MK: I started KOALA to solve a fundamental problem facing timeshare owners. As a sales executive at The Hilton Club in New York City, I found that many of these owners struggled to use their ownerships as expected. Further, in many cases exiting timeshare ownership was seemingly impossible.
When I looked into it, I recognized that owners had the solution under their noses all along: Hilton owners can rent their “Home Weeks” to a third party. As I did more research, however, I saw the vast majority didn’t know where or how to do it, or who to trust. All we had to do was make renting easy for timeshare owners and KOALA was born.
MK: The timeshare rental market is years, if not decades, behind the vacation rental market. Could you imagine having to send a personal check directly to an Airbnb host 6 months before your check-in date? Or, in 2020, having to look up an Airbnb host on Facebook to feel safe sending them a payment?
KOALA is the first platform specialized for timeshare that secures every payment through our platform and withholds funds until the guest checks in. We also verify each listing to ensure that what the traveler books is what they get.
MK: If you don’t secure both traveler and host, demand will never grow beyond the small marketplace it is today. The vast majority of travelers not only desire but REQUIRE these measures in order to book a vacation. KOALA makes the process easy for both the timeshare owner and the traveler, which means more bookings and more money for you.
MK: Initially, I enjoyed it. We offered a high-end product near Central Park that seemed impervious to the majority of the issues that other timeshares brands and their owners faced. Then the company prepared to go public and the value proposition declined immensely. I continually spoke with owners to whom I had actually sold and saw they were facing significant hardships with the product.
This was the turning point for me. I realized the company (and the industry as a whole) wasn’t interested in innovation or positive change. Their models are built on multiple revenue streams from the same customers while limiting their options.
MK: People still are buying timeshare, although we’re seeing that a lot of the sales are to current owners – e.g. people who know what they’re getting and are either happy with it or upgrading to something more substantial.
Mostly, however, companies are just adding “bells and whistles” here and there – e.g. bandaids. The problems are deeper than a new website or a fancy “points system.” Younger travelers want (and have) more control and options at their fingertips than ever before. So why buy into systems that limit this freedom and optionality? You must offer the keys to the kingdom if you want younger audiences to embrace the concept. Until timeshare companies figure this out, they won’t change or see real market growth. So, we will change it for them — and they’ll thank us for it later.
MK: We use a commission-based model, meaning there are never any upfront or hidden fees. Ever. Owners know exactly what KOALA will make and exactly what they’ll earn on a successful booking before they list with us.
The most critical thing to be conscious of is market value. Pricing competitively allows us to apply a proper marketing strategy and give your timeshare rental the best chance of success. Timeshare companies can rent individual nights as they wish and offer cancellations with up to 24 hours notice. Therefore, the winning card that owners can play is price. Pricing competitively under the resort’s price helps immensely. Offering great inventory at peak seasons will help as well. A desirable, competitively-priced week in a great resort will always win.
MK: Yes of course. This has hammered the travel industry and, like everyone else, we are taking it very seriously. The good news here for us is that we are a fairly new startup and this will be a teachable moment for us. The bad news is that, as a result of this crisis, even more owners will be hurting when it’s time to pay their maintenance fees. The thought of taking a vacation, for many timeshare owners, will be off the table. When the smoke clears, however, the demand from travelers will be high. We expect that the demand for professionally-managed vacation rentals that offer cleanliness and certainty, as timeshares do, will be even higher. We are taking this moment to ensure we have the capability to easily onboard supply and scale with this demand. I urge our customers to check out our recent newsletter that breaks down best practices as a traveler or a KOALA host amidst the coronavirus pandemic.