Timeshare holiday companies in India are re-inventing themselves. To begin with, they like to be called as holiday or vacation companies instead of timeshare. In fact, 50% of Sterling Holidays' revenue today comes from the FIT (free independent traveler) segment. "Though we have not reduced importance of timeshare members, we are no longer just time share. Our business model has moved as per the customer needs. In fact, we are one of the largest suppliers to portals such as Make My Trip and Ibibo," points out Ramesh Ramanathan, MD, Sterling Holidays.
While the membership model continues to work better for ClubMahindra, with close to 85% of its occupancies coming from its members, the company is now focusing on offering experiential vacations to its customers. So, if one is looking to dine on a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala or have a relaxed evening amidst the black mountains of Kanha, the vacation company promises to curate an experience for its members. "For us our members, membership additions, our new experience additions, our unique proposition of flexibility in vacation ownership continues to remain strong as evidenced by the occupancies that we have. We are also investing Rs 600 crores in creating four new properties," says Kavinder Singh, MD & CEO, ClubMahindra.
Sterling which recently went through a major brand makeover, is also promising unique holiday experiences. While Ooty is a popular tourist destination, luxurious accommodation and great food at the resort there is basic hygiene, according to Ramanathan. "We make the vacation memorable by organizing a half-day tour to a Toda (a tribal community) village there. We get them to have a local meal there and if possible even participate in a Toda wedding."
With more and more Indians opting for varied holiday experiences the conventional time share model where one buys a holiday in a fixed location for 25 years is obviously passe. So, the likes of ClubMahindra first moved away from the conventional timeshare concept to a vacation model which enabled a member to holiday in any of its resorts. "We realised two years ago that if we don't focus on creating unique experiences beyond stay, we will be compared with players which are there in the market through online travel aggregators. So, if we want to extract our price premium or preference, then we need to do things that are adding to the holiday," says Singh.
Ramanthan of Sterling says that while there is still a market for timeshare, not everyone wants to invest in a holiday for 25 years. "We wanted scale for which we needed to grow two different businesses." Sterling post its business model reinvention is close to profitability, claims Ramanathan. However, with every second holiday company offering tempting holiday experiences, the timeshare companies have to really think out-of-the-box to stay relevant.