When is a scam a scam? Our most unusual day trip to Patong… (the conclusion)

For the first part of the I-swear-it’s-true story, click here. We were at the point of finally being left alone and trying to work out how we are going to get out of a NZD$16,000 timeshare hardsell.

The *major* prize!

I should point out that Sean left us alone at many times over the course of the show, and I did wonder at one point whether we were being bugged (once he left his phone on the table); a way of scoping out whether we were serious or wasting their time.

At some point during this dance, I can’t remember quite when, Sean also realises he ‘forgot’ to tell us about the annual USD$400 membership fee. Whoops. He’ll talk to boozeman boss Andy. He returns. Because it was his mistake and he forgot to tell us – how silly of him – they’ll wipe the fee for the first year. How generous. I wonder if he forgets this every time he does this performance?

We continue talking/laughing about how we find ourselves in these ridiculous situations. Another card is put on the table: they’ll throw in a week at Patong Bay Resort for free, so we can come back at Christmas, and try the product before we might have even paid it off. How great is that? So that means we’ll get 11 complimentary weeks!

Another minute to talk.

Finally, the ruse is up. We tell Sean that, ‘regrettably’ – time for my words to appear in parentheses – we’ve been unable to get over the line. He races off to Andy; he doesn’t want us to leave without giving him one more try. We’re back inside. They’ll drop the price and allow us to take a five year taster package for, urgh, I can’t remember now. Whatever.

We’re clearly not swayed. We try the line that there is nothing wrong with the numbers, the package sounds great – did I mention that it was a family and friends affair, so anyone we counted as those could use the membership benefits too, and we didn’t even need to be there on holiday – but we just can’t commit to those figures without time to think about it.

But you have to sign up today.

We know, soz.

I try the tack that I can’t say yes to the four questions, the one about deserving it, because I can’t say that we deserve to spend that kind of money on ourselves, in case something comes up that we need money for. I thought that was bloody clever. Nope, there was even an answer for that.

It took all the acting talent we had, as I tried to play a character under the direction of ‘I really want something but I can’t commit so I’m going to display lots of anxiety and nerves’. Eventually, though, they gave it up, no deal, and we made it out. Alive. And ruing the moment we ever came across damn Scotty, and definitely the first and last time we’ll do anything like that for a fellow Kiwi!

Oh, the prizes you ask? We did indeed get the promised T shirt, which is now a useful pajama tee providing all the LOLs. And my major prize? Which one of the four do you think I received? I won a week’s holiday at some nameless resort, with a huge number of conditions and hoops to jump through, including that you have to sit through another presentation so you can ‘learn about the true benefits of holiday ownership’. I’m not kidding. I wonder if anyone, and I’m sure every major prize winner ends up with this lemon, bothers to redeem it?

After the taxi dropped us back to the beach, it was after 4pm, our beach day almost at an end. After a quick dip, we jumped the bus back to Phuket town, kinda laughing, kinda in disbelief about how weirdly our day trip to Patong turned out to be. The better half, in his wise wisdom, made the point that, in fact, it was kinda perfect: Patong’s scummy, scammy-ness encapsulated in the most bizarre four-and-a-half we hope we ever have to experience. Good point.

Some of the fine print; check out #1: another presentation? Not today, Satan, not today…

So, was it a scam? What did I find out?

In short, I don’t think it was a scam, and the internet hive mind is certainly full of warnings about real timeshare scams in Phuket. It was, though, likely a dog dressed up in glamorous threads.

We were being sold a package through a company called Club Unique, a part of an organisation called ILG. A big part of the pitch was that Marriott Vacations Worldwide bought ILG in 2018, for four billion dollars (US).

Marriott Vacations Worldwide (MVW), which was the timeshare part of the Marriott Corporation until it became its own publicly traded company in 2011, did indeed buy ILG in 2018. ILG was/is also a timeshare company. ILG, trading as Interval International, now appears on Marriott Vacations Worldwide website as an ‘exchange and third party management’ part of the company. This is how they are able to proclaim that we would be able to access the range of brands that are a part of MVW: Sheraton, Westin, St Regis, Hyatt, etc.

