Sunday, March 20, 2005

Vacation in Switzerland for Rs 5,000 only

A few days back a well-known club in Bangalore, of which I am member, invited me for a presentation on their newly opened travel and tourism wing. The caller -- after a 60-second breezy introduction (of which I understood nothing) -- said that after the presentation I could claim a gift voucher which would entitle me and my family to a week’s holiday in Goa or Rajasthan or Chennai (including stay in a 5-star hotel) for something as low as Rs 5,000 or so.

A familiar script. Some three years back, I got a similar invitation from a travel and tour operator. The first time I ever got such an invitation. But I couldn’t make it for that.

Then, a year back, I got another similar call. This was the second time. Just out of a curiosity to know what this is all about, I said yes. But by then, my friends had warned me that this is a trap. You will be lured saying you can go on vacation any where in the world for a very less amount. It is just to get members enrolled. It works on something called timeshare, which I have still not understood fully. Since they said the offer is valid only for that day, I said, I can’t say yes. For the time spent and the trouble spent, they gave a small gift.

So, when I got that familiar invitation a few days back, I straight away said no, I won’t be interested. She (the caller) said I just needed to come for the presentation, get my doubts cleared up, and that there was no commitment to join or take up any offer. Then I said I would be in the office at the scheduled time. Then she rescheduled my time to Sunday (today 11 am). After a day’s thought, I decided to go... for a second time... for one and only reason: Anyway a trip to the club was planned. And, who knows, for club members there may be some concession! And, there wasn’t any thing better to do on a Sunday morning!

But, my hopes of this presentation being different were belied. The same script. One sick guy tries to get friendly to you by cracking jokes and making desperate attempts to be funny. When he began asking personal questions, I almost lost my cool and said, "That hardly matters, why don't we get with the business.”

He then draws up lots of scenarios about possible (not even remotely probable) vacation plans. Which country would you like to visit, you want veg or non-veg, two-bedroom house or three bedroom...? I said these make no sense, since these are purely hypothetical cases. My choice is as good as yours, I told him.

I told him to tell me how much I will have to pay for visiting all these countries of my choice. He said I would have to pay an annual maintenance fee of Rs 5,000 for making use of the facilities in the foreign resorts.

Just pay Rs 5,000 every year and you mean I can stay a five-star resort in any country of my choice? Yes, he says. I just couldn’t believe it. How does the economics of this work, I ask him.

He then calls one of his bosses who tells me, “We have 7.5 million members across the world. That’s how we are able to offer you these services so cheap.”

The club obviously doesn’t have 7.5 million members. If at all that guy was saying the truth, it will be combined figure of all affiliated clubs. Who knows the truth?

As he was keeping on telling that “this is free, that is free”, I told him to tell me, for what will I have to pay. So he came to the actual membership cost: Something like Rs 1.47 lakh. I have to pay Rs 10,000 today itself and pay the rest in two years, which comes to something over Rs 5,000 per month.

Is it not attractive? I said, of course, attractive. That guy must have been salivating! Then I said, “If I pay Rs 10,000 now plus 5,000 or so for maintenance every year, you mean I can go on a five to 12 star vacation to any foreign country?" He said, yes again.

I said, it is simply impossible. The economics of this is unconvincing. He once again came back to the 7.5 million members thing. What about airfare, stay, overhead expenses, so many things…. I could have understood, some concession. I said I just can’t believe this.

What other doubts you have, he asked. The guy was keeping on telling me that this offer is valid only for today. It is a well-known marketing trap. So I pounced on that. I said, I need at least on day to think over this. Even if we have to buy a fridge we weigh various options... So, why only today?

He had a reason. “We offer this only today, because this is an offer that is coming exclusively to you. We don't advertise, we don’t let people walk in any time of the day and pick up the membership. We can't afford to do that.”

I said, “You picked, say 10 of us, for this offer. Don’t include any more. Just allow a couple of days for these 10 people only... Why should we take a decision in such a hurry.” Then he called some other boss. I told him, “If you have 7.5 million members and thus you can easily offer these services dirt cheap, why are you sounding so desperate to sign me on to this?”

This is pure luxury that you are offering. I don’t need to vacation in Switzerland to live. Then he said, it is a good recreation. I said it is up to me to see what is good. What we are talking about are desires in life, and not needs. So I will have to think a lot before opening up my purse.

He had no answer. He just smiled. Then came the last call. He said, “If you are not interested we can cancel the offer to you. But later if ever you feel like becoming a member, even if you are willing to pay many times over the present amount, you won’t be able to.

I said, I would have no regrets.

Then, one more bait. At the time of giving the gift he said, “Would you like a gift travel coupon or ice-cream cups... You can pick up a complimentary coupon with which you can have a five-star vacation in Jodhpur, Goa or Chennai. The amount you be around Rs 5,000 or so for the entire family plus taxes. You can see the facilities, come back, and then decide. No commitments again. You can come back and even say NO.”

I said I'd prefer the ice-cream cups.

I also decided I will try to find someone who has taken a similar membership. As luck would have it, there was a friend of mine at the exit, who had also come to the club. After explaining why I had come there, he said, he was a member of another similar company. I asked him, how is it possible... all that they are offering... My friend said, “It’s all crap, I was actually trapped... You need to have lakhs to enjoy those foreign vacations... I am just losing the annual membership fee.”

So that was it. Twice is enough. No more such ventures. But still I would like to see someone and find out how much I will have to actually pay (even as a club member) to go on a week’s 12-star vacation to say Switzerland...


  1. I'm not quite sure how I found my way to your blog, but I'd always wondered about those sort of travel programs. We have them here in the States, and they always seemed to be a scam.

    Good to have that belief confirmed.

  2. I too have been through these 'free vacation' rigmarole. In my case there was a horn that honked everytime someone paid for the holiday plan and then the staff would gather and clap for the poor sucker.I have to date collected, ice cream bowls, cheap glass tumblers, a dinner two at "Bholaram's and many more knick knacks as proof of various such outings in clubs, hotels, resorts where these marketing campaigns are generally held.