DISCLAIMER: Before you read this blog post, understand that this is not a rant. We had fabulous vacation this past week and we’re glad we went. Don’t read this and think, “What a whiner, man, this guy can’t enjoy anything.” My bro in Afghanistan, like a whole lot of other people, would give his eye teeth to get the vacation we just had. So I’m not complaining. At all. What follows is just one guy’s observation of a system and a circumstance that I think is fairly common.
My wife is a tremendous vacation partner. She’s up for about anything and can handle less than ideal conditions with ease. No shower? No problem, just jump in the pool or the river or whatever. Hair messed up? No problem. Just put a hat on and let’s go do something fun or see something interesting. Zip line, surfing, horseback riding, eating unidentifiable sketchy food at a local joint, no problem.
We decided this week, though, to really pamper ourselves at an exclusive resort. We were able to get away for a few days of vacation between some other commitments before school starts up again and we just wanted to relax at a really nice place on the beach.
She found a website where we, as retired military, could get a week at a real nice resort at a well-known Mexican vacation spot at an almost unbelievable price. It was a really good deal, so we got some plane tickets and made plans for the boys to stay with friends and grandparents.
Margaret checked out some travel blogs and commentaries about the place we were going and found out that it’s one of these time share places that give you the hard sell to commit to buy into what’s basically a share of the property. Now, for a variety of reasons, buying into a time share is not a good fit for us – maybe it is for you and that’s great – just not our deal. We agreed, after about 3 seconds of discussion, that for about ten thousand reasons, we were not buying into a time share.
As soon as we got to the resort and checked in – before our gear even got up to the room- the sales pitch started: just go to the breakfast, it’s free, it’s only 90 minutes, no commitment. “No thanks,” we said. Margaret had read on-line that the orientation actually takes 4 hours. I’d rather be taken hostage by the Hezbollah than do that. We had better things to do on vacation. But the first full day we were there it poured down rain and when we checked the weather at the concierge desk it looked like the next morning might be rainy, too.
About that time another “contact person” made a run at us. She looked nice, was proud of her English, and she promised us that the sales pitch would take only 90 minutes, breakfast included. She also told us we’d get big discounts off our hotel bill and a beach bag. She was really enthused about the new beach bags that contained some goodies like a t-shirt and a water bottle and a hat and insisted that we see one. She walked us to the swag closet and pulled one out. As soon as she opened the closet door we could smell the new polyethylene. “Here, they are new” she said, thrusting one under Margaret’s chin, “Smell, smell the beach bag,” she cooed, as if the odor of chemically treated rubbery plastic were Chanel #5. So we stifled our laughter and looked at each other and said to her, “OK, as long as you guarantee it’ll only be 90 minutes including the breakfast time, we’ll do it. But we’re doing it only for the discounts and we’re not signing up for or buying anything.” She said, “Oh yes,” and even wrote “1 and ½ hours including breakfast” on the top of the “invitation”. She asked us several questions and wrote them down on a form.
The next morning we rolled up at 8:15 un-breakfasted and decaffeinated and were soon whisked away in a golf cart to another part of the resort we hadn’t seen before. We were taken to a bank of computers where Erwin asked us a bunch of questions about what we do for a living and how we got a reservation at the resort. When I explained to him that there was a website I had access to as a retired military guy, he didn’t know how to classify it.
He soon handed me off to Ron, a big Brit who immediately struck me as a very likeable guy. We sat down and he started asking us questions in a very friendly way, almost like a nice, getting-to know-you conversation. None of the questions were accidental or unintentional, though. They all had the purpose of pinning down how they could sell us a resort suite in one of a handful of exclusive resorts in Mexico. This went on until about 8:45 and I stopped him and said, “Ron, I know this is how you make your living and I don’t want to mess that up or to be rude, but we’re not signing anything or buying anything today. We’re doing this only for the discounts and we’ve been guaranteed that this pitch will take no more than 90 minutes including the breakfast, which we’d like to have right about now.”
He looked at me like he had been smacked between the eyes with a two by four. “Well, Ok,” he said when he recovered, “That’s very direct.” He asked another salesman/manager to come over and check his work and fill in a few blanks on his worksheet. The guy he called over was young, skinny, and well dressed. His hair was slicked straight back like Al Pacino in Godfather II. He looked over our paperwork and, for the fifth time in a half hour, I was asked how I made the reservation for the week in the resort. This is an old interrogation technique. You ask the prisoner or the accused the same question several times through several different people to see if he lies or changes his story.
My man Ron told Al Pacino hair that we were only going to be on board for 90 minutes because we had an appointment afterwards. Without looking up from the paperwork, Al Pacino hair said, “Oh yeah? What appointment do you have next?” I said, “Our vacation” (that thing where you don’t work and you get to do what you want). Al Pacino hair sniffed and sent us to breakfast with Ron.
