I had an interesting experience the other night. This won’t be your typical post, I’m going to rant a bit and I’m not sure that I’ll convince anybody of anything but having traveled the world as a US citizen for the past 10 months and then being exposed to this situation was eye opening and I feel the need to share. This has to do with a company called Worldventures.
I was invited by a friend to join him on a trip to a nearby college town to “check out a project that he is working on” and to grab a few drinks at nearby establishments. I thought he was working on something interesting, like an art project with a friend, so I was intrigued and I agreed to join. He wouldn’t give me any more details and was being very secretive but I had nothing important to do so I went along for the ride.
Arriving at the coffee shop, we joined a large group of people milling around, looking confused. Shortly after that we were herded into the side room of a the shop. From front to back, there were chairs lined up in stadium fashion, all facing a projector up front which was displaying pictures of people on vacation. Some attractive, clean-cut dude was standing up front. He introduced another similarly dressed, high-energy college student who starts talking about all the amazing “vacations” he’s been on recently. The crowd reacts overly interested – they are hooting and hollering, cheering and laughing way too hard at all of his lame jokes, like they’ve been prepped for this. Brainwashed, perhaps.
I get the gut feeling that I’m about to witness the pitch for a pyramid scheme. I look back at my friend with my hand on my head and a scowl on my face but he just smiles back. They show all the great deals that the company offers, how they negotiate with large resorts in foreign lands to get prices down to $300-$500 per week per person, all inclusive (not including flight, I believe, it wasn’t totally clear). They describe their company as the Costco of travel agencies and that if you’re a part of it you’ll have access to these great rates. They flash pictures of young people partying their faces off in high-end resorts.
All you need to do in order to get access to this amazing, cheap travel-party lifestyle is pay a one-time fee of $200 and subsequent monthly payments of $55. According to them, none of that money goes to the company; it goes into your personal account, which you then use to buy their products. And as soon as you get six other people to sign up you can stop paying the $55 per month at which point you have free access to their apparently amazing travel deals. If you convince enough people to sign up there are even higher level bonuses like BMW’s and residual income.
There are so many problems with this concept that I walk out of the presentation at this point. First of all, it is obviously a pyramid scheme. The business model is to sign you up at $55 per month then convince you to sign up six of your friends at the same rate in order that you no longer have to pay to be a part of the “club”. They give up one $55 per month customer and get six more in their place, who now have to struggle to find six more people each to do the same. If these people can convince all of their most gullible friends to join as well, then maybe they can get out of paying the $55 also. The presenter at one point joked that you obviously want to be in on the deal in the beginning, when the room is small, rather than later and he was absolutely correct. Because if you’re one of the unfortunate people that joins late it is most likely that the market is fully saturated – the room is full and all the people that can be convinced to join are already members.
I will give my friend the benefit of the doubt and assume he wanted nothing but the best for me. He saw what he perceived to be a great travel opportunity and tried to get me in on the deal. I tried to convince him that this whole thing is a scam and that he should get out now. From a moral standpoint I would never try to sell this service to anyone I care about, especially those college students struggling to get by in the service industry. The risk is you’re stuck with a $55 per month payment for however many months it takes to get your first 6 new customers. Then those people are stuck with the same risk, and on and on, through their friends and family and other acquaintances. That money is locked in an account and cannot be cashed out or used to pay for things you actually need like food and housing. If you care about your friends and the friends of your friends than you would not perpetuate this blight. There will always be a group of people at the bottom of the pyramid who are paying for everyone else above. Those at the top are making lots of money, those in the middle are just “members” and everyone is somehow benefitting from those at the bottom.
Second, what you’re buying into are shit vacations that don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what international travel can be about. You’re buying discounted access to club med style all inclusive resorts where you’ll be surrounded by other rich Canadians and Americans inside a compound that separates you from the culture of those other countries. And at an all inclusive, you’re not going to leave very often to eat dinner and buy drinks in the local community, so all of your money goes straight back into the foreign corporation that runs the place, and you don’t interact with the local population unless they are changing your sheets. And if you are leaving the resort, why not just organize your own trip at a lower rate in a more local bed and breakfast, homestay, or hostel? Or go to paradise for $500?
I’m being a bit harsh here because I feel strongly about this topic. Stronger than I thought I did before I witnessed this pyramid scheme farce. I think all the travelers I know, everyone that I have met at home and on the road that has organized their own trip, booked their own buses, found their own hostels and created their own adventures would be disgusted by this concept. I shouldn’t be surprised. The state of tourism and travel in the US is in shambles. I was lucky to meet a US Citizen in most of the hostels I went to and when I did they were often times on a short, week or two week long trip. To see another traveler from the US (I am making a distinction here between a traveller and a tourist) was rare.
It’s not part of the American psyche to travel. Although the world has never been smaller, we as US citizens are not taking advantage and we are truly missing out. Even after the recent recession we still have the #1 economy in the world, yet with all the abundance we can’t seem to find the time or money to take a nice, long trip outside of U.S. borders. If it’s not your dream or passion to go, I fully respect that. But if it is your dream, just don’t get suckered into doing it the Worldventures way.
Update: My friend recently told me that before his first payment was due, he canceled his Worldventures membership. Way to go!
Photo is some stacked assault rifles left somewhat attended by the Colombian military as they kept busy cleaning and restoring La Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City.