After two weeks in tranquillo, rustic Akumal, Guy and I checked into the Grand Mayan in Playa del Carmen. It was a last minute addition to our trip--one of the ubiquitous Internet deals and I decided to take advantage of this one. A week in a luxury resort for $700 is hard to resist, so we didn’t.
The place is a sprawling complex of many buildings, many acres, many restaurants, many everything. At reception they slap a color-coded plastic bracelet on your wrist (which you can‘t take off), take an imprint of your credit card and inform you that it is a "cashless" resort. The room is a long way away and we are taken there in a golf cart, the primary mode of transportation. We are reminded of the old TV series, The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan. We expect to see a giant balloon roll across the landscape.
We were accosted in the Cancun airport by people who give the impression that they serve some official tourist information function. In fact, they are timeshare sales representatives--hoards of them and we got snared. We finally agreed to listen to a 90 minute sales presentation at the resort in exchange for transportation to and from. The young woman doing the pitching was relentless but we figured the transport was worth about $100 bucks and we had no intention of buying a time share so. . . Why not? Well, everyone knows why not, but we did it anyway.
On Saturday we dutifully headed for the presentation. The property is vast and we went to the wrong place. When we finally arrived we were told that we must present photo ids. Guy had to go back to the room (a mile or two away) to get them. By the time we meet up with Victor, our very own personal rep, more than an hour had passed and we have been asked the same questions numerous times by numerous people--are you members? Are you exchange? Where are you staying? Where did you purchase? We had not yet had a cup of coffee. We are already feeling a little put out and very cautious, but Victor takes us out to breakfast and he is pleasant and pretty low key. He informs us that he is descended from an Italian count and he shows us sonagrams of his unborn child on his Ipad. The buffet breakfast is very good. We’re sitting in an openair restaurant that looks out over a small man-made lake and in the distance are twin buildings replicating ancient Mexican pyramids. A giant iguana strolls by, close enough to touch. . . Very disney-esque. Afterwards he takes us to the model units and the well practiced spiel falls trippingly from his tongue. Guy and I have agreed beforehand not to ask questions so as not to prolong the ordeal. Moving right along.
We make our way to another building and a huge bullpen where the air conditioning is a relief from the midday Mexican sun but the din of a hundred people getting simultaneously pitched to buy timeshares assaults your senses. The presentation is slick. One of the leit motifs is that you can sell any unused time back to the company for more than you paid for it. Only a devoted cynic can doubt the veracity of the earnest Victor who is, after all, a descendant of royalty and a father-to-be.
This is just another permutation of P.T. Barnum’s first rule. I don’t believe that someone is going to sell me something and then buy it back for more than I paid for it. TGTBT. But the seduction is palpable. It is human nature to want this to be true. But it doesn’t matter how much you want to believe. It’s a fiction.
We are informed that 68% of all the people who come to this room end up consummating the deal.
"No, thanks, it’s not for us."
"Because we are viejos and we don’t want to make a commitment to anything, blah, blah, blah."
Victor says, "Ok, I understand, but I need you to tell my boss that I did my job."
We think we’re going to be able to collect our transportation voucher and our $30 deposit and go. Then Guy says, "Look, Eileen--it’s the ball." I stand up to look where he’s pointing out the window and there is a giant translucent balloon--just like in the Prisoner. Victor wants to know why we’re laughing.
We were handed off to the blonde boss lady and we got pitched again and, of course, the price came down. God help the poor sap who agrees to buy on the first pass.
Asked again why we weren’t interested when this was obviously the deal of lifetime with extraordinary incentives that were only being offered TODAY, and today only, I told her I really didn’t like the place. Response: "We have 8,000 properties around the world, five star, luxury hotels in Europe, Asia, South America. . ." There is a pat answer to every question or objection.
Their questions are all posed to elicit an answer of yes. "Would you say that you spend $2,500 to go on vacation for a week?. . "That would be $50,000 over 20 years. Wouldn’t it be better to spend $35,000 over 20 years?"
Finally la blonda gives up on us and we are ready to make a break for it. But NO! Here comes Carlos, who ". . .isn’t trying to sell us anything" but just wants to understand our reasons. What possible reasons could we have not to take advantage of this? The implication is that we are either stupid or very strange.
Victor had previously announced that the company (La Vida) would not be doing airport solicitations after May of this year-- the Mexican Government was putting a stop to it, having characterized it as harrassment. "Which it is," said Victor!!!!
Carlos had a go and we got turned over to the fourth guy. You begin to wonder why they had to resort to water boarding at Guantanamo. Apparently Cheney didn’t understand that there are more sophisticated modes of behavior modification.
I was so agitated I had to get up and walk away for a few minutes while Guy stayed on. I have completely given up on diplomacy and good manners. But if there’s one thing that Guy is good at, it’s saying, "NO." He will remain stalwart, I am sure.
OMG! Guy bought a time share.
Just kidding. . . .
There was a fifth guy and a sixth guy. I lost count. I was desperate to get out. Finally we were released from custody. At the "gifting counter" we commiserated with other couples about being subjected to the "marketing presentation." We discovered that some people were more sophisticated about timeshare presentations and had negotiated all kinds of "incentives." Some were given as much as $250 in cash, a bottle of tequilla, a lobster dinner. . . . Can a really good incentive outweigh a horrible experience? I guess that depends on the person. But it left me pissed off and put upon and that’s not particularly the best frame of mind –particularly when you’re on vacation. My vote would be No.
But remember, supposedly 68% of the people buy the product. According to Victor, the program was "developed by Stanford University." Perhaps it really is the deal of a lifetime! Truck on down to the Grand Mayan and sign yourself up for 100 years (Yes! 100 years-- no maintenance fees!).
I began to understand that some people might buy just to get out of the damned room! The onslaught is relentless.
When we were young we traveled the world. From time to time we would sneak into the fancy resorts to steal their toilet paper and swim in their pools. I was envious. Now I can afford the fancy resort and I don’t want to go there. I believe that’s what’s called "irony."
After being subjected to the torment of time share sales, we are not disposed to like the place. But in all fairness, it’s not all bad. The room was nice and boasted a cheap Jacuzzi tub. But the walls were thin and it sounded at times as though the people in the next room were talking to us. The grounds were immaculately landscaped and quite beautiful. There were several free form pools with beach chairs and beds abounding. At 11:00 a.m. a fellow announces happy hour and takes your order for a big pina colada with a perky piece of pineapple adorning the rim.
So no, it wasn’t all bad. . . But I won’t be back.