Even though Igor Pavlovic and his wife consider themselves experienced consumers, they say that nothing could have prepared them for the sophisticated and aggressive sales pitch for a Wyndham time share that they recently endured in San Antonio.
The couple had been lured into a formal presentation with promises of “free” dinner and show tickets. “Once we got there, two salesmen gave us a high-pressure sales pitch,” says Pavlovic, a retired information systems consultant from Palm Beach, Fla. “Of course we liked the offerings and savings, but there was no way for us to verify their claims.”
You can probably guess what happened next. The Pavlovics bought a time share and then tried to cancel it. Even though the salesmen had promised that they could get a full refund “at any time” before using the benefits, the contract said otherwise. Now they were on the hook for $18,000, which didn’t include $650 in annual maintenance fees.
“It was all a lie,” says Pavlovic. “A scam.”
A look at the time-share industry’s numbers suggests that there’s a reason behind the assertive marketing techniques. The recession hit the industry like a wrecking ball hitting a flimsy condo. Sales dropped from half a million units in 2007 to 353,822 in 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, according to the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), an industry trade group. That has made a business already notorious for hard selling sell even harder.
The Pavlovic presentation raised a few concerns, including the aggressive techniques employed and the alleged misrepresentation of the cancellation terms, according to Orlando-based time-share expert Lisa Ann Schreier. “It’s horrible,” she adds. “Just horrible.”
But calling it a scam might be going too far, she says. After all, Wyndham offers real vacation resorts in some of America’s most popular destinations. It’s just that Pavlovic’s time share was sold to him in a way that he believes is less than honest, and that many of the benefits, such as low rates for accommodations, didn’t meet his expectations.
A Wyndham representative says that the company did absolutely nothing wrong. After hearing from Pavlovic, the company reviewed his transaction. “The investigation into Mr. Pavlovic’s claims showed no indication that the sales representative engaged in any improper activity or violated any of our comprehensive sales compliance policies,” says Lisa Burby, a spokeswoman for Wyndham. “In fact, we have never received any consumer complaints about this sales representative that suggest he does not follow company protocol.”
Last year, Wyndham’s San Antonio sales center conducted more than 15,800 tours. Of those customers, less than one-quarter of one percent complained about their experience, according to Burby. “While we strive to have no complaints,” she says, “we believe that this rate, which is well below one percent, is a positive reflection of our company’s dedication to our service philosophy.”
But talk to travelers who are accosted by time-share salespeople on the Las Vegas Strip or International Drive in Orlando, and you’ll hear another story.