I was honored when American Resort Development Association CEO Howard Nusbaum asked me to represent ARDA at the 2011 Jamaican Tourism Outlook Seminar, which was held in Montego Bay, Jamaica on April 19-20. I attended the seminar with Keith Stephenson, ARDA’s Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs with responsibility for ARDA activities in the Caribbean. Keith and I were the guests of Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, Director General of Tourism Carrole Guntley, and Jamaica Tourist Board Chairman John Lynch. Representatives of both RCI and Interval International also joined us at the conference.

Jamaica Considering New Legislation

Like many other jurisdictions where travel and tourism is a large part of the economy, Jamaica has been considering the adoption of landmark timeshare legislation that will, for the first time, spell out the terms and circumstances under which timeshare plans can legally be offered, developed or managed in Jamaica. Although ARDA has not yet been favored with a draft of the proposed legislation, both Minister Bartlett and Director General Guntley indicated to us that the Jamaican Cabinet is about to take the issue of timeshare regulation up for consideration. It was in the context of that consideration that we were invited to speak to this large gathering of island hoteliers and media about the many incremental benefits that a vibrant timeshare industry, properly constituted and regulated, could bring to Jamaica.

The Benefit of Perspective

My focus for my part of our presentation was to give the audience a brief primer on timesharing in general, its origins in Europe and history in the U.S., and the role that ARDA and its many volunteer members have played over the years in shaping effective product regulation and in enhancing the industry’s reputation and platform effectiveness around the globe. I explained that Jamaica has a rare opportunity to fashion a timeshare law that is not merely a reaction to consumer complaints against an immature business model, as were so many U.S. state timeshare laws, but that is instead a legislative endorsement of a mature segment of an international industry and an encouragement to developers, hoteliers and brand managers to incorporate Jamaican timesharing into their hospitality portfolios.

Keith’s portion of our presentation included an explanation of the various ways that timesharing benefits the economies of major resort destinations. He focused in particular on the significant success that the U.S. Virgin Islands—a serious competitor for Jamaica’s tourists—has experienced in recent years from timesharing. Keith also detailed the many ways that timesharing is compatible with and supportive of the local hotel industry, including the housing of marketing stays; providing important economies of scale for hotel management, amenities and infrastructure in mixed-use projects; and broadening the hospitality tax base, rather than necessarily being directly competitive or parasitic to hotels as many believe.

I cited Puerto Rico’s adoption of its comprehensive timeshare law revision in 1995 as an example of how creative a tourist destination can be that really wants to encourage timeshare development. In negotiating that new law with the Puerto Rican government on behalf of ARDA and Hyatt, we encountered some conflicts relating to Puerto Rico’s very strong public policies (and politics) underlying its long-established condominium, mortgage and notary laws. The fact that Puerto Rico’s laws are based on Spanish Civil Law instead of English Common Law also presented us with some challenges. Rather than undertaking the difficult (if not impossible) task of trying to amend all of those laws so that Hyatt and others could do business in Puerto Rico the way they were used to doing it on the mainland, we persuaded the government to create a whole new kind of real property interest for timeshare—a vacation ownership regime—that had its own rules and policies affecting those sensitive areas. The legislation passed, and Hyatt proceeded with construction of its beautiful Hacienda del Mar resort.

In closing, Keith and I both stated that ARDA would be willing to work hard to assist the Jamaican government in finding solutions to any of their issues regarding timesharing so that Jamaica could join the international timeshare community soon, and in a big way.