14 February 2014
Winter holidays are here! Once again, the European Consumer Centre in Finland warns consumers about problems relating to timeshare contracts, or so-called long-term holiday products, sold in the Canary Islands. The contracts are complex and confusing. After signing the contract, consumers are often unsure about what exactly they have agreed to.
This is how it usually happens: As you walk down the street in your holiday destination in the Canary Islands, you are approached by a young person who speaks your native language and offers you a raffle ticket. With the ticket, you win a nice prize. You are then offered a taxi ride to collect your prize. At the destination, you have to attend a presentation that lasts several hours. You are told about the benefits of timeshare holidays, travel destinations around the world and often a Caribbean cruise included in the deal free of charge. Even all the contract documents are available in your own language. You are impressed – everything sounds wonderful. Is it too good to be true? Yes.
Dozens of complaints about timeshare contracts each year
In 2013, the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in Finland was contacted by some 30 consumers who did not think that the timeshare offer they received in the Canary Islands was too good to be true. They had signed a contract in Finnish but were unable to say what exactly they had purchased.
The cases handled by ECC Finland mainly concern timeshare contracts and other long-term holiday products. These holiday products include memberships and related vouchers entitling the holder to cruises and hotel accommodation, or computer programmes used for making bookings and reservations. The products often involve highly complex contracts that may be difficult for consumers to understand. The duration of the contract is at least one year.
What to do if you come across a timeshare seller
If you are unfamiliar with timeshares and the related contractual details, do not go and collect your raffle prize or attend a presentation. If you do go to collect the prize, stay strong and leave if you are told that you can only collect your prize after the presentation. If you decide to listen to the presentation, ask for all the documents concerning the offer so that you can take your time, look into the contract at the hotel and get back to the seller later. It may be that after that you will be asked to leave the presentation premises.
ECC Finland recommends that consumers carefully consider the offer before signing a timeshare contract. It is also smart to find out the details of the service. Does the contract really guarantee that you can always take your holiday whenever and wherever you want? The reality rarely meets expectations.
The multitude of operators involved is also confusing: a marketing company is responsible for making the deal, the seller is some other operator and, in addition, the deal often includes a membership with RCI, a company organising holiday exchanges. When signing the contract, it is rarely determined who is responsible for what and how to contact the party responsible, if need be.
Don't forget the right of withdrawal
The main reason consumers contacted ECC Finland is that they wanted to withdraw from their contracts. In most cases, the contract included the right of withdrawal in accordance with the EU Timeshare Directive. In such cases, the withdrawal period is 14 days. However, if the consumer is not told about the right, the withdrawal period is one year and 14 days. In the most flagrant cases, the contract terms included a provision on the right of withdrawal, but the seller still denied the right claiming that the product does not fall within the scope of the Directive.
Several operators active in the Canary Islands are established in non-EU countries, like the Seychelles. ECC Finland can mainly help consumers who have problems with a business located in another EU country.