They find that ‘all that glisters is not gold’

In common with the purchasers of timeshare sales’ deals worldwide, those who invested in ownership of an asset at Moness in Aberfeldy bought a specified week, in a specific cottage/lodge of a size and season to suit their budget. This is held by them as an asset which is heritable by their heirs.
TShare flannelWebThe buyers’ sale contract bound them to payment of an annual management fee which covers the property’s maintenance, servicing and the ‘sinking fund’ to sustain essential refurbishments and to uphold the resort’s quality standards.
In the heyday of timeshare its reputation was broadly tarnished by revelations about mis-selling, pressurising techniques towards prospects and oppressive, target-driven, carrot-and-stick methods exerted on its sales personnel.
During the 80s and 90s many residents in these parts bought into the vacationing options which the phenomenon occasioned. Many baby boomers and the following generation were particularly targeted by timeshare’s aggressive marketing .
Now many are suffering in their advanced years from decreased incomes and diminishing horizons as the sales of timeshare weeks appear to be  moribund.
Existing owners on the various timeshare resorts within this heartland make up a substantial number of regular and often longstanding visitors. They are stakeholders in the economic and social wellbeing of this locality into which they have invested both considerable sums and affection.
The Moness owner numbers, added to those of the 85 properties at the UK’s first timeshare at the Loch Rannoch Highland Club, along with those in the other mature timeshare resorts at Kenmore and Dunkeld, constitute a substantial addition to our settled inhabitants’ total of approximately 12,500 in Highland Perthshire.
Concerns of those timeshare owners are neither bounded within the limits of their resorts nor to the business of their site employees and management, but extend to embrace those with whom they interact as returning friends and frequenters of local businesses.
Among all of them is a collective interest in the maintenance of the viability and good reputation of this locality.

MonessfrontWebResort Condominiums International (RCI) was founded in the USA in 1974 and opened its London office in 1977. Its core business is exchange vacations, providing ‘3.7 million timeshare owners worldwide with quality vacation experiences at more than 4,000 resorts in 100 countries through week-for-week and points-based timeshare exchange networks.’
Timeshare owners are able to use their investment in resorts which are RCI members to holiday elsewhere in other locations of comparable standard. Moness achieved RCI ‘Gold Star’ quality rating, the highest resort status, and the RCI’s website shows that it still holds that rating.

Happy Resort
The holiday complex adjacent to Moness house on a site on the South side of Aberfeldy was constructed following the purchase in 1986 of various properties by the original developers and first founder members of the club, Moness Holdings Ltd. The original management company was Moness Management Ltd and the first marketing commenced in April 1987.
Later that year RB Farquhar Ltd took a 75% shareholding in the operation by forming RB Farquhar Moness Ltd which purchased the assets of the starter company. 
Ramsay Fraser of Weem, the initiator of the complex, told Comment: “By February 1992 the first 2000 weeks had been sold and I can state with authority that we had a strict policy of non pressure selling .
“We were also strictly honest with regard to awards and in my time we gave away at least three cars.  I do not recall many complaints from our first 2000 owners apart from the ban on pets and delays associated with the construction of the leisure facilities.”
He added: “It was a very happy resort at that time and the RCI exchange system was also excellent. For at least five years after my departure I was regularly stopped in the street by well-wishing owners saying how much they still enjoyed Moness.”
Ramsay Fraser stressed that timeshare at that time was never sold as a financial investment even though re-sales could be at a premium. “The narrative was always that owners were investing in leisure and, in the future, they might not get all their money back,” he said.
He elaborated that a timeshare week is not actually ‘purchased’ but rather that buyers ‘Join the Club’ whose membership gives them the right to occupy a certain cottage ‘in perpetuity’ provided that they obey the Club rules, one of which is paying the annual Management Fee.
In its scale, attractive setting and positioning in the holiday marketplace, the scheme progressively expanded and appeared to be idyllic.
In December 1999, following the signing of a 30 year contract, the resort passed into the ownership of The Paradise Group of Wooton Mount, Bournemouth. This was headed by Geoff Siden, the majority shareholder in Worldwide Leisure Group (also of Bournemouth) and was part of a larger cluster of companies with fingers in various timeshare pies that included rentals and re-sales.
Thereafter the management at Moness seems to have taken pains to underplay any connections between the Moness resort and the rest of that group of companies.
During 2013 the resort was reported to have been visited by 20,000 families.

