Brett Archibald shares his account of the exhilarating ‘start-up days’ of timeshare in South Africa

Embarking on his illustrious career in the 1980s, Brett Archibald witnessed the genesis of an industry that would reshape leisure and hospitality. Over a period of four decades, Brett held directorship roles with RCI and Wyndham Rental and Exchange, overseeing operations in South Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, and Asia. He shares his account of the exhilarating ‘start-up days’, reflecting on the challenges, triumphs, and enduring memories that shaped his journey.

My path to the timeshare industry is an interesting one. After finishing school, I wanted to study Agricultural Engineering, but first needed to convert some subjects by doing a BCom. When I arrived to enrol, I found my name on the Agricultural Engineering list. I called my dad and he said: “Be an accountant and one day you will have enough money to buy a farm”. In 1985, I was working for Ernst & Young and one of their client’s was the Wall Hollard Group who had a division called the Timeshare Shop. I would travel to Durban to do their audits, and when I saw how successful the sales agents were at selling timeshare, I decided that’s where I wanted to be.

“Everyone realised the potential of the industry and it was an explosion of groundbreaking work”

At that time, the industry was rapidly expanding with the construction of resort developments like Pine Lake Marina, the Garden Route Chalets, and Baywater Village – which marked the inception of timeshare on the Garden Route. As developers poured resources into property investments, RCI took a distinctive approach, prioritising people and technology. By developing innovative platforms for industry communication and feedback, RCI cultivated invaluable insights that influenced the trajectory of the industry.

“During those formative years, collaboration became the linchpin of the industry’s progress”

In 1990, I joined RCI, who was looking for someone who understood the nuances of timeshare development, and marketing and sales. During those formative years, collaboration became the linchpin of the industry’s progress, with RCI bringing together developers and sales agents toward a common goal. Challenges such as legal complexities and instances of misrepresentation, were tackled by the industry collectively, underscoring our ability to overcome adversity through unity. I firmly believe that this collaborative spirit was instrumental in our success.

“The South African industry was characterised by its trailblazing spirit”

We introduced groundbreaking concepts such as the creation of peak weeks, flexi weeks, mid-week and weekend breaks instead of the worldwide standard blue, white and red weeks, plus the points system – all of which the rest of the world later followed. This allowed people who couldn’t afford a whole week to start with a midweek break and later upgrade, which you couldn’t do in Europe or America at the time. In fact, it was a RCI team in South Africa who travelled to the United States to create the points programme for the Disney Points Club.

“RCI brought a unique perspective to resort credibility”

In its role as a franchisee and licensee, RCI brought a unique perspective to resort credibility. The introduction of gold and silver crown status, and hospitality awards created a globally recognised standard for quality, shaped by insights learned from listening to the needs of timeshare owners. At the time, the South African Tourism Council’s understanding of timeshare was limited. Resorts seeking accreditation had to apply as hotels or guesthouses, incurring additional costs. In contrast, the RCI package included an annual global grading system, providing resorts with a streamlined and cost-effective means of validation. RCI excelled in marketing this accreditation to the public, likening it to having an SABS stamp on a product. For South Africans, obtaining this accreditation signified quality. Moreover, because this recognition stemmed directly from members rather than RCI itself, it served as a powerful tool for developers, bolstering their credibility and appeal to potential buyers.

“The transition from developer-centric models to holistic club structures marked a shift in the industry”

In the 1980s, developers without in-house sales and marketing divisions relied on external sales agencies, which typically charged hefty commissions, often around 40%. Consequently, without owning the entire value chain, it became challenging for developers to maintain adequate margins. In the 1990s, the landscape began to change when prominent hospitality brands entered the market and consolidated the value chain under one roof. This transition from standard timeshare models to integrated offerings laid the foundation for a new era of industry growth and innovation, which would later see the emerging Clubs follow a similar trajectory.

“Recognising the need for oversight, the Timeshare Institute of South Africa was established, later renamed VOASA”

The early 1990s brought about persistent challenges for the industry, as unethical practices tarnished its reputation. While South Africa eventually took proactive steps towards self-regulation, the absence of early controls had significant ramifications locally and globally. Recognising the need for oversight, the Timeshare Institute of South Africa (TISA) was established, uniting industry stakeholders in a shared commitment to uphold ethical standards. Drawing parallels to the insurance industry’s regulatory journey in the 1950s, many viewed self-regulation as a crucial step towards restoring trust and credibility. Just as the insurance sector had undergone a transformative process of refinement and improvement, the timeshare industry embraced similar principles, leveraging past lessons to develop and implement more robust regulatory frameworks.

“Looking ahead for South Africa, I’m optimistic about fostering greater collaboration to revive the spirit of innovation and discussion that initially propelled the industry forward”

When I think back to Wyndham’s acquisition of Cottages 4 U, it’s clear how innovative ideas can evolve. If you didn’t use your holiday cottage all year round, Wyndham would advertise your rental in a printed manual. Then the internet arrived, and you could log onto Cottages 4 U, view the cottage and book your holiday – which is literally what later became Airbnb. So, the ongoing challenge is to stay ahead of the curve and constantly reinvent the industry because there will always be incumbents coming along to take a piece of your pie.

“I think anybody who’s ever been in timeshare knows it’s in our blood, it’s a part of who we are, and it never truly fades away. It might be in a different form or manner, but it’s such an incredible, amazing industry, I think it’s impossible to leave it behind”

Ironically, here I am retired with a farm just outside of Plettenberg Bay, producing wine and olive oil. In a way, my story has come full circle. Though my father has long passed away, I often find myself standing on the farm in the morning, silently acknowledging, “Dad, you were 100% right. But saying that, my heart and passion is still in the hospitality industry. My involvement in this farm stems from a long-term vision of transforming it into an exceptional destination resort. So, in a sense, I’m not entirely removed from the industry.

 

CELEBRATING TIMESHARE GIANTS: THE PIONEER SERIES honours the contribution of the visionaries who shaped the South African timeshare vacation ownership industry through their ingenuity, innovative thinking and leadership. Together they offer a rich history of timeshare in our country, and we are privileged to share their stories.

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