Commentary

In a World of Shared Opinions, Timeshare Sales Ain't What They Used To Be

Ever since I returned from vacation a week and a half ago, I've been mulling our time at Jiminy Peak in the Berkshires from a social media context.

It's not that Jiminy Peak is a major presence on, say, FriendFeed, but that, in order to get two nights virtually free at the mountain -- which, in the summer, has a great amusement/adventure park for kids -- my husband and I listened to a two-hour sales pitch for Wyndham Vacation Ownership, a point-based system for buying into the network of Wyndham resorts.

In other words, they were trying to sell us a timeshare.

When you get past the fact that you're going to be sucked into a sales pitch reminiscent of "Glengarry Glen Ross" in exchange for free digs, the process is really quite fascinating, particularly for people like my husband and I who have spent much of our adult lives writing about advertising and marketing.

Our fascination with the sales and marketing process only started with the hilarious renaming of what is basically a timeshare as "vacation ownership." The two of us analyzed every word, every chart thrown at us and every piece of body language for what it was supposed to contribute to the goal of trying to get us to sign on the dotted line. Our main contact, Paul, greeted us saying that he was filling in for someone else who was absent and to bear with him since he was a little rusty on giving presentations to prospective members. Was really true, or just a ploy for us to empathize with him? No bit of minutiae went unscrutinized..

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After Paul mapped out a program for two hours that was so Byzantine it sounded as though members spend as much time managing their points as they do on vacation, the final (well, almost final) pitch came from the closer, Scott, who was as stern as Paul was affable. Here's what he offered: for a down payment of $4,000, and monthly payments of $588.88, we could buy a lifetime of vacations, starting with 308,000 points over the next year, enough points to make us Wyndham VIPs. (Later, a third guy, Jack, whose alleged role was to have us fill out a customer service questionnaire, asked us if we wanted to do a test drive of the service for 18 months.)

I hope it goes without saying we didn't bite. Who, especially in this day and age, agrees to pony up that kind of money without seeking out an alternative viewpoint first? Well, obviously, some do, but with social media playing such a massive role in how we shape our major purchase decisions, I sat there and wondered how long this type of sales pitch is going to be feasible. I couldn't wait to get out of there and Google every permutation of Wyndham to find out what we'd just been pitched was really about.

To Wyndham's credit, there isn't as much negative commentary about the program online as I might have thought, and the complaints I did find seemed to be rectified quickly by company officials. That, or the chain is really good at search engine optimization which stacks the first dozen or so pages of Google listings with links to its various resorts and programs.

Still, there were some obvious eye-openers, like the masses of people who try to resell their timeshares on eBay, most of whom, when I checked today, had zero bids. Sales ploys like Wyndham's depend on people's eyes being wide shut, when, with eyes wide open, we can now find, thanks to blogs, wikis and forums, other vantage points. Some day fairly soon, people like Paul, Scott and Jack are going to have to find different tactics.

By the way, the total tab for our two-day stay was $17.80.

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