatore said that isn't true. “For every ten people who come into a timeshare salesroom, only one buys,” he said. “But the other nine are also exposed to information of a positive nature that encourages a return trip or extended stay even if they don't stay in a timeshare.”

Schreiber said he believes those who buy timeshares are those who are impressed enough with the destination to want to make return trips.

“I think they stay in a hotel their first time here and decide they like it so much it's worth purchasing the timeshare,” he said.

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