However, rather than just booking any room, you would be booking into these brands’ own vacation clubs, so a particular number of suites I presume they have dedicated to these kinds of arrangements. For example, in the MVW buyers guide I downloaded, the Patong Resort appears under the resorts that have only made 6-10 suites available for holiday clubs (covering who knows how many thousands of members). Many or most resorts fall into the between 51-100 category, to be fair.

So, the ILG website and booking facilities we were shown are completely legit, and indeed do provide some kind of membership access to the broader MVW club networks. What I was not able to find online, and quite frankly can’t be assed wasting any more time researching, is where the role of Club Unique, the club we were supposedly being signed up to, sits within this web. I couldn’t find concrete links between them.

Where the MVW and ILG websites have ‘about us’ sections detailing ownership and history and legal sections, Club Unique’s website is vague to say the least:

From a single, bold concept back in 2015, today, Club Unique is the result of the shared vision of local developers and real estate and hotel specialist alike

Aha.

It does have a section about Interval International under its club benefits section, which states that they chose Interval to be their worldwide exchange and benefits partner. The resort is also in MVW’s buyer’s guide as an affiliate resort. But it still leaves me quite confused about who and what CU exactly are? The few media stories about them/the Patong resort I managed to find in the Thai press, read like PR press releases they’ve somehow gotten these outlets to publish verbatim.

Further, some of the figures in MVW’s buyer’s guide, about fees and so on, seemed to be less than the amounts provided by CU, so are they simply selling these memberships but adding their own cream on the top? Seems an awfully exhausting process to go through for a bit of cream, so I don’t know, and refer previous point about wasting any more time. So, I guess, unless someone reading this can shed some further light, it will remain an incompletely answered question. For now anyway.

A palatte cleanser…

When is a scam a scam? A most unusual day at Patong Beach

While in Phuket, we decided to do a day trip to Patong, the real warts-and-all centre of tourism in this part of Thailand. We did it so we could say we’d done it, and secretly so we could pretentiously and smugly judge its outrageous facade; the worst stereotypes of farangs go wild writ large. Instead, we found ourselves having an altogether I-promise-it’s-true, you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up kinda experience…

We had really only just arrived when we met fellow Kiwi Scotty, having wandered down the (in)famous Bangla Road with its morning after hangover appearance. We were both wearing black tops that easily identified us as such, so we were easy targets! After a bit of general chit chat, his intentions became clearer.

He and his Swedish ‘colleague’, like himself another slightly weather beaten expat, gave us cards that were part of a ‘promotion’. We opened them to reveal that, while one was just a T shirt (cue sympathetic ohhs), mine – surprise surprise – was major: an iPad, smartphone, USD$1,000, or a seven night resort holiday. They started excitedly jumping around. This was great news as not only had we won, but if we just went to this 90 minute presentation, they would get thousands of baht in commission and they’d be able to ‘eat steak tonight’.

By now we were well clued in, and really should have a) declined and b) remembered that no one ever beats the house! However we decided to do a fellow Kiwi a favour.

He clearly (not) needed a good iron feed. So we agreed.

Scotty played his part well, remaining excited throughout. A tuk-tuk was hailed to transport us up to the Patong Bay Hill Resort while he dressed up as chit chat what were clearly the screening questions: are we wealthy enough to desire annual resort holidays, are we their target market? Because we were staying in Phuket Town in a nice but budget-friendly hotel, he coached us to talk up how much we’d paid per night, and to really emphasise our next destination: a branded resort at Karon beach.

And so, upon arriving at the functioning but still under construction resort, what turned into an almost four-hour show began.

Jellyfish: not the only spineless blobs we encountered on Phuket!

Sean, a Manchester lad of Irish descent, was our chosen narrator. He spent quite a bit of time establishing rapport. In retrospect, it’s bizarre how long we spent just ‘chatting’ before any talk turned to what the package was; although, of course, it’s also totally not, being clearly part of the game. He told us a lot about himself, and how he ended up in Patong. The extended version. All the while he was asking us questions too, obviously feeling us out and trying to find the little hooks he could use.

He mistakenly assumed, for example, that our black and white tops with silver ferns on them were All Blacks/rugby tops, and so assumed we were either fellow players (our builds) or at least fans. Wrong on both counts Seanypoos.

