Q&A Session 2021
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING - 2021
Q: Could you please explain how the rental scheme works related to the “unused weeks”?
A: This is a special promotion for members unable to use their weeks during April/May 2020 and mid January to April 2021.There are also others affected outside of this time due perhaps to health issues or age meaning that they were unable to travel. Also where there were cases of a rental pool where receipts were only a tiny fraction of normal. This is used on a week for a week basis at these special rates. The rates are different for the different times of the year but all offer a saving. These are managed and controlled within the rental pool and are subject to availability. At quiet times it can also bring more people to the club. This is only related to weeks in the past that members were unable to use. Now for example, when everything is operating much as normal there is no reason to qualify for any unused weeks.
Please note: members who successfully claimed on their travel insurance should not apply for this.
Q: When did this (unused week special rate) start as 2 weeks were just rented in August?
A: The scheme started at the end of August 2020. It is not something that is “automatic”. It has to be requested so that we are able to check eligibility and at that time we would also check availability. It cannot be requested retroactively as weeks in the rental pool have been closed and rental pool income paid out. It is also difficult to know after the event if occupation at this rate would have in fact been available at the time of booking.
Q: Everyone, I am sure, has appreciated the regular updates as it is so helpful to know what is going on. However, I am still wondering though whether to visit or not and feel it would be helpful to have an update now, on what is currently happening.
A: Michelle O’Gorman a member of the board responded that she had in fact just come back from the club and had had a thoroughly enjoyable time, with occupancy at around 90%. It was comfortable around the pool and she had felt really safe, in fact like a sigh of relief. The tests required to travel are clearly more of a hassle than is usual but worked very well. The club is able to organise tests for the return and it all worked incredibly well.
There was general agreement and very positive comment from others in the room that had visited the club recently.
Masks are still used when walking around but removed when sitting to eat or drink – this is a Portuguese regulation, not a club regulation. As at the beginning of this week (13th September) it is no longer mandatory to wear masks in public, open air spaces (outdoors). All of our staff continue to wear masks. There is a phased release of restrictions in September and October but this is linked to the percentage levels of full vaccinations. Portugal’s vaccination rate is currently the highest in Europe
Q: Have there been any cases of guests staying testing positive?
A: Yes we have had 3 cases where guests have had to quarantine in a villa during the period since April 2020. All procedures are in place; no one enters or leaves the villa. Cleaning materials and laundry, as necessary, are left at the door. Dirty laundry is bagged and collected from the door. Take aways and any items from the mini-market can be ordered and these are also left at the door. It has in fact worked very well.
Comment: The staff are excellent and do extremely well to be wearing masks for 8 hours a day in the heat.
Q: How is the swimming pool situation in terms of control of numbers using it?
A: The restrictions are for a maximum of 5 persons in the indoor pool at any one time and 25 for the outdoor pool. This is based on the number per m2 of pool area. There is also a traffic light system for use of the pool area that keeps it green up to 50% usage, amber from 50-100% and then red when full. There were quite a few times that we were at red during the summer period.
Q: Does someone check those using the gym?
A: This is controlled by reception and people using the gym should check-in with the reception desk before starting their session and we also monitor this with CCTV cameras. However, it is not an area that is “locked off” so a person could just walk in but in keeping an eye on numbers using it we have on occasion asked those that have not booked to leave the area when the maximum number of users is exceeded or where we do not have a prior booking in place. To date the vast majority of users have respected the rules in place. Cleaning and sanitization takes place after each one hour session. If any anomalies are witnessed at any time then please report this to reception immediately.
Q: Are people asking to sell weeks more?
A. In fact it has been the opposite; sales have been very positive, not as high as peak years but very positive. 50 of the weeks sold so far this year were “club owned” weeks i.e. rule 8 cancellations and relinquished weeks.
Q: At what sort of prices have the weeks sold for and has there been a dip in the prices, or do we anticipate one?
A: In fact we have achieved some of our highest prices this year. The overall average price is slightly down but this is brought about by the number of lower value weeks sold so, the mix of weeks as opposed to prices falling.
Q: Is the market still mainly British or is there interest from other nationalities?
A: We have had interest from other nationalities, French for example and Dutch but there is still a lot of interest from the UK and Ireland. It is therefore still predominantly UK especially with existing members topping up weeks or recommending friends. Last year, in the circumstances that we had, there was more marketing aimed at the national market and this year we have seen quite a lot more Portuguese guests than has been normal in the past.
Q: Very impressed with security and with the temperature check at the gate but the downside of this is the closure of the gate to the driving range. What do you think would trigger the reopening of that?
A: Basically when we are able to stop taking temperature checks at the gate, while these remain in place we need to keep to one point of access and the driving range access therefore will remain closed.
Q: Is the check every time that you come into the club
A: Not necessarily every time no, for example if the guards see that you have just left the club and then return shortly afterwards no but generally, yes ,it is each time somebody enters through the gate.
