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Posted On: 20 September 2013 05:59 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:13 pm

‘Tricking’ families into ‘winning’ dream destinations

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A large number of families have complained against a travel agency in Doha, which they accused of “tricking” them into believing that they have won a “special prize” to their dream destination; and then failing to deliver. The agency has set up a stall at a leading local mall to promote their “packages”. The modus operandi is that a team of salespersons scouts for families and affluent individuals visiting the mall and persuade them to try their luck. Gulf Times made an independent investigation into this model of business and found that the complaints were legitimate and the company representatives indeed promised the moon to families “for free”, when in fact they get nothing unless they agree to pay for one of the “discounted” packages that cost thousands of riyals. When this reporter approached the travel agency’s kiosk at the mall as a potential customer, the salesperson, who identified himself as Mohamed, said that his company had the highest ranking among international travel agencies of the world. He then promised to make my wish come true for a dream vacation with family if I answered a simple question, which was about naming four Arab countries whose names ended with the letter ‘N.’ Once the right answer was given, I was congratulated for winning the “prize” and a choice of three dream destinations were given. The prize included a week-long stay at a 5-star hotel in Bangkok for up to six people and a 40% discount on food. The prize did not include the plane tickets. The salesperson then directed the “prize winner” to visit his company headquarters near the Sports Roundabout along with the family to collect the “reward.” He also said that there would be a “small party” arranged by the company to celebrate the event. Matthew Chan, a Doha resident, who thought he had won a “gift” trip to Thailand with his family, said that once they reached the company’s office, they discovered that there were many families like them who too had been told that they have won prizes. “But there is no party for anyone there. Instead, they bring out papers to take our information, and begin to promote their services,” he said. Chan said the company representatives gave an hour-long promotional presentation, which is summarised as: five weeks trip to anywhere in the world, excluding airfare; supposed actual cost is QR56,700 per package, but a special discount of QR 20,000 per package will be offered to the family. The package can be paid either in full or in easy installments provided that the family pays at least QR 10,970 to activate the “first week” package. “When the installments are paid up to the amount enough for the second week package, the second week package will be released and so on. Validity of packages ranges from one to three years from the date of signing.” Chan said he felt grossly cheated by the company. “If they would like to market or promote their products, they could have directly informed the customer and not used such tricks.” Outside the company’s office, many other families such as Chan were found “disappointed” with similar feelings of being “tricked.” One engineer of African descent who had brought his entire family of 10 people with him at the office said he felt extremely “embarrassed” in front of his family. “We really thought we won something and I told everyone about it, my friends and family back home. But now I realise it was such a waste of time and my family probably thinks I’m a fool to have fell for a scam,” he said. Another Indian couple, who brought their barely one-year-old son along, said the company forced them to bring the entire family to their office. “Even though I had told them that my son was really young and it would be best if my wife stays back with him at home and I just come to pick the prize, the company said they will not hand me the prize. But now after going through all this, I feel stupid and angry,” he said. The “Travel and Tours” company was repeatedly approached for an explanation but to no avail. The representative who answered the phone refused to even divulge the full name of the owner of the company, whose name was also missing from the company’s official website. “I will convey your message to our boss and he will get back to you,” a representative said. However, until the filing of this report, no one from the company contacted Gulf Times.