September 4, 2013

Start-Up Brings an Internet Sensibility to Time Shares

Vacatia offers a marketplace for buying and selling time-share interests.

In this age of Airbnb and Craigslist, the concept of time-share resorts has become almost quaint. But one company is trying to update the sector to suit the Internet era., a new online marketplace for buying and selling time-share interests, has its official debut on Wednesday, with $5 million in financing from a group of prominent individual investors. The service, an outgrowth of Vacation Listing Service Inc., aims to bring a dose of liquidity and security to a market that can be challenging to navigate.

“It’s a product that people love. It’s the point where they try to exit the product that’s been a bit of a rub,” Keith Cox, the founder and chief executive of Vacatia, said in an interview. “There’s a need in the industry for a real sustainable resale solution.”

The investors in the round of seed financing announced on Wednesday include Spencer M. Rascoff, chief executive of Zillow; Greg Waldorf, former chief executive of eHarmony; Erik C. Blachford, former chief executive of Expedia; and Thomas P. Byrne, former president of LoopNet. The round also included Barry S. Sternlicht, the founder of Starwood Capital, who also founded the hotel company of the same name.

Egon Durban, a managing partner at the investment firm Silver Lake, and Gene Frantz, a former TPG Capital partner who is now with Google Capital, invested in the round, which also included a number of venture capital firms, among them Maveron and Bee Partners, according to Wednesday’s announcement.

Vacatia, which has been operating in testing mode, requires no upfront fees to use its marketplace, but it charges sellers a fee upon the successful completion of a sale. The site offers preferred access to time-share brokers and to providers of title, escrow and closing services.

In an effort to streamline the process, the site incorporates financing into its platform. Mr. Cox said a Florida bank, which he declined to identify, had agreed to provide a tranche of $10 million to finance purchases of time-share interests.

The site, which has more than 10,000 listings, is focused primarily on North America. Mr. Cox said he planned to introduce rentals to the marketplace in the future.

Time shares, typically offering vacationers a week a year in a resort location, are an early manifestation of the “sharing economy” that has taken off in recent years through a range of online services, Mr. Cox said. He compared his online marketplace to Airbnb, a start-up that lets people rent a spare room to others through the Internet.

Vacatia, though, aims to connect an older generation to a younger one that is versed in the Internet but less familiar with time shares.

“The time-share industry hasn’t yet adapted to the way the next generation wants to shop and buy,” Mr. Blachford said in a statement. “The challenge time-share owners face in reselling their shares needs to be fixed.”