Q: What are the plans for the next 12 months?
A: If we could take it that Covid is over that would be great. 12 months ago it was more a question of survival but in the last 12-18 months it has been a matter of battening down the hatches and we have only done what was needed to be done e.g. the internal roads last year in May and a number of the club’s sloping roofs in early 2021 plus a few smaller items like the new flooring in the gym. The major project for the future is the new pool and the relocation of the offices. It is an expensive project and involves a lot. The location of the new pool is between the existing pool and the driving range – a rectangular pool that can be covered and used all year round, giving more space in the summer and a heated outdoor pool in the winter and shoulder periods which will provide savings on the current costs of heating the existing large outdoor pool, when we have to, which of course cannot be covered. The offices required would be located on the first floor of the mini-market. This is a large project which has been discussed and considered for a number of years.
Comment: It is good for members to hear that there continue to be plans for investment in the club in the future.
A: There is certainly an intention to continue to invest in the club.
Q: What is the club’s position on being carbon neutral and where are we on plastics?
A: We have done away with the use of items like plastic straws and plastic glasses, take-away trays etc but some issues of plastic will only be resolved when suppliers change what they are doing. We are using solar in a number of areas and all villas in the refurbishment were prepared for this in the future. Anything that we can do in terms of our environmental impact we are conscious of and take every opportunity. We have also recently been installing a number of electric car charging posts around the resort and would expect this to continue as demand increases.
Q. Is there a plan to upgrade the gym; the villas have now been done to such a high standard?
A: There is a lot of very good equipment in the gym. We have just replaced the flooring and are looking at some replacement items of equipment and also the possibility of an outdoor gym area but in this Covid period a freeze was put on all but essential expenditure.
Q. It is more the environment with the colour being blue?
A: For the most part the walls are mirrored and this helps to give a feeling of more space. The colour on the walls is only at a low level, under the mirrors. The gym has evolved considerably from what it originally was when it was located in what is now the children’s games room when it was just a multi gym, an exercise bike and a running machine. We changed the location for the room downstairs and then found a void behind a wall that we were able to extend into, which is now the location of the exercise machines. This is a large though relatively narrow room but it increased the space that we had. During the lockdown we did open the wall of this to see if we could extend it out further on one side to provide more space but this is just not possible. Sometimes there has to be a compromise in what you have but in comparison to many hotels and clubs, where gyms are relatively small, we do have a lot. An ideal might be to have a view but we have to work within the confines of what we have.
Q: Can you give an update on the price of golf
A. This has been discussed many times but we have to be realistic with this, we still have the best prices, even in the package rates. 20 years ago the price was €50 per round. Prices have gone up because CGQDL wanted to increase the price and reduce footfall and it is a long time since we have had problems with 5/6 hour rounds and a strategy like that is understandable. If you compare Quinta do Lago with some other courses the investment has been far greater e.g. €7M just spent on the South course upgrade and major improvements have been made to the clubhouse and the areas around it. There have also been major investments in other areas of Quinta do Lago and it is therefore not surprising that they would expect to see a return on that. If you look at the Q5 package for example we still have a price of €68 per round in the low season and we now also have a 25% discount on buggies and equipment. Not as bad as it seems if you compare the exchange rate now to what it was at some points nearer 1.50/1. In addition the IVA (VAT) on golf was also increased some years ago from 6% to 23% and at the time only half of that was passed on to us.
Quinta do Lago is a very special area and it is difficult to match what we have here with the quality of the golf courses, restaurants from cheap and cheerful to Michelin star etc and we can see this also in the value of properties in the area and the way that they have increased.
The range of courses is all perhaps at a high standard and there are not the cheaper options that you might find on lower standard courses. Portugal tends to only have the high end. They are though first class courses and you have to compare apples with apples. High quality courses in other areas also command higher prices.
Comment: Thank you to the team for all the hard work and for keeping us on the straight and narrow. It has not been easy.
Questions that were raised in advance of the AGM.
Q: 2021 members unable to take up their timeshare are offered a reduced “rental charge”. This is excellent and certainly encourages “members” to stay at Four Seasons Country Club with additional income from food, drink and sports hire, benefitting everyone.
In the past, when I’ve enquired the “rental” cost has been up to €500 per week more expensive than local competition.
Surely it is in all members’ interests to charge “rental costs” just to members at no more than annual weekly maintenance charge. It would encourage more members to book more than just their timeshare weeks. All members would benefit from the incidental spend.
After all, FSCC have already received the annual maintenance charge from the timeshare owners, so rather than leave the villa empty, market it at competitive prices.
A: We already have special rates for members in the member discount and with the special packages like the winter 5 week offer. In addition any “special” promotions” always provide the best rates for members. However it is important also to keep a balance. If members only paid the same rate whether they owned or rented then what would be the benefit to owning more weeks. Ownership of all weeks is in the best interests of members otherwise non owned weeks are supported by all other members.
