Saturday, August 31, 2013
Winning a free holiday
Last summer we were on holiday in Rhodes. We were walking down a street and a girl in a blue t-shirt stopped us. She was from a tourism company called Aegean Blue, and her job was to persuade tourists to find out more about their holiday plan. First she asked some questions, and we fit their required demographic: married (or cohabiting) couples aged over 30, with full time jobs, home owners, and perhaps she also asked about owning a car.
She gave us each an envelope with a prize in it. Ivor got a free ticket for a local tourist bus, and I got a card with a picture of a key on it. She got all excited, saying that the key meant I had won one of the big weekly prizes, which included an iPad, a music player, and a free one-week holiday in one of the group's hotels. To find out which prize I had won, we would have to go to the sales presentation at Aegean Blue's offices and visit their local hotel. She got us a taxi to Ialyssos, a village just down the road, and we attended the sales presentation.
The idea was that you can buy the right to a certain number of weeks in advance, and then use them over the next few years in any of the chain's hotels. This is like time-share but more flexible, since it's not limited to one particular hotel. The sales rep explained the principle and showed us the hotel. When we got down to how much it would cost, we had to tell him that we couldn't afford it. He took it quite well, saying that of course they wouldn't want people who couldn't afford it to get into debt for sake of their holiday package.
Finally, the card I had received with a key on it was compared to a list of prizes, and we were told we had won a free week's accommodation. This was not conditional on buying their package, though we were told we would have to attend another meeting with a sales rep during the holiday.
This was exciting news. The group has hotels in Rhodes and Crete, and we decided to go back to Crete, an island we have visited several times before.
You can't look a free holiday in the small print, as it were. There was a registration fee of 99 Euros, and it did not include the flights or any meals (the hotel suites had a kitchen, and restaurant meals were available at extra cost), so we knew it would not be entirely free. However, it gave us an opportunity to visit Crete again and stay in a higher class of hotel than we usually do.
We booked our stay at the Village Heights Golf Resort for this summer. We later found out that Aegean Blue had been acquired by Diamond Resorts, a larger group, just a couple of months after we won the holiday, but this did not alter the terms of the free holiday.
During our week in the hotel we had the required meeting with the sales rep, and once again explained that we couldn't afford the sort of package they were offering. She accepted it and didn't bother trying to persuade us. We were also invited to a free dinner and entertainment evening, and nobody put any pressure on us during that event either. We had an enjoyable holiday and were treated just like the paying guests. The stories we had heard about pressure being put on people to buy various time-share packages just did not apply to our experience at all.
I will write more about the hotel itself in a later blog post.