I’m not fond of getting in between a couple arguing about an issue, but I’ve come to realize that often doing so is the nature of the column I write. Here’s the latest.
Often when they are on a vacation trip, a reader we’re calling Gregory tells me that he and his partner, whom we’re calling Stacy, find offers to view a timeshare or other real estate offering in exchange for some sort of voucher for their time. Stacy is, according to Gregory, always eager to take advantage of such offers. Over the years, they’ve had several lovely dinners mostly paid for with the vouchers they got for spending an hour or so touring a property.
The thing is, according to Gregory, they have never had any intention of purchasing a share in any of the properties they’ve agreed to tour. “We do it for the vouchers,” wrote Gregory, who insists they still have no intention of ever making a purchase.
For years, Gregory felt he and Stacy were wrong to express an interest when they each knew they were only in it for the vouchers. Stacy disagrees. According to Gregory, she believes that if the company makes a no-obligation-to-buy offer, all she and her partner are doing is agreeing to spend some of their vacation time making the tour in exchange for the reward offered.
Gregory wants to know if they were wrong to continue to present themselves as interested parties when they are clearly only interested in the vouchers.
I’m going to have to side with Stacy on this one. If the only stipulation the company makes is that the prospective voucher awardees commit their time, then the only obligation Gregory and Stacy have is to commit their time. It’s not without cost, after all. Spending an hour trying to be sold a property eats into otherwise relaxing vacation time. But even if either of them finds it relaxing to take such tours, they are still meeting their end of the obligation.
If the company asked the couple outright if they had any intention of making a purchase, Gregory and Stacy would be wrong to lie simply to get a free voucher. So far, however, Gregory indicated that that’s never been asked. Just time on the tour in exchange for the voucher. If Stacy wants to continue taking such tours and Gregory agrees to tag along, it’s OK to do so as long as they don’t misrepresent themselves to the companies making the offers.
Generally, after such tours, the company representative typically sits with the tour takers to try to sell them on the benefits of making a purchase. That’s OK too, as long as the company delivers on its promise to give whatever it promised upon the tour’s completion. I’m not sure that’s the way I would want to spend my vacation when I could be taking a stroll or reading a good book, but then I’m not Gregory and Stacy.
The right thing is for Gregory and Stacy and any companies offering vouchers for tours to be clear on what the agreement is that they are entering into and then for each to honor the commitment they made. If Stacy secretly would like to own one of the timeshares they visit and hasn’t told Gregory, that’s a different conundrum for another vacation — and perhaps another column.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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