If you go to Bangla Road in Patong Beach—and everyone does at least once—and you’re with a partner and between the ages of about 35 and 64, there is one scam that you are extremely likely to come across. It goes like this:
- An ex-pat (not the lady-boy in the photo) approaches you and asks if you speak English.
- Automatically, you say yes.
- They pull out a wad of coloured tickets with scratchies on them, and explain that if you rub off the covering, you may win one of the prizes—cash, an ipad, an iphone, an island cruise or a free holiday.
- If you scratch off the coverings, you’ll discover that one of you gets a T-Shirt, and the other gets the big prize. The ex-pat gets really excited and makes a big fuss, saying something like: Wow, you got the big prize, that’s awesome, hardly anyone gets that. (There’s an English couple who is particularly good at this charade. They sucked us right in.) But the truth is that one in a couple always gets the big prize; they make sure that you do by giving you different cards.
- The ex-pat explains that to get the prize, you need only go to a resort and listen to a 90 minute presentation, then one of you gets a T-shirt and the other gets their big prize. They’ll tell you that if you don’t stay at least an hour, you won’t get your prize. They may not tell you that they won’t get their commission either.
- They may mention that you don’t get to choose the prize (after the presentation, you scratch off another area to reveal what you’ve won), and they’re unlikely to tell you that everyone gets the free holiday. They’re guaranteed not to tell you that it isn’t actually free.
- If you go to the presentation, you’ll discover—after what appears to be a long and leisurely chat with a nice salesperson—that they’re selling some version of a holiday time share package—a holiday club.
- When it gets to the crunch, they’ll be asking for between AUD$7,000 and AUD$13,000 plus a yearly fee of between $124 and $295 to get holiday accommodation at between $250 and $450 per week. Prices vary depending on the club and in some clubs it varies depending on where you go.
- They say there is no pressure, but they’re such nice people and they’ve brought you a drink and they clearly believe in what they’re selling and you won’t want to disappoint them and you’d love to travel enough to make it worthwhile, so there’s a subtle pressure there.
- They’re good sales people. They make it sound like you’ll be saving money, but holiday clubs only start to save you money AFTER around 8 weeks of holiday accommodation in Europe or 20 weeks in Asia—that’s 10 years of 2 weeks of holidays a year if you only go to Asia—and even then, you’re restricted to what accommodation happens to be available. It’s like buying a car to get the leather seats at half price. The focus is on the leather seats, but you have to buy the car to get them, and without the car, they’re useless.
- My web research shows two reasons why people feel ripped off by holiday clubs: They either felt pressured into buying, then got home and realised that they’d bought something they weren’t going to use, then can’t get their money back, or they haven’t been able to get the accommodation they wanted when they wanted it. Presumably some are happy with their deals. If you holiday enough—we estimate more than 4 weeks a year—book far enough in advance and are happy with the accommodation options, then I see no reason why it shouldn’t work. But will you actually be holidaying that much?
- Regardless of the product, the scam here is in the dishonest marketing. The ex-pat needs you to go the presentation and stay for at least an hour to get their 5,000 bhart $172 AUD commission, and some will lie to get you there. It looks like you will get something out of it, but all you’ll get is a tourist T shirt or cap and a week’s free accommodation (not a free holiday) that you have to pay $70 in order to book it, can’t choose the destination for, have to pay the air fare to get there, then will be stuck in a resort with expensive food set outside of towns so you have no choice but to eat there. And you’ll have to listen to another 90 minute presentation. We got two free accommodation vouchers and we won’t be using either of them. If you want the vouchers, let me know.
How to scam the scammers
Say you’ll go if they give you half their commission. That way you get 2500 bhart (aprox $86) They may take you up on it, but get your money first and don’t tell anyone.
A variation on this scam.
A local approaches you at a tourist spot and says they’re doing a survey. You could win a prize if you fill it in. You fill in the form and later get a phone call offering you the same list of prizes, all you have to do is come in and listen to a 90 minute presentation. Here we go again. This is Absolute’s new on the ground marketing strategy.
Another scam you’re likely to come across.
If you’re on Bangla Road late in the evening, the lady-boys from Simon Cabaret will be there posing for photographs. What they don’t tell you is that if you have your photo taken with them, they want 100 bhart, and if you don’t give it to them, they get shitty.
Anywhere you go where someone comes up to you with a pet, understand that if you pet it and take a photo, they expect 100-200 bhart (approx. $3.30-$6.60 AUS) and they don’t tell you first. Charging money for the photo is their right—in fact it is their only income—but they should tell you upfront. Now you know, you can knowingly be happy to support them and their family.
It’s the ex-pats that lie that are the real scammers. Watch out for the British Couple.
Do you know of any other Scams running in Phuket?