Archive for March, 2012

Odds and Ends: March 31, 2012

It being April Fool’s Day tomorrow, I thought I would point out to you the Gate’s Off Topic story about The Best April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time.

The first one involves a 1957 British newscast about a bumper crop of spaghetti in southern Switzerland, which showed film of young women picking spaghetti from trees. The fact that so many people fell for it (and the other two best hoaxes mentioned) leads me to think that not so much has changed in the ensuing years regarding people’s willingness to be utterly gulled by a variety of hoaxes both simple and elaborate.

Got people lining up to send their hard-earned money to timeshare resale scammers, transfer companies or dubious vacation clubs? I rest my case. shrug

The 2012 ARDA World annual convention in Las Vegas opens for registration on April 1. I don’t know why that’s funny, but it is.

There are some interesting seminars, etc. lined up, along with talks and advertising by timeshare’s usual suspects. And of course there will be lots of air kisses and pretend joviality, and no doubt some actual business will occur somewhere along the line.

We need new blood and new ideas in this industry, ya know? Some fresh air to kiss… waiting


Tip JarDo you have tips or rumors you'd like to share ANONYMOUSLY? Something you'd like us to investigate or follow up on? Help fill up the Tips Jar so we can share it with the whole Timeshare World! CONTACT: gatekeeper@insidethegate.com

Video of the Week: March 31, 2012

Especially for Tom, here is LCD Soundsystem, fronted by American singer-songwriter and producer James Murphy, performing their big hit All My Friends. Is it good? Well, “All My Friends” was named the #1 Single of 2007 by Pitchfork Media. In 2009, Pitchfork listed the song at #2 of their Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s. It was selected by Guardian Unlimited readers as the best single of 2007. Time magazine named “All My Friends” one of The 10 Best Songs of 2007, ranking it at #4. Rolling Stone ranked “All My Friends” as the 41st best song of the 2000s. In October 2011, NME placed it at number 118 on its list “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years”.

So yeah, it’s good!

Send in your own playlist and if I can find a good version on YouTube I’ll post it for you! What would you like to hear?

Email: gatekeeper@insidethegate.com

Eastern USA: March 31, 2012

FLORIDA:

BOCA RATON: The good news is that Bluegreen Corporation’s losses narrowed in the fourth quarter as revenue grew 34 percent. The company lost $135,000 on revenue of $98 million, but it lost $23.7 million on revenue of $73.2 million in the same period a year ago. Its revenue increase was due to the sale of more timeshare units.

One big help in narrowing its losses was that Bluegreen’s expense to reserve for losses in its timeshare buyer loan portfolio was $3.7 million in the fourth quarter, down from a $31.9 million expense in the final quarter of 2010. As of Dec. 31, the company held $705 million in timeshare buyer loans, both securitized and non-securitized, with a loan loss reserve that covered 20 percent of that amount.

For the full year, Bluegreen lost $17.3 million on revenue of $403.4 million versus a loss of $44 million on revenue of $350.2 million in 2010.

Also good: Bluegreen has a pending deal to sell its Bluegreen Communities residential division for $29 million to Coral Gables-based Southstar Development Partners, which is led by former Bluegreen director J. Larry Rutherford. Southstar has put down a non-refundable $4.5 million deposit for the deal, which is set to close April 30. Bluegreen says it would need to pledge $25.9 million of the sales proceeds to pay off a lender, so stay tuned for more news about this transaction.

The not-as-good news is that BFC Financial Corp.’s proposed deal to acquire complete ownership of Bluegreen, announced last November, is still on hold as several groups of investors have filed lawsuits in Palm Beach County Circuit Court against Bluegreen, BFC and Bluegreen’s directors, seeking to block the deal. The complaint alleges that shareholders wouldn’t receive fair compensation, the interests of minority shareholders wouldn’t be protected and Bluegreen board members, including Levan, engineered the transaction to benefit themselves and not the other shareholders. Bluegreen and BFC filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit and the judge has yet to rule on that motion.

And in case you wondered what the top execs of the company earned:

  • President and CEO John M. Maloney Jr. earned total compensation of $1.87 million in 2011, up from $1.36 million in 2010.
  • Senior VP and Chief Strategy Officer David L. Pontius earned total compensation of $1.23 million, down from $1.26 million in 2010.
  • Senior VP and head of marketing David A. Bidgood saw his total compensation increase to $1.22 million from $1.03 million.

