Florida company pitches timeshares to next generation
Posted April 23, 2018 2:28 p.m. EDT
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's not your parent's timeshare anymore.
That's the message of Bluegreen Vacations Corp., a Boca Raton, Florida-based company seeking to tap the next generation of travelers.
Bluegreen last week announced it had purchased a new vacation destination, The Eilan Hotel and Spa in the San Antonio Hill Country.
The $34 million purchase is part of an initiative to expand the company's holdings westward.
It's also part of a move by the vacation ownership company to lure younger travelers. To do so, Bluegreen is seeking to expand into hip locations offering the types of activities and experiences that millennials may enjoy.
Bluegreen, owned by Fort Lauderdale-based BBX Capital Corp. (NYSE: BBX), employs 550 people at its corporate headquarters in the Boca Raton Innovation Campus just west of Interstate 95.
From that location, Bluegreen is planning a major expansion to the western U.S. of the company's vacation destinations, which now mostly are in the East and Midwest. Bluegreen also is trying to expand its customer base.
The Eilan is an example of both strategies.
The property, about a 20-minute drive to San Antonio, features a spa and fitness center. It's also near a Six Flags amusement park and several wineries.
"It's a good example of catering to a wide spectrum of consumers as well as millennials," said Ahmad Wardak, Bluegreen executive vice president of corporate development and innovation.
In addition to resorts, Bluegreen has studios and one- and two-bedroom destinations. It even has a yurt, a circular tent for a more luxurious type of camping, at its Shenandoah Crossing resort in Gordonsville, Virginia.
Bluegreen tries to sell to a distinct market, customers who live within a four-hour drive to one of its properties. Therefore the Eilan is expected to attract visitors from Texas and nearby states.
In the U.S. and Caribbean, Bluegreen has 67 hotels and resorts through partnership and exchange networks, including with Choice Hotels and Bass Pro Shops.
Bluegreen works on a points basis, in which owners buy points to gain access to the company's properties. The more points owned, the more access a vacation owner has to top properties at peak times. The starting buy-in for points ranges from $10,000 to $15,000, officials said. Points can be carried over to another year, and owners can buy additional points, too.
Bluegreen's flexible points system differs from some other timeshare companies, in which owners buy a particular week at a particular destination, Wardak said.
While some people might remember the timeshare properties of their parents, others might not be familiar with the notion of a vacation ownership.
These companies bill timeshares as a type of "second home" purchase, with lodging at the ready for future vacations.
But timeshares could be a tough sell these days, with many young adults shut out of buying even their first home due to high housing costs, including South Florida.
In Palm Beach County, the median price of single-family houses sold by Realtors last month was $341,500, down slightly from the June 2017 peak of $345,000, according to the Florida Realtors.
If people can't buy a first home, why would they buy what could be considered a second?
The answer, Wardak said, is lifestyle.
People today are more cognizant of the need to unplug and spend time with family, he said. In fact, the company's new chief executive, Shawn Pearson, a former professional baseball player, has talked about his goal of prioritizing family time with his wife and three sons.
One of the selling points of a vacation ownership is the size of the destinations, which can feature apartment-size locations that are more practical for a family than a single hotel room, Wardak said.
Of course, this opens the door to question why anyone would consider buying a timeshare when there are thousands of rentable apartments and houses through online sites such as Airbnb or HomeAway.
But Wardak said Bluegreen offers "quality control" that vacation rentals can't offer, with professionally managed properties and security.
Interestingly, Airbnb has made selling vacation ownerships easier to the younger generation because they are familiar with apartment-style lodging, Wardak said.
Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the Palm Beach County's Tourist Development Council, said it's possible that millennials may take to the idea of owning a vacation property because they enjoy experiences, and timeshare properties may offer experiences that a hotel doesn't.
"It's possible Bluegreen's theory has some legs," Jergensen said.
Still, with housing prices making it difficult for people in Palm Beach County to buy a home, "from a disposal income (point of view), I can't imagine rushing out and buying a timeshare when you are still struggling to find that first house," Jergensen added.
In Palm Beach County, 90 percent of tourist bed taxes come from hotels or resorts, Jergensen said. Only 10 percent comes from places such as Airbnb rentals or timeshares, he said.
But other parts of the state, such as Orlando, or other parts of the country may have more offerings of timeshares that draw visitors, he said.
Alexandra Clough writes for The Palm Beach Post. Email: aclough(at)pbpost.com.
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