It's that time of year. It's hot, it's humid, it's time to escape Hong Kong and there's no better way than a holiday. A survey by The Nielsen Company finds that with the worst of the credit crunch over, most Hongkongers' thoughts are very much focused on splashing out on a holiday this summer. Some 47 per cent of those surveyed put a holiday at the top of their list of non-essentials. But is it money well spent? Psychologists may argue 'yes' for the feel-good factor, the relaxation, the quality time with friends and family that a holiday yields. But what does it yield in real terms? A suntan that fades, a few extra kilograms in weight from all the excesses; and a healthy credit-card debt. Even the holiday snaps - the only lasting return on your holiday - are a thing of past now that we have digital cameras. However, recent years have seen a growing trend in vacation investment called fractional ownership: a holiday option which promises to give you something more for your money - the chance to buy future holidays at today's prices, appreciation on your initial investment, rental yields and the chance to live the life of a millionaire - at least for a couple a weeks a year. At first glance, it bears a resemblance to the timeshare, a holiday option that suffered bad press in the 1970s because of some heavy-handed sales techniques before the days of timeshare laws. However, despite the fact that in most countries fractional ownership falls within the legal definition of a timeshare, there is a difference, say experts, and it is this which makes fractional ownership a much more attractive investment option to a growing number of baby boomers with cash to spend and a taste for travel and luxury. As the name suggests, it involves buying a fraction of a holiday property rather than the option to use one for one or two weeks a year, as is the case with timeshares. The fraction you buy determines how much time each year you get to spend there. Usually, the properties are managed by a company, such as a resort or hotel chain, who charge an annual management fee in return for taking care of all the hassles, rental and maintenance. According to Absolute World Group's Charlotte Melsom, it is this idea of investing in bricks and mortar that has made fractional ownership an attractive investment option, one which, she says, is taking the world by storm. 'Fractional ownership is a perfect antidote to the current financial climate. Why buy a whole holiday home when you can buy just the part you will use?' said Melsom, director of Absolute World, a vacation-club operator that claims to have pioneered fractional ownership in Asia with luxury resort developments in Koh Samui, Pattaya and Phuket. Melsom says not only does fractional ownership make sense because in reality people only spend a fraction of a year on holiday, but also because all the costs associated with ownership are shared between owners, while maintenance and renting hassles are taken care of by the management company. In addition, Melsom says, the developments are often in luxury resort settings that come with extras such as VIP airport transfer, concierge services, use of speedboats, spa and golf club memberships. There is also the added attraction of rental yield, she said, plus exchange programmes which allow owners to swap their weeks with similar properties elsewhere in the world. But the idea of fractional ownership is not new, said Julian Sedgwick, head of international marketing for residential sales at Savills. It originated in the United States in the 1980s, where it is now well established, and only recently moved to Europe and on to Asia. 'At the moment in the US and Europe it's a US$2 billion-plus market. But it is still very new to Asia and you don't see a lot of them around,' said Sedgwick. 'A lot of companies are watching the likes of Firstlight, which has a development in Noosa, Australia, to see how well they do. 'But it's not for everyone, and the high price of the super-luxury villas that are up for fractional grabs make it a millionaire's market and you can expect to pay around US$1 million for a quarter share.' How much of an investment they are remains to be seen. Being a relatively new concept, figures on appreciation and resale values are difficult to come by, admit both Melsom and Sedgwick. But Sedgwick believes the location of fractional ownership properties, usually in high-yield areas, offer a good bet that they will appreciate in value. Sedgwick advises buying with a company with a proven track record and to take the same precautions you would with any investment property. 'You need to make sure you get the usage you want, buy in an area that you know is a strong market so your investment grows. It's about being property savvy. Don't just buy because you are on holiday and you fell in love with the place.' David Faulkner, regional director of consultancy and valuation for Colliers International in Asia, sees fractional ownership less as an investment option and more of a chance to make savings in the future. 'The idea is that you lock into a holiday home for a period, for 30 or 50 years or whatever they are selling, and it's inflation-proof,' he said. Faulkner also points out that the concept of fractional ownership does not relocate from America to Asia perfectly and is quite hard to achieve in some locations such as Thailand because of restrictions on foreigners buying land and property. 'As a foreigner you may only have it on a 30-year lease which is renewable, whereas a local could buy the freehold. The thing to bear in mind with a leasehold is that it is a wasting asset. If you buy a 30-year lease and hold on to for 10 years, you only have 20 years left and it may be harder to find a buyer.' One similar option that may be better suited to Asia's high earners is the destination club. This works more like a timeshare in that you buy a right to a luxury property for a certain length of time, usually one or two weeks a year. However, you get to choose from a variety of destinations in the club's portfolio of properties. The Banyan Tree Private Collection says it is Asia's first asset-backed destination club with some of the lowest fees in the market. It sells perpetual memberships for US$150,000 for a week or US$220,000 for two weeks, plus an annual fee of US$3,000. For that, Marina Kleiman, managing director of the collection, says you get access to 51 top-end luxury villas around the world plus all the extras Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts have to offer. 'Basically members are not owners but they have the right to use a multimillion-dollar residence at a fraction of the price. The villas do not belong to the Banyan Tree group. They are bought and placed in a trust that is independent of the Banyan Tree group.' Kleiman said the memberships can be passed on down families, making them a good investment. Given that it would cost around US$16,000 to US$21,000 a week to rent the villas, she said, you would break even with your joining fee within about eight years. After that you would be securing a week's holiday at a super-luxury destination for the price of your annual fee. At the end of the day, says Faulkner of Colliers International, it is all about choosing what suits your requirement, being property savvy, and making sure you go with a developer and a manager with an established reputation.