Owners’ Committee
RB Farquhar Moness Ltd had used what was an industry-standard method of managing the resort . This involved setting up a management group comprised of an Owners’ Committee (OC) elected by, and from, all the timeshare owners on the resort.  
This committee was supplemented by a group of resort staff representing the interests of RB Farquhar as the resort’s Founder Member.
For the Paradise Group to buy out the resort a ‘New Management Agreement’ had been drawn up between Farquhar and the OC. It is reported that a great deal of discussion took place over this and that legal advice was received before the OC could agree to it.
The telling phrase in the new agreement was that the new Founder Member, the Paradise Group, was to make decisions ‘acting reasonably’.
Open to interpretation, this phrase appears now to haunt some of the owners who wish to test its proper application to changes that have been introduced.

Changes Shock
TerryVoseWebThe resort is presently comprised of a 26 bed, four star hotel and 108 four star self-catering cottages, 88 of which are managed for the holiday owners’ Club by the Bournemouth registered Moness Management Co Ltd (MMCL), run for the last 13 years by 50 year old Terry Vose (pictured).
In 2014 Moness owners’ Club members were told that Geoff Siden had decided to retire and that Terry Vose had arranged a management buy-out which was completed last year.
The two men had a long history of working together in the timeshare industry and, despite ‘retirement’, Geoff Siden is believed still to retain related business interests.
Researching companies’ and directors’ data online reveals that Terry Vose, who began his career in the leisure sector with Club Riviera in 1988* (see footnote).
When the buyout was made public it was announced that the existing staff complement of 70 would be expanded. Ten jobs would arise from the management and accountancy functions that would be ‘repatriated from Worldwide Leisure’s operation in Bournemouth’. In fact some redundancies soon ensued.
RoslauchlandWeb55 year old Mrs Rosalind Lauchland MA, of Ayrshire, (pictured) is an Accounts Manager. Her 58 year old husband is retired and they have one student son.
They first invested in Moness in 1991 and latterly owned a six berth unit on the resort.
She told Comment: “I had not bothered to attend an AGM or pay much attention to the running of the Club. Like others, I was only interested in holidays that were flexible and not too expensive, and this had worked for me for many years. 
“That changed in 2014 when I received a letter informing me that a section of the resort, comprising thirteen cottages, was to be taken out of the Club and transferred into the ownership of Terry Vose.
“At conservative estimates from the original sale prices of those cottages, and assuming only a modest percentage of the weeks being sold, the sum would  involve a figure of around a million pounds in revenue.”

“..There was...no offer of compensation or a suggestion that our week could be bought back from us. Rather, it was to be re-possessed against our wishes and we were to receive nothing in return...”

 Uncompensated Demolition Threat
The Lauchland’s week was in one of the affected cottages, the owners of which were supposed to be offered a like-for-like swap. But no offer at all was made to the family. Confusion and mis-information seem to surround the MMCL’s eventual intentions for those thirteen cottages. However, at an early stage their owners were all told that the units in question were to be demolished. 
Rosalind continued: “I found out later that we received no offer because there was nothing comparable available in terms of accommodation size and calendar week. 
“There was also no offer of compensation or a suggestion that our week could be bought back from us. Rather, it was to be re-possessed against our wishes and we were to receive nothing in return.” 
She estimated that, in all, about 600 people were affected and, allegedly, many of them were given satisfactory swaps, although only the MMCL had the details of who was affected and who had accepted an exchange. 
Rosalind told Comment that the management used the terms of the Data Protection Act to ensure that members  of the owners Club were kept in the dark and unable to communicate amongst themselves over the issue.
She and others have expressed bewilderment that the OC Committee, being aware of what was going on, took no action.  Eventually, it came to light that this Committee was comprised of people who should have been voted on to serve only a three-year term before being obliged to stand for re-election at an AGM.  

