By MARYANNA LEWYCKYJ
Everyone deserves a break from the rat race now and then.
The prospect of treating yourself to a luxurious vacation every year and saving money to boot can be mighty appealing.
a building boom of luxury hotels and condos
is taking place at vacation resorts across
Those are the benefits timeshare sales staff use to woo prospective customers. With a timeshare, you buy the annual use of a unit in a timeshare resort by signing a long-term contract (typically 40 years or more). Timeshare are marketed as a simple and economical way to plan your annual getaways.
But would-be vacationers lured by slick pitches from timeshare sales staff may find instead that they're trapped in long-term contracts with unexpected fees and little flexibility.
Unlike travel agents and tour operators, timeshare operators are unregulated in Ontario. Although B.C. and Alberta have timeshare legislation, there's nothing on the horizon for Ontario consumers, which has seen its share of horror stories and even outright fraud.
In 1997, a year-long investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police, called Project Timeshare, uncovered three marketing companies that fleeced 2,500 timeshare customers of $17 million. In some cases, the buyers had arrived at resorts only to find their purchases had never been registered and were denied vacations or refunds.
Even consumers who aren't victims of fraud can find themselves pressured into signing contracts without fully understanding the implications.
Peter Lalonde, president of the Better Business Bureau of Metro Toronto, says timeshare complaints and inquiries consistently rank in the BBB's Top 10 list.
"The biggest problem is that consumers don't take the time to read the contract carefully or have it reviewed by a lawyer," comments Lalonde. "You have to do your due diligence. You're dealing with extremely talented, persuasive sales people."
While timeshares have their pitfalls, they also have proponents. According to the Canadian Resort Development Association, a not-for-profit trade organization dedicated to the image and ethics of the timeshare industry, Canadians represent about 4% of the world's more than 5.5 million timeshare owners.
"It's very big business," notes Gloria Collinson. "A lot of people gain a lot of enjoyment from timeshares. But it only takes a few bad apples to create problems."
Collinson says the CRDA has told the government it would welcome legislation, but so far the government hasn't acted. In the meantime, the CRDA is trying to protect consumers by insisting its members follow a code of conduct.
CRDA members must provide clear and plain disclosure in contracts, and give consumers a "cooling-off" period of at least five days to cancel contracts. Membership in the CRDA is entirely voluntary, however, so not all timeshare operators are CRDA members.
Here are tips to avoid timeshare wrangles:
Maryanna Lewyckyj is a consumer reporter for The Toronto Sun.