Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific’s Legal and Compliance team provides full service legal advice and is responsible for ensuring the business complies with its regulatory obligations across the geographically vast Asia Pacific.
In Australia, the team ensures the business adheres to Australian Financial Services License (AFSL) and Australian Consumer Law (ACL) requirements and follows industry body the Australian Timeshare and Holiday Ownership Council’s (ATHOC) Code of Practice. This includes dealings with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and Australian Financial Services Commission. The team heads up compliance training across the company to ensure sales representatives selling timeshare meet Australian legislative requirements.
The Vice President of Legal and Compliance in Australia holds the position of company secretary for all Australian entities; is an alternate director on the Board of ATHOC; and is a director of Wyndham’s registered charity, Wishes by Wyndham.
During the year, the team has contributed to a number of ATHOC submissions and led timeshare industry lobbying of the Australian government. This has included taking a leading role in a working group committee that liaises with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) for regulatory change – including the prior review of RG160. In response to the review’s release, the team is now working with ATHOC to conduct further talks with ASIC and government.
Across the region, the team ensures the company meets its privacy, Do Not Call, Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing obligations; and handles government relations for new and existing markets.
Within the business, members of the legal team are valued by stakeholders for their ability to think strategically and provide innovative legal solutions for commercial outcomes. Thanks to the team’s efforts, the business has been able to survive a turbulent environment in 2020 while meeting its legal and compliance obligations across the nine different jurisdictions it operates in.
In addition, this year, Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific launched a new vacation club in Asia. This vacation club featured many new and innovative conditions, including a shorter 20-year term, automatic exchange membership for members, agreements with other vacation clubs to bolster resort options available and a new Travel Wallet reward system. The legal team were responsible for having the club registered, creating the legal and governance architecture for the club, ensuring the club approach met the legal requirements of multiple jurisdictions and reviewing all communications to members and prospective members. As COVID-19 had hit, the team was also required to expedite their work so the club could launch sales as a new revenue stream.
The emergence of COVID-19 and the restrictions that were implemented in response to it in 2020 created new issues for timeshare clubs – as clubs generally carry the inventory required to fulfil the allocations of all owners every year. Closure would mean that some owners lost their entitlements, despite paying the annual levy – particularly owners that had booked to stay during a closure, and whose credits had since expired. The legal team was instrumental in developing an innovative plan that enabled many of these affected owners to receive their credits back, while ensuring additional availability in the coming years so the pandemic’s effects on availability could be spread over time. The legal team also played a critical role in altering the policy in response to changes in national and state restrictions, and in the communication strategy of these changes.
Resort closures due to COVID-19 and its associated restrictions meant that resort staff and even some corporate staff were moved onto paid or unpaid leave, or furlough. Some of the markets where Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific operates also provided government incentives to keep people in work. The Legal team provided guidance and oversight to the teams directing thousands of staff onto paid or unpaid leave and were instrumental in working with the Finance and HR teams in applying for available government subsidies and relief.
Unfortunately, the business had to undergo a corporate restructure so it could endure in the short-term and thrive in the long-term. This involved redundancies across the sales and corporate spheres. Once again, the Legal team provided specific oversight in the process of determining which staff could be part of the restructure, how the news was to be communicated and the compensation required.
Early in the year, with restrictions on workplaces imminent, Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific’s Executive team decided to have as many staff as possible working from home – a decision that was vindicated after the restrictions were introduced days later. The Legal team was required to provide input into new work from home policies for staff and guidance about how hundreds of staff across the Asia Pacific could be mobilised to do this quickly.
The Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific legal team is seen by colleagues, peers and the industry as a key contributor to the company’s ongoing success despite the adverse circumstances of 2020.