Timeserved Committee Office Holders
Rosalind continued: “In fact the Committee was made of up people who had got on to it a long time ago and just stayed put unelected.  One was voted on at the AGM in 2009 and there is no record of her ever having stood down or of being voted on again. She was still on the Committee at the AGMs of 2014 and 2013 which I attended.
“The OC Chairman has been on for eleven years and has failed to attend both of the last two AGMs.”
She recorded that it is possible for  Club owners to email the Committee but the only responses received are anonymous and from someone who will  not identify themselves even when asked repeatedly to do so.
Addressing what appears to be inertia by the Club owners over rectifying these constitutional matters, Rosalind spelled out: “For the owners at Moness the only contract that exists is the Club’s Constitution. While the owners are obliged to adhere to it, the management appears, for many years, to have played fast and loose with it.
“The supplementary group on the OC is made up of resort personnel unlikely to follow anything other than the party line if they want to keep their jobs.”
Another Moness owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, took up the story.
“At the 2014 AGM the OC Chairman failed to turn up. The Constitution states that, in the absence of the Chair, the members present at the meeting will elect an acting Chair from among their number. They didn’t get the chance to do this as Terry Vose took the seat.
“When an owner came forward who was keen to take up a place on the Committee it was clear that she was the kind of person that we needed, but was told that she was too late to submit her nomination.
“Eventually she was co-opted, along with another new member, but neither was given voting rights. This was an unprecedented move as previously co-opted members had always held voting rights.
“That candidate, who had earlier stepped forward, then later resigned from the OC in order to stand for election at the 2013 AGM. She was then voted on by a large majority.
The turn-out at the 2014 AGM was described by another source as ‘huge - people were standing outside the opened patio doors with umbrellas and the hall was packed’.
The reporting owner continued: “During ‘frank exchanges of views’ Terry Vose, from the chair, refused to answer questions about his future plans for the resort which had involved people being swapped from their established units into alternative ones on the site.
“He claimed that the cottages selected for ‘takeover’ were all the most under-sold in the resort, so were the obvious choice.
“It seemed a bizarre coincidence that these were also clustered together in one area of the resort. Several owners had refused to swap. Many who had reluctantly accepted a swap were very unhappy.”
A check on the Constitution reveals that there are no powers in it permitting the management committee to dispose unilaterally of the Club’s assets.
It is alleged that amendments to the Constitution being proposed by the MMCL are intended to permit the takeover of undersold units.

The Rental ‘Solution’
In the days of RB Farquhar Moness Ltd the resort had been sold out to the maximum at that time - 85%. Since then, with Club owners ageing and the general decline in popularity of timeshare throughout Europe, that figure is calculated to have dropped considerably.
The Paradise/MMCL answer to this was rentals, to be achieved by shedding a proportion of the timeshare owners and taking on the available cottages to then be rented out.
An agreed split for shared operating costs at Moness had been established in the past as 25% to the Founder Member and 75% to the owners’ Club. This continued to be the split even when Paradise’s share of the resort grew and the owners’ share shrank.
At the 2014 AGM Terry Vose refused to discuss the issue of the split. It came to light that the owners’ Club pays 80% of the Leisure Centre’s electricity bill, despite its use by both rental clients and by the guests of the resort’s hotel, Terry Vose maintained that this was because  it ‘has always been that way’.
Following the 2014 AGM a Special General Meeting was supposed to be convened to discuss the proposals for the Club. This still has not occurred.
At the 2013 AGM, in the absence of the OC Chairman once more, Terry Vose appointed a ‘neutral’ person, who was not an owner, to manage the meeting.
Despite objections from the floor, the meeting then continued with an unauthorised and unelected chairperson.
At these annual meetings only summaries of the accounts have been available for scrutiny by owners and the management has refused their requests for sight of the full accounts.

Escape Route - With Costs
At the AGM it was revealed that MMCL would offer owners whose cottages were sought the ‘opportunity’ to buy, for £1,299, a batch of ‘points’ which could be exchanged for accommodation at Moness ‘any time in the next three years’.
According to Ros Laughland once more: “This would be in exchange for owners handing their cottage over and, at the end of three years, having the option of walking away without any further obligation to Moness. 
“For some people this presents a way of getting rid of an increasingly expensive asset because the annual management fees have been threatened as ‘likely to increase dramatically’.
“For others it is a risky way of spending more money up-front, to buy a product of unknown value, with the potential for its value to be reduced at the MMCL’s whim. 
“There is also no guarantee that accommodation will be available when owners try to make a booking.  They may well be left with the less desirable weeks, and find peak periods reserved for renters who bring in new funds to the cashflow during the year.
“The offer has been heavily promoted, with many owners reporting that they have been plagued by resort sales team calls - in some cases three times a day.”

