A MÁLAGA based holiday company has been accused of conning tens of thousands with promises of cut-price holidays in exotic locations.
Club Class Holidays, based in Fuengirola, is reported to be taking between 3,000 and 30,000 euros to join holiday clubs offering cheap luxury breaks which buyers claim fail to materialise.
The company, which has links to former timeshare salesman Costa Killer Tony King, uses a training manual that teaches staff how to crudely fool customers.
In a sales manual for staff, trainees are told to treat customers “as if they have the intelligence of 10-year-olds” and to use “bribery, intimidation and lies” to get customers to the presentations in the first place.
Middle-aged and elderly couples are the main targets of the holiday-club sharks, who promise a lifetime of five-star hotels anywhere in the world at knockdown prices.
But instead of a dream holiday in the Caribbean, they are being offered low-grade hotels and apartments on the Costa del Sol that can be bought just as cheaply at any travel agent.
Other buyers find they cannot choose holiday dates and are committed to annual subscriptions even if they do not go away.
In a ruse identical to the timeshare salesmen, many victims are approached while on holiday by sales reps who give them scratchcards saying they have won a bottle of champagne or a free holiday.
To collect the “prize” they must attend a presentation, which turns into a high-pressure sales pitch lasting five or six hours.
Consumer watchdogs are so concerned about the hard-sell tactics used by some club reps that they are leafleting UK and foreign airports warning holidaymakers about the one-billion-euro-a-year business.
David and Lesley Sylvester, both 60, from Derbyshire, in the UK, agreed to go on a cut-price £99, one-week holiday to Tenerife.
As part of the deal, they had to attend a five-hour sales presentation by agents representing a company called Club Class Concierge – and ended up handing over thousands of pounds.
“The next morning we recognised its implausibility and asked for our money back,” said David.
But unlike timeshare sales, where clients can cancel within 14 days, the Sylvesters say there was no cooling-off period, and they could not cancel.
The couple paid £10,050 to join a holiday scheme called Estrella Dorada Mediterrenees.
When they tried a “castle holiday” in Austria, they were taken to a rundown students’ hostel in Vienna.
They have now successfully taken the company to court in Barcelona, where a judge ruled the couple should get a refund.
New EU laws recently announced by the European Commission will bring holiday clubs into line with rules that now protect timeshare buyers – but these will not come into force until 2010.
Steve Wright, 48, signed a £5,000 deal with a company called Designer Way Vacation Club, after attending a sales presentation in Huddersfield.
He said: “I was fortunate because I found out in time and I wrote off the £950 deposit.”
British members of the Designer Way Vacation Club, operating in the Canary Islands, were charged between £8,000 and £12,000 for a website “key” giving them access to “huge” discounts.
Instead, they mostly got normal online travel agencies whose offers they could have found themselves on the internet.
The UK’s Office of Fair Trading reckons 400,000 Britons get sucked into holiday-club scams every year.
Sandy Grey, of the Timeshare Consumers’ Association, said: “I would urge people not to go anywhere near these scams.”
No one was available to comment at the Spanish HQ of Designer Way Vacation Club.
Both Club Class and Designer Way have close links to timeshare millionaire Garry Leigh, who is the brother in law and former employer of Costa Killer Tony King.
Leigh, who has been operating on the Costa del Sol for over a decade, has a shady past.
His companies are well-known to the Office of Fair Trading.
Leigh started making his fortune in the 1990s, when he and his father, Tom, ran a Yorkshire-based pyramid-selling scheme called the FPW Club.
They advertised with the slogan ‘Turn £140 into £600 as many times as you like! It’s as simple as that! No catch, no limits.’
Garry and his father reportedly tricked 8,500 investors out of more than £8 million before the Department of Trade & Industry won a court order to stop them.
One of his companies, Matchoption Ltd, went bust owing £300,000. His “silent backers” are said to include notorious Costa gangsters Dennis New and Mohammed Derbah, who helped him get his early Spanish scams off the ground.
It is a dirty business that saw Leigh’s Málaga offices teargassed in 2002 and Leigh seriously injured by knife-wielding thugs.
His Incentive Leisure office in Fuengirola in southern Spain is a large impressive building.
Leigh and co-director Kim Bambroffe turn up in luxury Bentley cars.
In a recent investigation, the Sunday Mirror claims workers were told to treat customers as practically subhuman.
The bible of shame instructs staff to “sell the sizzle not the sausage” and refers to customers as “UPs” – industry slang for gullible punters.