Customers who paid fortunes for timeshare packages offered by a resort operator in Vietnam are realizing that the deal is far from what it was promised to be.
Advertised as an opportunity to access free yearly international vacations for over 35 years, as well as an chance to make easy money by reselling the ownership package, a timeshare package offered by Paradise Bay Resort Co. Ltd. (ALMA) has proved to be more trouble than it is worth.
Now, customers who bought or made deposits for the timeshare properties, sold at up to VND320 million (US$14,000) a piece, are seeking recourse against the company.
The naked truth
A company salesman at ALMA’s Ho Chi Minh City office in District 1 was quick to share with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters that timeshare owners would have the right to accommodation at an ALMA resort during a fixed week-long period every year for the next 36 years.
ALMA’s under-construction resort, located in south-central Nha Trang City, is advertised as a 30 hectare complex filled with hundreds of villas and luxury apartments, as well as entertainment and public facilities, along the city’s Long Beach.
Customers who purchase ALMA’s timeshares are allowed to exchange vacations among one another or lease, resell, or bequeath the properties at will, the salesman said, adding that early buyers could potentially make a quick buck after reselling the ownership to latecomers.
However, the reality of ALMA’s offer is not quite as advertised, as experienced by T.O., a Ho Chi Minh City resident who claims the company tricked her into the contract.
Opting for the VND320 million ownership package, O. was asked to make a VND40 million ($1,700) deposit on a contract and ‘reserve’ a free annual vacation to any destination in the world for the next 35 years.
“It was not until I got home and read the contract in detail that I realized the amount of money I was going to pay would only cover the cost of accommodation at [ALMA’s] property in Vietnam,” O. said. “Airfare, transportation, and catering expenses were not included in the contract. I would also have to pay an annual fee to keep the contract active. I wouldn’t have signed up for the vacation package if I had been told these terms.”
According to the contract, vacation owners are to pay a yearly contract maintenance fee of VND7.5-9.6 million ($330-423) during the first year.
For the next five years, ALMA can bill the owners with undefined property maintenance costs, meaning the owners are responsible for any arising costs not stated in the contract.
On the company’s part, the contract entitles ALMA to a six-month extended deadline should it fail to open the resort as scheduled in 2018. The company is required to refund the exact amount of money paid by customers with no added compensation should it fail to deliver on its obligations.
When O. tried to contact her salesman to claim her deposit, the request was denied.
“They also refused to let me resell the timeshare at half price, despite the salesman telling me that I’d be able to lease, resell, or transfer my ownership as I pleased,” O. complained. “Now they constantly call me asking for the rest of the payment.”
Angered by ALMA’s ‘false promises,’ a group of vacation owners have created a Facebook page dedicated to exposing the company’s ‘deceitful’ business tactics, with some having hired lawyers to bring the case to court.
Selling properties without construction permit
Founded in 2013, ALMA currently employs over 800 personnel at its branches in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Nha Trang, according to the company’s official website.
The firm first began selling timeshare properties at its Nha Trang resort in 2013, despite having only acquired a construction permit on April 28, 2017 for the main building in the resort complex, as confirmed by ALMA’s legal director Pham Thi Kieu Hung and head of communications Pham Thi Nhu Trang.
Apart from the main building, construction permits have yet to be issued for the rest of the resort, though building work “has been provisionally approved by relevant authorities,” the ALMA representatives said.
Responding to customers’ complaints about not being able to transfer their vacation ownership, Trang said transfers can only be made after the resort officially opens, and that customers must fulfill their payment obligations until that time.
“We have received many complaints, but contracts are voluntary agreements between the customer and our company,” Hung said. “Without proof that we’ve violated the contractual terms, we cannot comply with their demand for refunds.”
In a related development, ALMA has just been fined VND30 million ($1,300) by the Department of Planning and Investment of Khanh Hoa Province for slowness in proceeding with the construction of its resort project.
Authorities step in
Trinh Anh Tuan, deputy director of the Vietnam Competition Authority (VCA), signed a dispatch addressed to ALMA, requesting the company to process customer complaints and report the results to VCA no later than this Sunday.
The dispatch was issued following a drove of complaint letters sent to VCA denouncing the quality of products and services delivered by the resort operator.
While waiting for a conclusion from authorities, local experts have advised investors to read their contracts in full before signing up to become timeshare owners.