There are also of course two sides to every coin. Reducing rates to members renting in means reducing income to those members renting out their weeks, again we need to keep a balance and to date we are confident that we have done that.
The rental rates that we have offer extremely good value, as indeed do the member fees. We must though compare apples with apples. You mention a €500 difference but to what?? You give no indication on what you are comparing us to. Clearly there are always cheaper options available but do they offer the same? We do indeed get members who have a cheap rate for an apartment or villa away from the club, often with no backup services but at a very cheap rate and a suggestion that they would much rather stay at FSCC, if we could match the price, but that is just not realistic. However, if you would like to provide more detail, so that we can clarify this with you, then please just contact Ian Pugsley or Antonio Pereira da Rosa directly at the club.
Q: Operating a system for donating leftover food and drink from members/guests villas, rather than us disposing of it when we leave?
A: It has always been the case, since the club first started, that the items left over in a villa are for the maids who clean that villa; a part gratuity therefore.
Q: Upgrading some of the gym equipment, particularly the weights, some of which are showing signs of rust?
A: We were working on some upgrades when Covid hit and since then we have had a freeze on all but essential capital expenditure. When appropriate some replacements will be made. We have during the period of the lockdown replaced the floor in that area. We are also looking at the possibility of creating an outdoor gym area.
Q: Allowing babies under a certain age and in a travel cot to stay in addition to the capacity number of guests?
A: This is something that we do already deal with but ONLY on request. If this becomes a change to normal policy without prior agreement then the occupancy level increases and soon it is not babies but young children and then older children. The maximum occupancy of the villas is 4 for a T1 and 6 for a T2 (including any children). It is important not to exceed this because we also must be considerate of those either side and above or below. To add one cot only is usually possible but please always contact the club first.
Q: Would the club consider installing a pedestrian gate at some point near roundabout 3 for those who want to walk to the shopping centre and whose villa is that end of the site? This could be controlled by the entrance card (I appreciate it may require some technology). Alternatively the beach shuttle might be considered to run also to the shopping centre?
A. While we would not rule it out altogether we are not planning to add any other gates as each adds a security issue. It is preferable that everyone instead comes through the main gate. We have tried to include a loop to the shopping centre with the minibus but the time that we have available is so tight, especially in summer, that it only allows for the round trip to the beach. The minibus and the main bus are primarily used to bring staff to and from work and the drivers’ time is quite fully committed on that.
Q: The airport transfer rate applied by the associate hire company VDL seemed somewhat excessive. On the way over, we (2 people) paid €28 (for an executive car) to another provider and booked with VDL for the return, the cost of which was €52. It was a 6.am pick up so I accept there may be an anti social hours charge but the difference was rather large. I had actually been quoted €42 by VDL for the run from the airport but by the time I got the quote had booked elsewhere as their web site did not seem to have the facility to book a transfer on line. My initial provider would have charged €28 each way. I wasn’t sure of the benefit in having VDL on site if the cost difference was that much. I appreciate their car hire rates may be more competitive.
A: Having followed up on this we understand that there has been a surcharge applied for transfers before 7.00 but we were not aware of that and have been clear that we need to be totally transparent in our pricing information with members. It was something I believe done at a local level and is fairly standard practice here with transfer and taxi companies.
As regards the cost of the transfers, VDL does try to be as competitive as possible but they are providing a quality service and as always we must compare apples with apples. We keep a track of price comparisons and realise that there are cheaper options but the level of service and the type of vehicle is usually different. We are also aware that VDL does not make a profit with this service, or in fact with the bikes, quite the reverse but provide them as an add on service to the car hire. Many members have found the airport transfer option to be very convenient and it also of course reduces the cost of car hire as that tends to start a day later and finish a day earlier. Many also appreciate the fixed rate transfer to local restaurants and the bikes are very popular and also give us greater flexibility rather than other bicycle hire companies that require a minimum period of rental. The overall package that we receive from VDL would not be matched by others and it is hoped therefore that members will continue to support it.
Comment: Finally could I just congratulate all those who run the club. I have stayed there several times but only this year became a member, it is a credit to those who run it and the staff. The only mystery to me is how it hasn’t a 5 star accreditation. It certainly is a 5 star resort.
A. We have always been an “aldeamento 4 star” originally that was just because the second bathroom was not a full bathroom, i.e. it does not have a bath. However, some years ago the system of awarding stars was changed to a points system whereby some things were mandatory and others discretionary. To achieve 5 stars you needed something like 176 points and the club had around 340. We therefore could have easily converted to being 5 star. However, for the international traveller there are some elements that we cannot provide like, for example, 24 hour room service. We therefore chose to remain as we were and be an exceptional 4 star facility instead.