A reader from Westerville, Ohio, writes that he and his wife are planning a vacation at a resort in the southern United States. He has made their reservations with a national hotel chain that also happens to sell time shares.
After booking their room, he received a letter from the hotel inviting him and his wife to tour the property and listen to a three-hour sales pitch for the time-share properties. In exchange for their time, they would be compensated with their choice of gifts ranging from a certificate for a free dinner to tickets for a nearby amusement park.
The offer is not an uncommon one. Time-share owners often solicit vacationers with offers of a gift to sit through a sales spiel. Having been on the receiving end of such offers myself, and having accepted a few, I know that some salespeople put on more of a hard sell than others, hoping to convince prospects that they're being given an opportunity that they're not likely to come across again. Judging from how many offers are made, such urgency is unlikely, but it's the job of the salesperson to entice.
Only once did a salesperson give me his pitch and then try to weasel out of actually giving me the promised gift. I refused to leave without it and, perhaps weighing the possibility of being stuck with me in his office for the indefinite future, eventually he gave in.
My reader suggested to his wife that they attend the presentation, because he wanted one of the free gifts being offered. They can't afford to purchase and have no interest in owning a time share, however, so his wife thinks that it would be unethical to take the salesperson's time - and the gift - under false pretenses.
"My position is that we are being compensated for our time, nothing else," he writes. "Is it unethical to attend the presentation and accept the compensation when we have no intention of purchasing a time share? We've decide to abide by your decision."
Taking sides in an ethical dispute between husband and wife is not something I relish, but the question falls squarely within the turf of this column.
I'm with the husband on this one. The sellers made it clear that the gift was being offered in exchange for the couple's time, with no other strings attached. He and his wife are under no obligation to disclose that they have no intention of buying a time share before accepting the offer - and it might not make a difference if they did. A confident saleswoman may feel that, given the opportunity to make her pitch to a captive audience, she could convince even the most doubtful consumer to consider a purchase.
She might even be right: For a long time my plumber was dead set against time shares, but he went to many such sales presentations to get the free gifts and now owns two time shares. And is quite happy with them, he tells me.
The right thing for my reader and his wife to do is to weigh whether the gift is worth giving up three hours of their vacation to get it. If so, they can go ahead and do so with absolutely no guilt.
For my part, after sitting through a number of such presentations through the years, I still do not own a time share. I have, however, had several good meals paid for by people selling them.
c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)