Gotta Get Away: Timeshares, Hotels and the Sharing Economy

By Kevin Riley

It’s a familiar tale: An entrepreneurial business model enters the real estate market, disrupting traditional players. Even now-ubiquitous chain hotels were once a disruptor and, in the 1970s, timeshare executives were the ones shaking up the hospitality market. Timeshares became such a competitive presence that every major hotel conglomerate entered the market and acquired existing, successful companies. Now, in the past few years, timeshare businesses have adapted to the digital age and rapidly diversified their offerings to appeal to a changing consumer base. Perhaps because of its entrepreneurial roots, the timeshare industry may be well-positioned to adapt and weather the market’s newest disruption: the sharing economy and the growth of online rental platforms offering an alternative—and in many cases, more affordable—hospitality experience.

The power is in the hands of the consumer. With an expanding pool of options available for consumers, vacation rental providers are jockeying for travelers’ dollars. Online platforms, such as HomeAway, and its subsidiary VRBO, offer consumers a different travel experience, with accommodations available at their fingertips. The flexibility these platforms provide has particularly resonated with millennials and anyone traveling on a budget.

Because the traditional timeshare model offers an alternative to purchasing a second home, rental platforms have impacted timeshares differently than hotels. Timeshare buyers have long had access to a variety of travel destinations without the hassle of upkeep and maintenance. Destination choices, however, have evolved. For the past 15 years, some timeshare operators have prioritized expanding into urban areas, including major hubs like New York City and Miami, as well as secondary urban markets gaining popularity as cultural destinations, like Boston, San Diego, Vancouver and New Orleans. And competition could get fiercer in those markets, particularly because many customers are swayed by the authentic travel experience online rental platforms can offer via homestays and other non-traditional arrangements.

In addition to providing greater exposure for smaller competitors, the secure automated payment processing capabilities of online rental platforms also removed a barrier to entry into the market for these smaller players. Companies with a modest supply of vacation rentals, for example, may not have had the ability to obtain a merchant account to enable online transactions. While online rental platforms charge a host service fee for each transaction, that fee is a much cheaper alternative to a merchant account and allows small players to offer a convenience on par with larger hotels and timeshare companies.

As a testament to its financial adaptability, the timeshare industry has seen prominent deal activity in 2016. In June, private equity investment firm Apollo Global acquired Diamond Resorts International Inc. Following suit of other major hotel conglomerates, this December, Hilton Worldwide Holdings’ board of directors approved the spinoff of its timeshare business, Hilton Grand Vacations, which represented 12 percent of their top line, and Park Hotels & Resorts, Inc. The spinoffs are expected to be finalized in early January 2017. Starwood Hotels and Resorts also completed the spinoff and sale of its timeshare business, Vistana Signature Experiences this year, before finalizing its merger with Marriott, in September. Because the hotel industry is an entirely different business than timeshares, with different multiples and earnings, spinning off timeshares into a separate public entity is a common strategy.

All signs point to sustained growth of the sharing economy in the coming years. Hotel owners and timeshare operators alike would be wise to develop agile service offerings and adaptable marketing strategies to prepare for disruptions on the horizon and secure their share of the market.

This article originally appeared in BDO USA, LLP’s “Construction Monitor Newsletter (Winter 2017). Copyright © 2017 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved. www.bdo.com