Opinion: Timeshare (high pressure selling)

POSTED: 03/12/14 5:49 PM

Some time ago, we received via our website a cry for help from a French email address. We will not mention the lady’s name here, or the name of any company involved, because they really do not matter all that much. This is a story about doing the right thing – better late than never – and about a happy ending.

What is this all about?

Thus is the story of a lady who badly needed a break after she sustained a serious knee injury. So with her partner she booked a vacation to St. Maarten. On the second day after their arrival, the couple was looking for a parking spot in Philipsburg when they were approached by two French youngsters. In St. Maarten we know them as OPC’s – Off Premise Consultants. They really are hustlers fighting for a buck by enticing people to visit a timeshare resort. As long as they do an honest job, who cares? People ought to be old and wise enough to know what they are getting themselves into.

However, maybe that is a rather optimistic view. The OPCs asked our vacationing couple to take part in a scratch card game – one of the things St. Maarten wants to outlaw if the timeshare legislation ever gets to parliament. And see how clever the hustlers played this.

“I never won any price so I was pleasantly surprised and so pleased when they told us that we had won the first prize. They faked their surprise pretty well and we followed them happily,” the vacationing lady wrote to us. By now, she is aware of the fact that everybody who takes part in these bogus scratch card games wins the first prize.

The vacationers spent an astonishing six hours at the resort where the sellers were demonstrating how interesting their deal was. The clients asked for some time to think about it, but of course, the sellers insisted. They wanted to close a deal, and the decision had to be taken there and then.

“It seems so stupid now to have fallen for this deal under pressure. But we did,” the lady wrote to us.

The couple’s encounter at the timeshare resort basically ruined their vacation, because they spent the rest of their time thinking about the contract they signed, not to mention the deposit they paid. Back home they sought advice, wrote emails and letters in French and English to the resort and finally they sent a request to the resort to confirm the rescission of the contract.

The deal the couple in the end did not want cost them $1,150 – a lot of money if you get nothing in return. It also ruined their vacation because they were fretting about the contract.

When their requests for a refund fell on deaf ears, the couple in the end contacted the Today newspaper. Somehow, people seem to feel that these kinds of things are right up our alley. We have to be honest though, because the cry for help, though not forgotten, lingered for a couple of weeks on our desk.

Then we met the right guy and we just happened to bring up the story. That is not good, was the answer. Send that information to me and we will solve this real quick.

Our contact approached the resort. And indeed: within a couple of days we received confirmation that the resort had looked into the matter, contacted the vacationers and sent them a full refund.

The resort actually thanked us for bringing the issue to the attention of its management. After checking the records, the resort found the complaint justified. The couple had exercised its right of rescission properly – meaning that they were entitled to their refund. Unfortunately, the resort reported to us, the couple did not receive its refund due to an administrative error.

To its credit, the resort reached out directly to the couple, offered an apology and sent the refund.

That is one happy ending to a sad story that had the potential to make two vacationers unhappy (and a lot poorer), to damage the image of the resort, to damage the local economy, and to damage the image of St. Maarten as the Friendly Island.

We are not writing this story to let readers tell us they are proud of us. We publish the story to show other vacationers that there are solutions to these kinds of problems. And we also publish it as a message to all of us who are doing business in the tourism industry to treat our visitors decently and properly.


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