|Product Offered: Timeshare Holidays|
|Transparency evaluation:||Contact details and legal entity provided on website.|
|Actions by authorities:||October 2015 Initial report by the Direct Marketing Commission regarding Hollywood Marketing - (now renamed Monster Group (Travel) SLU) membership
This case concerned Hollywood Marketing, a DMA member who describe themselves as being in the timeshare resale business. Complaints had been received from and via a company involved in managing enquiries and complaints about timeshares.
Hollywood Marketing runs two websites, SellMyTimeshare.tv and Monster.Travel.com - these brands were key to this investigation. SellMyTimeshare.tv provides an initial valuation of a timeshare and invites the consumer to an ‘advice’ meeting which takes place in Tenerife or one of their UK advice centres. During the consultation, consumers are introduced to the company’s Monster Credits scheme as part of a trade-in deal. These Credits are presented as a form of discount offer on travel and accommodation deals. The Credits can only be redeemed online via the company’s Monster.Travel.com website and can only ever be used alongside further cash payments towards holiday costs. With questions over the notional value of so-called “Credits” consumers were paying at least 85% of the cost of holidays in cash. It is impossible to check whether the Credits have some actual value in terms of reducing the cost of holidays or whether the holiday price is unaffected and the Credits involve buyers in making up-front payments that simply tie them in to using Monster Travel.com. In parallel the consumer is then introduced to a paralegal company to help extricate them from their timeshare.
Those seeking to sell timeshares were aged 55-80. Some were desperate to sell their timeshare, which their dealings with Hollywood made worse. Up to 30% of those who were attracted to buy Monster Credits for future travel in “exchange” for ending their responsibility for a timeshare, apparently needed loan financing to buy these Credits.
The average payment for these Credits was £5,000-£7,000 and some purchases were higher. Given the need thereafter to make major cash payments of eight to nine times that level to use these Credits, it seemed already elderly and fearful consumers were being offered something of uncertain value and that required very considerable further spending over more than twenty years to utilise the alleged benefits offered. Consumer vulnerability was seen by the Commission to be a key issue in its deliberations.
Hollywood Marketing advertising clearly encourages consumers to believe they can sell their timeshare, yet this, by Hollywood’s own admission, is unlikely in a market where there are about 300 sellers for every potential buyer. At high pressure “advice meetings” consumers are clearly led towards purchasing Monster Credits and doing so on the basis that there is a parallel action to ‘exit’ them from their timeshares.
This parallel action is undertaken by a paralegal firm which appears to rely on a breach of contract to exit those consumers thereby putting them in a state of ongoing uncertainty with the possibility of ongoing demands for maintenance fees from their timeshare resorts. The Commission had major concerns over a model where a timeshare owner trying to sell is switched into a buyer of travel Credits with a notional long term value. These concerns grew when it became clear some who were putting their timeshare into the deal to buy Monster Credits were not ending their ownership with any certainty, but being left facing future costs and legal disputes over their continuing responsibilities as an owner.
The Commissioners concluded the sales techniques were high-pressured with advice meetings that ran for hours with consumers described feeling ‘bombarded’ or ‘overloaded’ with information and with contract documents that ran to over two hundred pages. People attended these meetings with no prior notice of Monster credit purchases as the primary focus of the sessions, no appreciation they would be offered deals that involved them investing thousands of pounds, with no basis for assessing the value of these deals and with no understanding whether the deal would or would not get them out of an unwanted timeshare. Regardless of any subsequent cooling off period, few consumers had a chance to understand and absorb the nature of the agreement prior to signing.
The Commission also questioned the ‘worth’ of the Credits offered. After at least three years of selling it seems only about half of consumers had used their Credits. Hollywood Marketing confirmed that it had sold a total of 126.5 million Credits and an annual usage of Credits was running at less than 500,000. Therefore, on this basis it seemed that the company had sold travel Credits in total which would take over 250 years to use. Using a notional value of £8-10 for 100 Credits and with Credits accounting for about 15% of the cost of a travel offer it seemed that the average buyer of Credits would have to make two-three substantial bookings and parallel payments each year for perhaps twenty years or more to redeem their Credits. The Commission was worried about the absence of any form of insurance or investment protection for consumers given the sum paid and the long term nature of the product.
The Commission’s investigation took into account a report by a regional Trading Standards department which highlighted numerous and fundamental changes they thought would be necessary to secure compliance. Some of the Commission’s conclusions were shared by the Trading Standards department but these were not relied on in its conclusions.
The Commission had particular regard to the DMA Code principle of putting the customer first in considering this business model and Hollywood Marketing’s actions. The Commission upheld four rules in the DMA Code, that members must not exploit the credulity, lack of knowledge or inexperience of any consumers and take care when dealing with vulnerable consumers; members must not engage in high pressure selling techniques; members must accept they are normally responsible for any action taken on their behalf by their staff, sales agents and others; and members must act decently fairly and reasonably at all times.
The Commission has recommended to the DMA that Hollywood Marketing’s membership is terminated.
September 2016 Update
Hollywood Marketing has resigned its DMA membership by agreement between it and the DMA following an incomplete adjudication process. The DMA will be making no further comment publicly or privately on the case.
|Verified Information**:||Name & Registered Office:
Hollywood Marketing SLU
Capecan Business Centre, Golf del Sur, Tenerife
Spanish Company No: B76539022
|As supplied by business|
|Business Address:||Clarendon Business Centre, Bristol & West House, Post Office Road, Bournemouth, BH1 1BL|
|Phone Number:||0203 4555286|
|Email Address:||email@example.com forwards to firstname.lastname@example.org
|This business and the connected businesses have provided information following previous requests - see observations and comments for current status.|
|This business has been going through an extensive process involving investigation into consumer complaints and verification.
The business agreed to comply with the EU Timeshare Directive and made refunds on cases brought to the attention of the owners.
However, recent complaints received have given further cause for concern and a new investigation has commenced.
|Information & disclaimers:|
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