(As was also the case when we later met Andy, the big boss, who had recently spent a boozy weekend in notorious Pattaya, a place we avoided for that exact reason, and told us about how it got rowdy, a great boys’ weekend, and how his bank balance was now paying for it. Bad mis-read, bro.)

While this was happening, we were seated in an AC room/office with a tasty-looking continental buffet spread in front of us, told to help ourselves, and were plied with – not great – coffee too. If only we had no shame.

He then showed us around the flurry of activity that was a US$1 million dollar pool being built, while making lame jokes about Thai time and OSH in this part of the world. Another mis-read. The knowing laughter was canned, Sean.

(Side note: a hilarious part of the theatre of it all is how you are introduced to other staff members as the show progresses; the bit characters to the main event. They pop in and out, all smiles and delivering little scripted jokes.

Exhibit A: we meet the other British sales guy whose son is apparently going to be the next answer to the Arctic Monkeys. After he walks off, cue Sean: no he’s not because the band’s crap. Cue more canned laughter, and yet another misread: just because I’m a music scholar, it doesn’t mean I’m an instrumentalist, or that because your playlists are eclectic and could be anything from classical to hip hop, it makes you interesting; and why are those always the two ends of some kind of musical taste spectrum anyway?!).

Sashay away, Seanypoos, sashay away!

After the first part of the show was over, we take a taxi down to the Club’s beachside resort, so we can ‘get a taste of what you could be looking forward to’, if we joined up today. The location was amazing – literally out your door and straight onto the beach – everything else was questionable.

The pool took up a large part of the resort area and it felt like it was full of shirtless muscle lads looking for good time girls to bang. The rooms were literally metres away, so there is nil privacy to enjoy your little private plunge pools. No wonder they were empty. The vibe was just a bit seedy.

I don’t know whether Sean picked up on this, or not, but he didn’t show us around much and we didn’t stay that long, just long enough to enjoy a coconut shake. Instead we returned to Patong Bay Hill Resort for the final act.

Now the sell finally begins. Back at the office, Sean shows us how we could book into luxurious villas that, on booking.com, were thousands of dollars a night, for ONLY $USD288 A WEEK!! And, because of their ownership within the Marriott family, there were thousands of these properties across the world we could have access to. No matter where in the world we wanted to go, almost, we were guaranteed to be able to find a week’s worth of five-star accommodation for USD$288, Sean told us excitedly.

By the way, I’ve started speaking these words in a sarcastic tone; you should read them likewise.

It was time to see what was meant by this, so we were taken up to one of the resort’s one bedroom suites, which we were told would be the minimum guaranteed standard we could expect, if we weren’t upgraded to something better. Admittedly the suite was fine, and the outside infinity pool tempting.

Standing outside on the balcony, overlooking the pool and view out across Patong, it was time to start building to the climax. We’d been told that, if we could answer yes to four questions – is it value for money, would we get the use from it, do we deserve it, and one other piece of nonsense I can’t remember now – then a simple yes/no answer should be a no brainer. Were the answers to the questions a yes? Indeed. Would we be able to give him a simple answer today? The start of problems ahead for Seanypoos.

Insert lame joke about wanting to parachute out of the situation

He’d previously mentioned that he was a researcher by nature, investigating all of his options before deciding anything. I reminded him of this and that, as a researcher I would be very unlikely to say yes to something without taking time to research and investigate. I can’t remember his retort, but of course there was one. Something lame to keep us in the game.

We returned to the shiny sales rooms for the final reveal. The normal price for a 10-year membership – and that was fine as ‘the majority of people enter at the 10-year and then love it so much they upgrade to the full 25-year options’ – was just under NZD$20,000, but today, and only today, we’d get 20% off that price.

As a bonus, we’d also get an extra ten free week bookings over the ten year period, and so we didn’t have to consider the full amount, we could make a deposit – how much could you realistically put down today? – and pay the rest off over six months, longer if you need it, we’re completely flexible and it’s 0% interest, and the ten years won’t start ticking over until we’ve made payment in full, but the special has to be taken today. Can you imagine how the lines are starting to be delivered?

We sit outside so we can ‘talk without two annoying British guys standing over you’. And so we can finally talk about how we are going to get out of this.

To be continued…