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

DOVER: There’s big news from the timeshare resale front. Jason Tremblay, founder and CEO of Sell My Timeshare NOW and Timeshare Broker Services, is rebranding its timeshare resale and rental services, licensed timeshare brokerage, and resort services as VacationOwnership.com.

But that’s not all. As part of VacationOwnership.com the company is also launching a recently acquired domain that will be uniquely for its for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) timeshare resale and rental ads: TimeshareResales.com

Those are two powerful domain names!

Vacation Ownership.com stickerSellMyTimeshareNOW.com and Timeshare Broker Services are both owned by Vacation Hotdeal Companies. There are no immediate plans to discontinue the original brands, but Tremblay says he is “…very excited that going forward we will be representing the timeshare industry, specifically the secondary marketplace as VacationOwnership.com, a name that is compelling, memorable and comprehensively speaks to all aspects of timeshare vacationing.”

Although the company began in 2003 solely as an online advertising service for by-owner timeshare resales and rentals, in 2006 it added licensed timeshare brokerage to provide vacationers more choice in how they bought, sold, or rented timeshare. In 2008, the company took on $10 Million in growth capital from Edison Venture Fund to expand its services and the following year, began providing customized owner services to resorts HOAs, timeshare developers, and timeshare management companies.

You’ve come a long way, baby!

FYI, in 1996, after working almost twenty years in vacation ownership marketing, Frank Apuzzo co-founded a Web design and Internet marketing company in Orlando, Florida and helped grow that company into a million dollar plus business. In February of 2000, he went out on his own and started Apuzzo Internet Marketing. The company began by developing two of its own Web sites in the vacation ownership & timeshare resales industries. Guess what those two Web sites were? ;)




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Midwest and Southern USA: March 31, 2012

GEORGIA:

ATLANTA: The Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection (“OCP”), has entered into settlements with a pair of timeshare transfer/”postcard” companies that provide timeshare transfer and lien release services to consumers in all 50 states and Canada, including Georgia.

The companies are Safe Hands Transfers, LLC and Direct Transfers, LLC, and they stood accused of employing a variety of deceptive and illegal sales and advertising practices. OCP’s investigation revealed that the companies were sending out postcard mailers to consumers implying that they would offer consumers money in exchange for their timeshares. Consumers who responded by attending a sales presentation were instead allegedly pressured into paying thousands of dollars to transfer their timeshare deed over to the companies or to sign up for the companies’ lien release services.

Consumers who agreed to the company’s lien release services claimed that they were not informed that this might have a detrimental effect on their credit score, could result in their being subject to collections or sued by creditors or debt collectors, and might lead to foreclosure.

The companies also allegedly failed to inform consumers verbally or in writing of their three-day right to cancel their contracts.

The press release on this says the companies are owned by the same principals, but interestingly didn’t name them. So I went to their websites (which were virtually identical) but there was no information there, either. Instant red flag for me.

Since the address for Safe Hands appears to be in Duluth, GA I did a search of Georgia Corporations— but that just showed me that Safe Hands Transfers LLC was registered as a foreign (Delaware) LLC but subsequently withdrawn. There were no names listed there for the principals.

Direct Transfers has an address in Moorpark, CA, and is an active foreign (Delaware) LLC in California. In a brief search I couldn’t locate the principals’ names there, either.

A BBB search had only these two names associated with Safe Hands:

  • Primary Contact: Ms. Dawn Eller (Customer Relations Manager)
  • Ms. Yvonne Barkas (LLC Managing Member)

These names were associated with the Santa Barbara, CA BBB’s record:

  • Katie Sonn – Staff Attorney
  • Deborah Stucker (Manager)

So who ARE the principals of the company??? And why are they keeping it so secret? What are they trying to hide???

Anyhow, Direct Transfers, LLC has agreed to refund Georgia consumers approximately $59,000 and to pay $37,500 in penalties and administrative costs. Safe Hands Transfers, LLC is required to pay approximately $29,000 in restitution to consumers and to pay $37,500 in penalties and administrative costs. The companies are also required to cease and desist from offering and performing lien release services in Georgia.

I’ll say this for those two companies and their mysterious principals, they’ve done a first class bang-up job of keeping negative publicity out of the first several pages of Google search. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.