Owner Couple 1
Mrs English (false name by request) recounted:
“We bought our high season, two bedroom Moness timeshare in 1990, for £5,645 when the management fee was £160 a year. This currently stands at £560. (According to the historic inflation calculator, at today’s value that initial investment would be £10,868.32 and the £160 in 1990 is today’s equivalent of £308.05)
“(With the state of the economy and the holiday industry) there seems no point in owning when holidays (which can include both travel and accommodation) are available at £560.  We find that our timeshare is unsalable, so the annual fees are a life sentence we can’t get out of and a debt we leave our children.
“When we bought our week it was in a resort with a leisure facility, which included a swimming pool, exclusively for the use of the owners. But now we timeshare owners pay a rent to the management for the use of it.
“Many of us are aged around 70 as they targeted our age group and older when selling timeshare.  Most have enjoyed good holidays, but would like to be free of this burden in old age.”

Owner Couple 2
Another couple, also requesting anonymity, told Comment:
“We have become increasingly concerned at the rising cost of the maintenance fees for our weeks held at Moness, which have included additional levies imposed over the years allegedly used to maintain the standards at the resort to comply with those set by RCI for it Gold Star rating.
“Despite this it is our opinion that the quality of furnishings, cleanliness and equipment is not being maintained at an acceptable level in comparison with other timeshare resorts in Scotland and Europe. We bank some of our weeks at Moness in order to exchange for weeks both here and abroad and are in a position to make direct comparisons on a regular basis.
“...We were told that one of our cottages was to be demolished so that a down-sized Moness could survive the gradual loss of club members.  We were given no opportunity for compensation, termination of our contract (agreed and signed ‘in perpetuity’) or, ultimately, negotiation of a suitable alternative.
“Now we are told that the ‘condemned’ cottages are currently being refurbished ahead of the cottages remaining in the ownership of Club members, despite those members complaining regularly at the AGMs about deficiencies in cottages still in Club ownership.
“There has been no automatic distribution of AGM minutes to members.  Also we have yet to see an agenda item entitled ‘Matters Arising’ on the following year’s AGM agenda.  This makes it very difficult for those of us who are able to attend to pursue our concerns from one year’s end to the next.
“We have no idea what our rights are with regard to how we achieve value for money by remaining as owners at Moness, how to withdraw from the contracts we have for our timeshare week(s) or how we can have a say in the down-grade and/or re-branding of the resort for the future.
“At a meeting with the club rep recently, we were advised on a course of action to make our needs known. This was duly pursued in September, since when we have not even had acknowledgement of our written enquiry.
“...The management accounts are a complete mystery to us, but we have been made aware that the owners are contributing 75% of the resort costs, while we only make us 50% of the resort ownership, which appears to be grossly unfair.
“Timeshare in general has a bad name, which in the past we thought was the result of mis-selling of resort timeshare abroad. Unfortunately, we have had to change our views and go with the prevailing opinion that buying timeshare here or abroad is akin to buying a pig in a poke.”

"...the club has many diverse and different members, who choose to converse as they see fit, the vast majority of these members if they have an issue will approach the club committee and will receive a formal and factually correct response to any issues they raise, unfortunately this small forum has chosen to ignore this and instead jump to wild and incorrect conclusions based on supposition’s (sic) and untruths, and publish these on the web, they are in no way representative of the club membership as a whole.”

Moness Response
On 2 January Comment emailed Terry Vose explaining that the persistent concerns of resort owners voiced to the publication over months had grown steadily.  The email ran:
“Among others, these relate to:

  • the rising cost of the maintenance fees allegedly in order to maintain the standards at the resort to comply with those set by RCI for a Gold Star rating;
  • allegations about ‘unconstitutional’ operation of the Club and the overall management of its financial affairs;
  • the ‘redistribution’ of unsold or defaulted weeks from the Club committee (at cut-price rates) without the knowledge of the general membership;
  • pressures exerted by resort management upon some to relocate their ownerships to elsewhere on the site as part of a process of downsizing the estate;
  • the diminution of the Club’s former ownership of the resort from 95% to the present 50%;
  • the splitting of the costs 75% to the Club and 25% to the resort management despite that current 50/50 ownership;
  • the lack of refurbishment and ‘degraded’ condition of some of the units and the services provided in them;
  • the lack of communication/information from the management to Club members on these and other matters despite repeated requests.”

