Time up for timeshares? Watchdog calls public probe into SA’s ’disgusting’ holiday club industry

Consumers allege that they can’t get bookings and are duped into signing up for lifetime contracts that can never be cancelled.
National Consumer Commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed didn’t hide his disgust at the conduct of major holiday clubs operating in South Africa when announcing a public inquiry into the “timeshare” industry yesterday.

The industry now prefers the term “vacation ownership” to “timeshare”.

Consumers have alleged that:

  • they were duped into signing up for lifetime contracts that can never be cancelled;
  • companies overbook and over-sell accommodation;
  • levy increases are excessive and members are threatened with litigation if they can’t pay them;
  • they can’t get bookings.

“The most disturbing aspect is that the vacation ownership industry has done little or nothing to correct itself when issues are raised with conduct, products or services,” Mohamed said.

According to the Vacation Ownership Association of SA, it’s a R3.5-billion a year industry with more than 200 resorts and 500000 “shared owners”.

The association has expressed its “utter dismay” at Mahomed’s claim that the industry has turned a blind eye to consumers’ suffering.

Spokesman Alex Bosch said since 2008 its representatives had proposed amendments to the legislation and industry code of conduct to remedy problems faced by consumers.

In 2015, the National Consumer Commission lodged an application with the National Consumer Tribunal following an investigation into major holiday clubs, including Univision, the holding firm of Quality Vacation Club, and Club Leisure Group, which owns Flexi Club.

The cases were “withdrawn” by the commission, according to Mohamed, due to “technical defects”. “We were legally challenged by the clubs and we realised it would prove costly to proceed.”

The announcement of a public inquiry is the consumer commission’ s Take Two industry challenge, intended to “identify the root causes of the issues experienced by consumers, make findings on the facts and evidence presented and make recommendations on how to address the consumer issues highlighted in the complaints”.

A three-member panel will spend six months engaging with consumers as well as industry players, regulators and academics.


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