We were recently lured to a presentation from the streets of Phuket on the promise that the pommy lady (with a broken arm) was promoting two new 5 star resort that had just opened up in Phuket and Koh Samui. We were told that she would get paid if we just went and had a look around and said that we'd tell our friends about it. We were given the scratchie and told we'd won a prize of a week's accommodation, $10,000, an iPod etc which were told we could claim immediately. We had 2 hours to kill before catching the plane out of there, so we agreed to check it out. I asked, "this isn't some time share thing is it?" and she said, "oh no! It's just to take a look around the resort." The presentation was for Asian Travel Club (ATC) and they assured us they were "travel agents" and that this wasn't "timeshare" and technically it isn't because you don't get a share of anything.
So we went along to inspect this new 5 start hotel and the first thing we were asked by the dodgy pommy guys we met was "so what have you been told?". What followed was a pretty poor, long-winded attempt to establish rapport with us, to find out about whether we had money and where we were staying. This took about an hour. It was very forced and phony. We weren't buying it and the guy was squirming.
Then came the predictable asking us about our holidays and trying to convince us about the integrity of their company - that they were governed by a trust deed in the UK. We were shown a certificate rather than a trust deedn. There was no trust deed number or reference or evidence that it had been registered. We were then condescendingly asked whether we knew what a trust deed was I assured them I did; them not knowing that I have a legal background. The fact there is a trust deed in place means nothing if you don't get the opportunity to read the terms of the deed. What purpose was the trust for? Who are the beneficiaries? Is it registered? How can it be changed? I didn't ask these questions. I just let him go on because we still had an hour to kill and at least we were in air conditioning drinking their free drinks.
So then they went on for another hour selling the 'benefits' of their holiday club: they promised only 4 - 5 star self-contained apartments in exotic locations. They asked us about where our ideal holiday was: we said "Bora Bora in the Maldives"... they squirmed some more saying that while they definitely had accommodation in the Maldives, it wasn't in Bora Bora. Interestingly, on their dodgy website (where you will note all the 'testimonials' are in Chingrish which is curious since they only target English speaking tourists) there is a banner featuring the gorgeous villas in the sea at Bora Bora. They then turned their focus on the 'value' of their deals - week long accommodation for $299 - $799 per week if you are a member of their 'club' and a personalised travel agent service in our country. I asked them whether they were registered as a business in Australia. The boss guy assured me they were. I've since searched. They're not.
They showed me a list of their hotels across the world. I focused on Australian ones of which there were about 10. I noted that one included Kooralbyn International Resort which has been closed for 2 years and was run down and disgusting for years before it actually folded. The only Surfers Paradise Resort was Tiki Village which is 3.5 stars (not 4 - 5 as promised). The others were none I'd really heard of but I didn't recognise any and usually, when you hear of 4 and 5 star resorts in major cities, you recognise the names.
When we realised we needed to go to the airport we put out the call that they had 5 minutes to go and that we wanted to know the membership fee because it was so obvious that they were waiting for us to be in some flurry of excitement before hitting us with the membership fee for the 30 year membership. I'd already told them there was no way in hell I was signing anything for 30 years and they then said there were other options. So by the end they told us: $18,500 for the full 30 year membership - down to $5,200 for a 2 year trial. How about NO!
Things you need to think about:
- Why are these English guys running this 'club' out of Asian countries?
- Why didn't either of these guys give me their business card with their full names or contact details?
- Where was any evidence of the business being registered?
- Where was this bloody hotel I was meant to be inspecting? All I saw was a fake shop front for the presentation with a little unit complex behind it. 5 star? If they lied to get me here, why would I trust anything else they said?
- Are all the promises they made terms in the contract? I guarantee they wouldn't be. If they're not contained in the contract, you can't rely on them.
- Are there any performance guarantees in the contract? How can you enforce them? Will you need to travel to a foreign jurisdiction to enforce them?
- You need to know, it is very difficult to get out of a contract once you've signed one. I know nothing about Thai contract law and I doubt many other tourists do either. What legal protection do you have?
- What are the termination terms in the contract? Ie- how can you get out of it? Are there financial penalties? It doesn't sound like there is anything they can do that gives right to you being able to terminate the contract for their lack of performance. 30 years is a long time to be bound in a dud contract.
- Why do they pressure you to sign on the spot? Why are they so scared of you going away and thinking about it, getting financial or legal advice or doing research on their company?
- Why are these guys so evasive when you ask to talk about the figures and details of the contract and are constantly trying to move you back into an emotional position?
If it sounds good but it feels wrong, don't do it! I am sure nearly every person who sat with these guys felt the same intuitive "off" feeling we felt the whole time.Trust that feeling no matter what you're being promised.
What is obviously happening is that you pay them the largest lump sum that they can get out of you at the time, you sign a contract that binds you to pay $79 per year for 30 years or so and then they don't deliver on providing the 4 - 5 star accommodation, or nothing is ever available and you don't have access to any information to verify whether they are lying or not. They don't have any accountability to you unless you can find the resources to enforce your legal rights in a foreign country. Meanwhile, they have your credit card details and you probably signed a form giving them permission to withdraw money periodically from your account.
We got very short with them and declined to join. They pushed us out the door when we told them no and then I heard one of the guys yelling at someone on the phone asking where the next people were because "TIME IS MONEY!" ... and apparently, that's all you really are to the Asian Travel Club - whatever they can get out of you. Unfortunately, it is more than likely you won't get any value for handing over a lump sum of your hard earned money.