Changes likely for time-share salesmen

People wait for a presentation last year in The Vacation Station on Meeting Street.

If Charleston's time-share salesmen were bothered by City Council's plan to rein in what some say are their misleading tactics, they didn't bother to speak up Tuesday night -- at least not very loudly.

So City Council gave unanimous initial approval to a seven-page ordinance that addresses complaints about how some time-share operations approach tourists here.

The changes would prohibit solicitors from touching people, intentionally blocking their path or using abusive language.

It also will regulate their signs because a main complaint is that some businesses have signs that lead visitors to think they're entering an official welcome center. Those who wander in are offered discount coupons to tours or local attractions if they sit through high-pressure sales pitch for time shares or vacation club memberships.

Councilman Gary White said when he was first elected, he received a letter from a tourist who had visited here from Virginia "and who couldn't understand why the city was selling a time share."

Mayor Joe Riley said he also has received more than 10 similar complaints during the past two years.

"There are good people in this industry," Riley said, "but we have a duty to ourselves and the people who come here to make sure we don't have misleading or deceptive business practices."

Marvin Katzen of Doin' the Charleston tours said he's often asked if he'll accept vouchers that tourists have been given by these companies, even though he has no relationship with them. He said he feels his advertising and promotional dollars are undermined.

Joe Shirley, an owner of The Vacation Station, said he was happy to work with other businesses such as Katzen's.

"I feel we do provide a service to the tourists downtown," Shirley said. "We do provide a lot of gifts and information to tourists." He did not address the specifics of the proposed ordinance.

Tom Wilson of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said he thinks the changes will help visitors decide how to spend their time here.

Time share sales tactics weren't what triggered the most comments from Charleston's business community at City Council's meeting:

--Several representatives from Turky's Towing and Jennings Towing & Garage Inc. and others urged council to reconsider plans for how it will contract with towing companies to remove vehicles from city streets. Council unanimously agreed to send the proposed policy back for more study.

--Also, council agreed to give initial approval to changes designed to streamline the architectural review process for certain businesses that plan to build on suburban highways, such as Savannah Highway, Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Clements Ferry Road. Council members agreed to delay a final vote for up to 60 days to get more public input. During a public hearing, some praised the changes, saying they would improve the city's consistency in reviewing designs. Others criticized them for limiting public comment.