Fiona Klonarides meets two couples who have been making the most of their timeshare membership since their very first holiday.
There’s something quite therapeutic about spending an hour or so browsing holiday resort websites. It’s armchair travelling at its finest: no tickets to buy, no airport delays and no end of holiday options, from castles in Scotland to game reserve lodges in South Africa.
A few years ago I edited the in-house magazine for a resort developer in Spain. One of the sections was “Editor’s Letters”; readers wrote in to share their holiday experiences, all with one thread in common – their timeshare membership. It was afascinating insight into what we do when we finally get away for a holiday and usuallyone or two photos would fall out of the letters that arrived on my desk.
What struck me most wasn’t the number of letters the Spanish postman delivered but the sheer breadth of these holiday stories – often with anecdotes a particular memberof staff who’d made the family’s holiday that bit more memorable.
There was a particularly colourful photo of an older couple who had just tied the knot and flew to Kenya to celebrate. They spent the first week of the rest of their lives feasting like kings in a safari setting, in rather unusual company. There were no smiling relatives to be seen in the photo as they’d flown out alone; instead, they posed with four jovial yet slightly formidable looking Masai warriors, who, according to the wife’s letter, had presented them each with a pair of leather handmade sandals as a wedding gift. The joy of their Kenyan adventure was obvious in that one photo and you’d be hard-pressed to find a happier snapshot in any wedding album.
The most poignant letter of all, though, was from a lady who had recently been widowed. The thought of returning to the Spanish resort where she and her husband had spent their holidays was almost too much and she had vowed never to holiday again. Thanks, however, to some persistent but gentle pressure from her two best friends, she finally relented. Paper-clipped to the letter was a photo of three lovely ladies in Tenerife. There they were, the British version of the “Golden Girls”, celebrating a night to remember (thanks, in equal parts to a great dinner, complimentary bottle of cava and a charming head waiter). The lady signed off by saying this holiday had inspired her to plan more trips with her friends, something her husband would have wanted, and they were already planning a follow-up trip next winter. [member]
When it comes to planning ahead even the best laid plans come asunder, which is what happened to Joshua and Joanne Gooding from Devon. The Goodings had booked a honeymoon in April at a Petchey Leisure resort in the Algarve. Just before the departure date the unthinkable happened. A volcano we’d never heard of started erupting in Iceland. News bulletins started to resemble footage from National Geographic documentaries as the ash billowed into clear blue Icelandic skies and wafted its way southwards, turning large patches of Europe into nofly zones almost instantly.
Unpredictable, unpronounceable and unprecedented, the “ash crisis” clashed with one of the busiest travel periods of the year, the Easter school break. Aircraft engine experts who’d never sat on a BBC sofa before became ash cloud gurus overnight and ash and asthma became the new buzzords. By Sunday 18th April, the day before Joshua and Joanne were due to take off for Portugal, the chances of them flying anywhere got slimmer with each news bulletin. As Joanne’s dad, Fred Kemp explained, “By Sunday 18th it was obvious no flights were going to take off the following day, so I rang Petchey to explain our dilemma.”
The Petchey Leisure representative not only told Mr. Kemp not to worry, she thought there might be a room at Hever Castle (a setting fit for a honeymoon if ever there was one), and asked him to call back first thing the next day. “As requested, I called back first thing Monday morning and to my surprise Petchey not only refunded our points for the Portugal holiday immediately, they confirmed to us that a suite at Hever Castle had already been reserved my daughter and son-in-law.”
On hearing the good news, Joshua and Joanne drove up from Devon to the estate in Kent where champagne and a “palatial” suite awaited, and according to the couple they were “treated like royalty”. As the icing on the (wedding) cake, they were booked into Petchey’s latest Algarve resort Bay View Hotel in late June, for a sunny honeymoon after all. The bride’s mother Jean Kemp wrote to thank all the staff involved: “My husband and I knew we had bought into a quality product with Club Infiniti,” she said, “but now we really feel one of the family.”
Although the Kemps have a special spot for the Algarve, they’ve been to Spain and South Africa (visiting Bantry Bay in Capetown through an RCI exchange) and one regular date on the calendar for Fred Kemp is a regular golf trip to Hever Castle each year. As he says, exchange organisations like RCI (RCI.com) and Interval International (www.intervalworld.com) “open windows” to all sorts of destinations all over the world and exchanging weeks for holidays at other resorts is a popular option for owners who want to explore new places as well as old favourites.
Both RCI and Interval International have a long history in the holiday industry – this year RCI marks its 35th year. “RCI believes that the timeshare lifestyle is about the quality of experience offered to our members as much as the quality of accommodation, “ says Jonathan Back, Managing Director, RDI EMEA. “We actively seek out new destinations and new experiences to build our holiday exchange network. This is why – from its more than 4000 affiliated resorts in approximately 100 countries – RCI can offer its members every type of memorable holiday, from following in the England football team’s footsteps on safari in Africa, sailing the waters of Turkey and Israel along some of the most beautiful beaches, to cruising the iconic waterways of Venice.”
Contrary to the outdated timeshare image of two weeks in Spain taken the same time each year, the options modern vacation ownership offer are almost endless and include almost any holiday you can think of, from classic Disney vacations in Florida to spa breaks in Finland, to scuba diving and yachting in the Red Sea region.”
Sue and Neville Boughton-Thomas from Wales became Club La Costa members twenty-five years ago when they bought two weeks in the Costa del Sol. Since then, they’ve returned many times, but Portugal, Florida, Tenerife and this year Turkey have all been added to their holiday itineraries in recent years.
For the Boughton-Thomases, the highlights of timeshare ownership include “the excellent standards of the resorts – there’s never a worry with the type of holiday resort you’re booked into” and they appreciate the service, staff and overall holiday choices, although they add that booking ahead is important to get the flexibility and choice on offer.
This summer they’re celebrating Neville’s birthday at Club La Costa’s first foray into Turkey, the Appollonium Beach Resort & Spa. The new beachfront resort is set in a backdrop of olive groves and greenery overlooking the spectacular coastline of the country’s southwest coast. When not using it themselves, family members have used their accommodation and they even “gifted” Florida weeks to a business client of Neville’s who had anexcellent time there.
A few years ago, Club La Costa launched its own private yacht club and although the Boughton-Thomases are not yacht club members, they got a taste of a week on a catamaran during a week in Mallorca (Palma de Mallorca was Club La Costa Yacht Club’s original base and itineraries in the Red Sea and Turkey followed soon after, with, most recently, the Dodecanese islands in Greece).
Sue and Neville enjoy life too much to stay in one place and their zest for travel is contagious. When they return from Turkey, where next? “We would love, at some stage, to visit Canada or New England and perhaps do Indonesia via. Australia or New Zealand again before too long,” says Sue. For some, living in a beautiful Welsh seaside village would be a holiday in itself; for the Boughton-Thomases, twenty-five years after their first timeshare purchase, the globe-trotting is far from over. [/member]