Four days notice was given for the unedited inclusion of any observations that he wished to make, up to a maximum of 500 words. 
His response on 3 January is reproduced here as written:
“The club committee deal (sic) with any issues in relation to the time sharing club, I shall circulate this to all members of the committee. This committee represents all owners, consists of 3 democratically elected timeshare owners, and 2 representatives of the management company /Founder member.
“All the clubs (sic) business is conducted through this body, and the clubs (sic) Constitution, which has been in existence since the clubs (sic) inception some 25 years plus ago. The committee have (sic) been aware that a very, very small number of unelected, self appointed, anonymous and vociferous timeshare owners have took (sic) it upon themselves to form a very small forum, which of course is entirely their prerogative.
“Unfortunately this unelected forum is also screening whom it is willing or not willing to accept as fellow ‘members’, an (sic) as a consequence many of the opinions are based on lies, untruths and fictitious conclusions presented as facts, by certain anonymous forum members.
“There is no balance at all in what is being presented in this forum, and non (sic) of the anonymous members formally approached the committee to voice any concerns. The club consists of approximately 1800 members, I am led to believe this unelected, self appointed forum has approximately 20 members.
“For instance many of the bullet points in your email are incorrect and factually misleading, no doubt being fuelled by this small association.
“The time frame you have set does not allow the committee to put a comprehensive response to your publication, but if you intend publicising the information set out, I need to inform you that much of it is incorrect, and in the interests of presenting a balanced article I would suggest we arrange to meet at a suitable time to give you the facts as the elected representative committee see them in relation to the area’s (sic) you outline.
“Naturally the club has many diverse and different members, who choose to converse as they see fit, the vast majority of these members if they have an issue will approach the club committee and will receive a formal and factually correct response to any issues they raise, unfortunately this small forum has chosen to ignore this and instead jump to wild and incorrect conclusions based on supposition’s (sic) and untruths, and publish these on the web, they are in no way representative of the club membership as a whole.”

Extending The Issue
Comment responded that, as he or his appointees sit on the Management Committee, and appear to have done so longer that its other members, he is in the best position easily to address the points raised. An additional 250 words for that purpose were then offered for inclusion in this edition.
In the absence of any direct responses from him to the questions first raised, Comment twice offered to publish his reply (above) in full.
Furthermore, he was assured that space is set aside for 750 words from the resort which will be included, unedited, in the February edition.
Besides the distressed Moness owners, Comment has received approaches from anxious Highland Perthshire owners of timeshare with similar experiences at other resorts elsewhere in Britain and on the continent.
It is clear that these owners are not just sharing time, they are sharing also the painful experience of waking to discover that something they bought which seemed just too good to be true, is turning out to be just that.
Politicians, authorities, bureaucracies, agencies, corporations and businesses of all stripes are devoutly committed to the principle that ‘knowledge is power’. So, at all levels, they strive to secure and store increasingly detailed data about the public/their clients, whilst at the same time building ramparts against public scrutiny of any aspects of their affairs and practices.
In this they frequently invoke dubiously applicable ‘data protection’ privileges or hide behind ‘commercial confidentiality’ claims and binding anti-disclosure contract clauses to prevent ‘unhelpful’ revelations by whistleblowers and to mute public criticism.
Inexorably ‘information’ flows upwards, never downwards in our society; the ‘gatekeeping’ measures are always regulated against individuals and the public in order to suppress organisational transparency.

* FOOTNOTE:  In the first version published here there appeared a contested reference to Terry Vose's involvements with resorts in the UK and Spain. This is presently under editorial scrutiny and subject to possible apology.

See also:

http://www.gocscotland.org.uk/general-news-main/timeshare-nightmare-for-owners-2

The next edition (February) will contain a follow-up to this saga. Any contributions towards this should be made by the deadline of 29 January and should be sent to Comment , OffiZone, Kenmore St, Aberfeldy PH15 2BL email: CLOAKING

 

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