Mills, managing director of the points-based holiday programme Aroma, will be celebrating 30 years in the industry in 2015. His experience includes working with timeshare exchange organisation Interval International through to his work with the industry’s trade association, the Resort Development Organisation (RDO) – with much more in between. Sharetime magazine spoke with Robin to find out his views on the future of the timeshare industry.
What is your background in the timeshare industry and what experience have you gained during that time?
I joined the industry in 1985 just as so many others at that time, by pure accident!
I cut my teeth in the Algarve working with one of my greatest mentors, Jorge D’Almeida. It was mental but very enjoyable. We had hundreds of OPC’s in fleets of vans and were selling predominantly to Portuguese nationals backed, financed and marketed by two of Portugal’s main high street banks.
Some years later I went on to set up Interval International’s Portuguese operation. From there I went on to assume varying positions within Interval International based from the U.K. but operating across the European marketplace, culminating as group sales director.
Interval was a tremendous training ground for me in all aspects of the industry. Throughout my time there I was lucky enough to work on a global basis with the industry’s best, many of whom went on to be personal friends and still are.
It was here that an appreciation of the consumer’s needs in product development really started to feature in my thought process.
After my time at Interval International, I went on to develop a points scheme for RMI called Infiniti. I subsequently managed the merger of RMI with Jack Petchey’s Portuguese operation after he had acquired RMI to create Petchey Leisure.
Petchey Leisure was eventually sold to the MGM Group. Since then I have worked with Club Leisure Group to develop a European operation on their behalf.
Club Leisure Group (CLG) is one of the world’s leading property management companies, overseeing the aﬀairs of 20 points clubs, including two which service the South African government.
I am working to promote our resort management company First Resorts expanding their extensive portfolio into Europe, starting with the acquisition of Brockwood Hall near the U.K.’s Lake District.
First Resorts currently manages 54 resorts in South Africa. In addition, Club Leisure Group has developed Aroma, a unique European-based points scheme, based loosely on their successful South African model, which oﬀers greater flexibility than any other vacation product on the market.
Further, I hold several key positions within the Resort Development Organisation (RDO), the European trade body. I do feel that my years of experience in the industry give me the ability to contribute positively as a ‘navigator’ to the differing directions we are certainly going to head in the coming years.
What significant changes have there been over the years for consumers and the industry?
From a developer/industry perspective, we have transgressed from a fixed week, fixed unit product to varying forms of floating week and then into points products.
A number of developers are now promoting a fractional product based on weeks, albeit with points as currency for usage.
I cannot help but feel that we really have not changed our offering anywhere near to the extent that we should have over the years to stay up-to-date with our clients’ rapidly changing requirements. The industry is not offering products for a new, far more diverse client base.
I am certain we over-complicated points programmes initially to give the perception of tremendous change from the existing product.
We also tried to build far too much into the product, when in reality the inner core was very much more of the same thing.
Take as an analogy the mobile or cell phone. The average consumer utilises only 20 per cent of a smart phone’s functionality.
We should learn from this and offer a product that the majority of our clients will use, keeping it as simple and transparent as possible.
From a consumers’ perspective I feel that only in recent years have they started to become as pro-active as they could and also should.
With TATOC to help, they have the opportunity to take the product and the industry to the next level.
What has been the good and bad in your experience?
I do not want to spend time on the bad. It has been more than adequately documented over the years and cannot contribute to our going forward.
What is good is that we are all still here after many good years combined with some very turbulent times.
We have tremendous opportunities as both developers and consumers together to create a future far, far brighter than our past.
We need to get on with the job in hand as the task is enormous and we have a lot to do if we are to leave a positive and exciting legacy for the next generation.
Can the industry reverse the poor perception of timeshare in certain sections of the media?
Interesting wording in this question – “in certain section of the media.”
Indeed, certain sections of the media do not want to ever have their perceptions changed, whatever we do. We need to appreciate this and move on.
We must work together with the media as a whole and on all platforms and levels. We need positive campaigns with clear achievable objectives.
We have a fun product – and we should be championing this to all ages. We will make changes to keep us ahead of the game and our product competitive within the mainstream leisure and tourism sector.
Is there a market for existing owners to sell their weeks and points?
Until we change the perception of our product offering as well as of the industry as a whole, I am sorry to say that this is not viable.
Ours is a product that is still in the main sold and not bought. Once we are able to reverse that, then most certainly there will be a re-sale/secondary market.
Again, at the risk of becoming monotonous, we will only achieve this by all stakeholders working as a team and pulling in the same direction to achieve a common set of objectives.
What is the likelihood of new products being introduced to existing owners and products to improve the experience of long standing owners?
There certainly will be. New offerings have already started. But they do need to go much deeper and change considerably in order to appeal to a far broader range of consumer.
Finally, everyone appears to be of the same opinion that change is essential as well as being integral to a strong future. Therefore, by default, the experience of long-standing existing members will be improved.
We all need to deal with the two ‘elephants in the room’ – exit and re-sale.
It is imperative that in the very near future we come up with a strong and manageable exit policy that both works and is fair to all parties.
Some progress has been made during recent months. However, there is still some considerable way to go and movement in certain positions is urgently required in differing areas.
With your crystal ball, tell us what you see for the timeshare industry and buyers in the next five years?
I hope what I see matches what I wish for all of us..
Over the next five years, which is not that long a period, I would like to think that we can develop further a flexible, dynamic industry that is in a position to meet the ever-changing requirements of our existing clients – as well as attracting many new.
As for management fees, I feel charges will evolve in the coming years to be more biased towards usage as opposed to being purely fixed.
I feel there will be continued consolidation of our existing business, which will assist in resolving some of the on-going problems of our legacy resorts. It is essential that we do not just leave them to hang out and dry.
Again this needs a joint initiative with the industry and consumers.
I do feel that resolving the exit issue will go quite some way to paving the way for creating a re-sale solution. We have been an industry of innovators over the years. We must not lose sight of that element.
But we need to work hand in hand with consumers while utilising innovation to achieve a more certain, brighter future.