Starwood Vacation Ownership — Aggressive Sales Tactics
I write this as a warning to those who visit Myrtle Beach, SC. My wife and I went there earlier this month. Our first afternoon in town we stop by a casual dining restaurant for a quick bite. Stationed in the entrance way is a man in an official looking booth with the innocuous title "guest services". I initially mistake him for the seating host. We had a pleasant conversation about where we were from, length of stay etc. He then asks if we are interested in discounted tickets to the local shows. We say sure, I'm thinking he is selling advance tickets nothing more. Only after further discussion does he tell us that to get the tickets we have to attend a presentation on a Sheraton Vacation Ownership program. We are told the program is 90 minutes to two hours, involves a video and a tour. He also throws in a $10 0ff coupon for the restaurant. They are very clever - to get the tickets I put down a $20 deposit so if I don't show up they keep the money. It seemed like no big deal, so the next day we drive over to the Preview Center. What followed was an ordeal of aggressive salesmanship unlike I have ever been subject to in my life. The program in a nut shell is an "analysis" of my vacation habits which establishes that I spend money on hotel rooms. The salesman then explains the very complicated product they are selling. I express that I am not very interested and am then told over and over again how I am throwing this money away on "rent" when I could have "equity", "ownership" with a "deed." All for just $16, 000, just $3, 200 down, $500 closing fee, with a $180 a month payments for the next ten years (plus I assume an annual share of real estate taxes, maintenance and other various fees and charges). All of this can go on the Amex card they push on you as well. Just a small commitment really when you're talking about your family's vacation enjoyment right? Because my good sense intervenes and I decline their offer (on a product which "sells itself") I'm accused of not having a "open mind" about the process (exactly how many people go to these things looking to buy?). The salesmen come in three waves - the first is a confrontational type who tries to sell the product by getting you to admit you can't think of anything bad about it (except the price of course - but hey who cares what things cost). The second salesman is at first introduced as some sort of manager to talk numbers. He eventually pitches a cheaper alternate year plan something like $12, 000. We decline this as well and the last wave in the form of their "evaluator" shows up. He at first deceptively asks you to evaluate the process in the guise of getting you on your way with your gift. His real purpose is to pitch a cut rate $1, 500 product where you buy a 4 night stay in Orlando or Myrtle Beach and 30, 000 points to "see how the program works" At this point my wife, infant daughter and I have been at the Preview Center for going on three hours - I reach my limit and have to repeatedly tell the last guy I am not interested to the point of being rude about it. Finally, we get our precious tickets.
My sincere advice to anyone approached by "Guest Services" in Myrtle Beach, SC is to ignore them and walk away no matter what enticement they offer you. If you find yourself driving to the preview center ask yourself one question "did I plan to spend $16, 000 or more on a complex real estate product when we packed up the car to drive down here?" If not, turn around and go to the beach.