Tip JarDo you have tips or rumors you'd like to share? Something you'd like us to investigate or follow up on? Help fill up the Tips Jar so we can share it with the whole Timeshare World! CONTACT: gatekeeper@insidethegate.com

Western USA: March 31, 2012

NEVADA:

LAS VEGAS: Just in time for the big ARDA hoorah, Hilton Grand Vacations Club has erected its sign atop the newly-named Elara resort (formerly PH Towers by Westgate). Sorry I don’t have a picture, but it’s a really BIG sign and it took a really BIG crane to get it up there and it looks really cool!

This is a 100% non-smoking hotel, by the way. Just so you know.

FLASH: We just received a picture of the new signage on the former PH Westgate Towers. Click on it to see it bigger.

Hilton Grand Vacations "Elara"

popcorn_smileySince I’m sort of on the subject, word on the street is that there was a regular little Peyton Place scenario playing out at the Westgate Flamingo Bay resort in Vegas. It apparently involved the DOS/Project Director at Westgate Showcase on Las Vegas Blvd., his boyfriend, his boyfriend’s nephew, the Inhouse Sales Director for Westgate Flamingo Bay, a part-time sales rep at Flamingo Bay who is also a stripper, and the police.

What I heard is that there was an altercation of some sort at Flamingo Bay involving the first-mentioned trio when the Inhouse Sales Director refused to fire the part-time rep/stripper over some kind of finger pointing about something. Whatever the accusations were, the scenario reportedly got heated enough that the Westgate Property Manager allegedly called the police, who came, saw and conquered. I don’t think any arrests were made.

So what WAS the result, then? Well it seems that the DOS/PD, his boyfriend and boyfriend’s nephew were all sharing a unit at Flamingo Bay at the time— but they aren’t any more.

Word is that Richard Siegel had them tossed out on their ears.

Is this old news or new news? No news?

TEXAS:

DALLAS/FORT WORTH: 40-year-old Linh C. Dinh has at least a 10-year history in the vacation/travel club business in the USA, and most of it isn’t good. His most notorious company is Vacation Network, which operated in Houston and Austin until its state business license expired last month. The company also operated out of Arizona and Nevada from 2008 to 2010 but lost its business licenses in those states, too. You need only google Vacation Network to find a plethora of complaints about it. (You can start at Pissed Consumer, if you want.)

For instance, in 2007, Dinh settled charges of trade and commerce violations in Georgia, agreeing to pay $160,000 in penalties and $35,000 in costs when the Georgia Office of Consumer Affairs accused Vacation Network and three other companies of which Dinh was either owner or CEO of misleading customers about the location of travel destinations, not allowing refunds and cancellations, asking customers to pay $249 for promised free tickets, lying to customers about how the business worked and using others’ logos to indicate partnerships that did not exist. The other three companies listed on the complaint were Augusta Reservations Systems, Premiere Vacation Systems and Vacation Reservation Systems. None of this should be news to you if you’ve been paying attention.

Well, now Dinh is involved with a company called Oasis Getaway, another vacation club that’s located in an upscale business park in Southlake. A problem arose when couples began dropping in to Steve Cosgrove’s travel agency, Dynamic Travel, looking for Oasis Getaway. Seeing the logos for major cruiselines on the mailings received by those couples, Cosgrove notified the cruiselines which ordered Oasis to stop. And Cosgrove eventually began to warn Oasis’ would-be customers to watch their wallets. (Get the full details here.)

Fast forward: In a letter from Dallas attorney Delwin E. Hervey, who was hired by Oasis, Cosgrove has now been warned to cease and desist from his company’s “premeditated defamation and disparagement” which the letter asserts “has already caused significant monetary losses to Oasis.”

Imagine that. A Linh Dinh-affiliated company threatening to sue someone else for being mean!

The Star-Telegram has covered this very thoroughly and you’ll want to read Dave Lieber’s column about it. Juicy, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth…




Tip JarDo you have tips or rumors you'd like to share ANONYMOUSLY? Something you'd like us to investigate or follow up on? Help fill up the Tips Jar so we can share it with the whole Timeshare World! CONTACT: gatekeeper@insidethegate.com

International: March 31, 2012

CANADA:

BARRIE, ONTARIO: In 2008 Skyline International Development bought the Horseshoe Resort near Barrie, which shares grounds with Carriage Hills though the two resorts are owned separately. The company announced big plans to develop the entire resort into a mini-Blue Mountain, and very quickly the timeshare owners at Lodges at Horseshoe began to see an increase in maintenance fees and special assessments.

