As sales cease, timeshare resorts are responding by getting rid of services and facilities they once offered -- which is not going down well with customers.
Timeshare companies are going through a tough time -- and timeshare members are suffering because of it.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, buying a timeshare looked like a fairly good deal:
In short, people were happy to pay the large signing up fees and annual payments for the peace of mind that timeshare gave them.
It was only natural for customers to assume they would receive the same high level of service they enjoyed when they signed up for the length of their contract.
Over the last couple of decades, things haven't been going quite so well for the timeshare industry. Many now see it as something a bit dated and it is facing many challenges:
The simple fact is that times have changed. The modern traveller no longer wants to be stuck with an expensive annual charge, let alone signing up for an expensive timeshare deal in the first place.
But this has led to timeshare companies seeking new ways to save money. And their services and facilities -- the same ones their customers expected to receive on every trip -- have started to disappear.
Andrew Cooper is the CEO of European Consumer Claims (ECC). He says that, as a result of a lack of sales, "companies have had to cut costs."
"We speak to angry timeshare members all the time. They are disappointed that facilities and services like the kid's club and onsite entertainment are missing from their resorts now. There is often no welcome pack in people's rooms or welcome meeting when they arrive. Concierge services have been cancelled and restaurants are closed."
Many of these people were sold on the sales presentations that they saw back when they first signed up. Presentations that, according to Cooper, "promised all of these little touches whenever members came to their 'home from home'."
Customers never kicked up much of a fuss, even when timeshare stopped making financial sense. They simply continued to use the system that they were familiar with.
"Firstly, they were used to their resort and that familiarity made them feel at home on their holidays, despite declining standards."
But the main reason they stayed, and why they convinced themselves that they were happy, was that, according to Cooper, "they didn't know it was possible to escape from the contract."
The main reason standards are falling, according to industry experts, is quite simple. With new sales dropping considerably or stopping altogether, continuing to provide the quality services they are known for is simply no longer financially viable.
When the companies provided presentations at the actual resorts to sign up new members, the resorts had to look fantastic.
"Facilities and services had to be demonstrably plentiful and high quality," says Cooper. "The people staying on-site had to be happy. That way when a salesperson is showing a prospect around, they see the kind of resort they would like to join.
"The high standards and great facilities were never for the existing members. They were to impress potential new members. The 'welcome breakfasts', for example, were only subsidised so that inhouse sales staff could spend time with clients and attempt to upgrade them into ever more expensive memberships.
"Now that sales are suspended or ceased altogether at many resorts, the need to impress has evaporated. The remaining revenue stream is annual fees and members are contractually obligated to pay whatever the resort demands every year, whether they are happy with standards or not."
With the slowdown in sales, this is when people start to notice the lack of services like "towels being changed less often, rooms not being made up every day, painting and pool maintenance becoming less frequent and so on.
"In short," Cooper continues, "the financial model becomes that of any budget hotel. They minimise expenses by cutting corners."
At the end of the day, the benefits of timeshare are quickly being overtaken by the pitfalls:
As such, timeshare owners are increasingly looking for ways to get out of their contracts.
Unfortunately, Cooper says that it "isn't easy to escape."
Because the annual fees are the only remaining source of revenue for timeshare companies, "they are forcing them to stay and to keep paying as long as the contract can be legally enforced.
"It's a sad fact of life that people will agree to things more easily when they are in a good mood," says Cooper. "People signed these long, detailed contracts while they were surrounded by the Spanish sunshine. Decades later, seemingly small details are still costing them hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year."
So, can people locked into these contracts ever get out of them?
According to Cooper, "Yes, usually it is possible to rid yourself from a timeshare contract."
The caveat? "In most cases, unless you have enough legal understanding to navigate the process (and plenty of free time), you will need expert help."
"The good news for anyone who bought in Spain on or after the 5th January 1999, is that there is a strong chance your contract is illegal. If so, you can not only escape, but you will be in a position to claim a substantial amount of compensation."