On the way out of the room we saw some of the other salesmen milling around getting their assignments and getting tuned up for the day. You can pick these sales guys out from a hundred yards away with a sty in each eye. They are well dressed and well groomed and possess the quick smile and the easy talk and the charm to gain confidence and make the sale. They each have an earpiece and a radio attached to their belt to they could quickly tag-team a “guest”. They are aggressive and armed with every conceivable technique of psychological leverage. They live in Cancun, but commute for 45 minutes early in the morning and hustle with hundreds of thousands of dollars in play each day. They’re acutely aware of the numbers they need to make to stay in good stead with the company and there’s no doubt in my mind that they are under enormous pressure, because pressure radiates off of them.
The breakfast was a buffet that was among the best I’d ever seen. Ron told us some of the fruit is imported to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico from Florida, which, given the current of falseness of the rest of the sales process, was entirely fitting. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had told me that the Mexican chilaquiles were cooked by a sous chef from Bangladesh. When the dishes were cleared off Ron continued with the most compressed pitch he could give us. He showed us the made-up model rooms which could not have been nicer or less relevant to us.
We were then taken to a big room with at least forty small tables. We were seated in front of glasses of water with a view over the salesman’s shoulders through the huge windows that gave us a beautiful view of the ocean. Again, nothing accidental, even when it came to who sits where at the table. It was all choreographed to manipulate, impress, convince or intimidate.
Ron went through more of the sales pitch and promised that soon and very soon, we’d see a dollar figure that they were wanting us to sign for and that we could say yes or no at that point. He left and came back with Jimmy, who I almost immediately didn’t like very much.
Jimmy marched us through the logical sequence of questions until he hit me with what I could tell was his traditional money-maker. He asked me with grave seriousness, “How much did you pay for the room you’re staying in this week?” When I told him, he sat back and looked at Ron and Ron looked at him and they didn’t say anything. Jimmy knew he was dead in the water in terms of logic at this point, so he tried some other approaches that made no sense. As we came up on the 90 minute mark I said, “Jimmy, let’s get to the part where you tell me how much money you want me to give you.” He quickly sketched out a little floor plan of the room and wrote down something like $53,000. I’m not making this up. It could have been $5,300 or $530 and I wouldn’t have been interested.
I didn’t have any desire to tie all my vacations to that type of resort. I didn’t trust Jimmy and I sure didn’t trust a system that had not been truthful with me about anything up to that point. The whole resort was built on a system of lies:
-The advertised 25 minute hotel shuttle to Playa de Carmen that takes nearly an hour.
-The 90 minute sales orientation that turns out to be up to as long as they can make it until they convince you to say yes.
-The resort website that shows a different beach from the one at the resort.
-The claim that the exchange rate is 13 when it’s 11.5.
-The requirement to load up an expense account with the hotel of about $500 (the ATM’s on the property that don’t work) so you’re almost forced to spend nearly all your money at the hotel and not in town – remember the old commissary system for sharecroppers?.
-The requirement to make a decision right there on the spot before you can do any research.
All a sham of a mockery of a lie. So why would I believe that there was anything legit in this pitch?
When I told Jimmy “No” for the fifteenth time the fifteenth different way, all the salesman charm and the boyish, conspiratorial grin turned into disdain and snarling condescension. But at least, finally, Jimmy had had enough. He told me I was passing on a chance to make a whole lot of money and walked away. When we got up and walked to the door, most of the tables in the room were full of salesmen going through the same process with other guests.
Before we could get out the door, we were handed off to two more salesmen by the front door who claimed to not be associated with the sales team that had just given us the pitch. I was amazed when they sat us down at another little table and put more hard sell on us while we waited for a little slip to be approved that listed all our discounts and prizes. At this point, I decided not to get in any more discussions. I answered their questions in single syllables ('No' at the strategically important points) until they finally let us go at 10:45.
We walked out of the strange building and got our bearings to make the long walk back to our part of the resort. No golf cart this time. That was reserved for people who had signed up to give them $53,000, I guess. We did get our beach bag, though. You are invited to come smell it.
As we tried to orient ourselves to find our building I could see the top of the big, fake, stone Mayan wall that marks the entrance of the resort. But it occurred to me that although this one is a replica, there’s nothing fake about it. This one was also built by small brown men trapped in a feudal system. They work for a new Mayan empire where the slow and the incautious are still snared and gutted by the high priests of hustle who sacrifice the unfortunates to please the gods. Only now those gods live in Vegas, Miami, New York, and LA.