BIG increases, which got bigger every year. And as timeshare owners began to default to the developer, either in protest or because the owners couldn’t afford the increases, the maintenance fees accrued to remaining owners— resulting in more forfeited units, further reassessments and the fees continuing to rise— until the 18 remaining holdouts were handed a bill last October for more than $28,000 per week(!) at Horseshoe. Skyline, meanwhile, continued to claim the company wasn’t responsible for maintenance fees on units forfeited to them.

A slick way for a developer to force timeshare owners out so the company can reclaim the whole development and do with it as they will? Skyline denies it, saying they’re following the letter of the law, but a local newspaper last Oct. compared Skyline to the greedy bankers/Wall Street that brought the world to the brink of economic collapse and questioned the company’s ethics.

Meanwhile the Time Share Owners Association (TSOA), representing about 250 of The Lodge’s leaseholders, are taking Skyline to court and have filed an application record laying out their position against Skyline International Development. They have a website with all the applicable information on it, which you will find at Lodges At Horseshoe, and they’re pretty darn serious.

And you can get more details about the controversy at the Orillia Packet here and here. Do read them, and let me know if you’re as disgusted by Skyline’s actions as I am.

SPAIN:

MOJACAR: According to the Voz de Almería and other media sources Steve Ackerman, a Brit who calls himself a travel agent, has been arrested in Spain on suspicion of credit card fraud following a joint operation involving the National Police and the Guardia Civil.

Ackerman, 43, is accused of making nearly £100,000 over the past year from fraudulent travel agencies, including Playaway Weekends, Cricket Travel Ltd and Sports Travel International. The Guardia Civil alleges that the group stole bank details from their victims, bought products with stolen credit card details and sold them on to others.

Also arrested by Spanish police were Ackerman’s 32-year-old fiancee, Yvette Dundas, his associate, Gary Funnell, 62, and a 22-year-old only known as “JT”. All four live in Mojacar.

The four are also facing charges related to document forgery and vehicle theft after police seized two cars that had been stolen in the UK.

You can get more information about the dealings of this group (and Ackerman’s finger pointing at an errant former employee) at The Mirror.

Sure, it’s not exactly timeshare news— but it’s close enough.




Tip JarDo you have tips or rumors you'd like to share ANONYMOUSLY? Something you'd like us to investigate or follow up on? Help fill up the Tips Jar so we can share it with the whole Timeshare World! CONTACT: gatekeeper@insidethegate.com

Morning Meeting: March 31, 2012

Join us for a pithy morning meeting timeshare sales tip of the week, originally published in InsideTheGate.com, to help you to greater success in selling timeshare. Brief and to the point, these sales training tips are designed to get you thinking, to expand your knowledge, to help you to become all that you can be in the timeshare sales arena.

Whether you’re an industry veteran or a green pea, it never hurts to brush up on your skills! Today’s tip:

Law:

REMEMBER: There is a time to sell, a time to reassure and a time to hit the sales guest right where they need it the most and that is to let them know that as an ‘owner’ they have the full protection and weight of the law in their corner!

One way to demonstrate this and reinforce the credibility of the presentation is when a prospect asks (e.g.): “What happens if we have a reservation but our accommodation is unavailable?”

Instead of dancing around the issue, the savvy rep/closer will whip out, for example, Chapter 119A- Timeshare statutes for the State of Nevada, flip to the “RIGHTS OF OWNERS” section NRS 119A.510 “Replacement or compensation if unit unavailable” and then read those few precious words demonstrating what the LAW (not the rep) states will happen.

As covered in a recent Morning Meeting (DOCS), being able to confidently back up the words spoken during the presentation in black and white is ultimately one of the strongest closing tools available and the PROS who know their ‘DOCS’ and the Statutes of their jurisdiction (internationally, too) and incorporate aspects of that information in their presentation (and close) will laugh all the way to the bank!



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Idle Thoughts: March 31, 2012

QUOTABLE QUOTES: “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.” – J.P. Morgan



I got nothin’ this week, so I thought I’d entertain you with this video of SNL’s Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) on “The Secret of Life”. 1980.

Don’t forget to laugh this week…



Tip JarDo you have tips or rumors you'd like to share ANONYMOUSLY? Something you'd like us to investigate or follow up on? Help fill up the Tips Jar so we can share it with the whole Timeshare World! CONTACT: gatekeeper@insidethegate.com