Selling Cabo San Lucas
© Copyright 2014 by Onie Grosshans
“We have transportation for you.”
“Would you like free bottle of Tequila?”
“We have free dinners for you.” All of these offers were being shouted at me at the same time by a chorus of young Mexican men. I knew this organized chaos had one purpose; to tempt me into a time share sales presentation for one or more of the multiplying resorts creeping up both sides of the Baja peninsula.
For the uninitiated it had to be a bizarre welcome because this reception was never mentioned in the glamorous advertisements luring tourists to Cabo San Lucas in 2009. For the unsuspecting newcomers it was startling and perhaps scary to hear the swelling of male voices and then turn the corner and be faced with a gauntlet of salesmen determined to lure the naive as well as the veteran Cabo tourist into attending a sales presentation.
The verbal assault began the moment customs was cleared. In my case I had slung a travel bag over one shoulder, and pulling my luggage with the other hand, I headed towards the exit sign where the taxis were waiting. Another few steps and I was in a narrow corridor lined with sales booths bulging with three-ring binders, and between me and the exit was a swirling derby of dark-haired, good-looking Mexican men trying to make eye contact as they hawked their wares.
Each January for the past six years I had met my friend Ann in Cabo for two weeks of warm sun and cold margaritas. Ann made her first trip to the tip of Baja in January, 1993, and like the annual migration of humming birds to Mexico, she had returned each winter to relax poolside, walk the beach and enjoy the warm climate.
By 2009 Ann and I both knew what to expect upon arrival so before the plane landed we discussed if we wanted to endure a sales presentation for a free ride to town and a few complimentary dinners or pay for a taxi and have a sales-free vacation. Remembering several pressure-packed sales presentations on earlier trips this time we agreed to say no, and reminded ourselves to avoid eye contact and keep walking until outside the terminal.
Actually that would be more difficult than it might appear because the narrow passageway, which Ann and I believed was purposeful, forced passengers to the center where it took just a few people stopping to dam up the stream of travelers trying to get to the exit. Not all tourists tried to avoid the sales presentations. Cabo veterans worked the system in reverse; no intent to buy but full intent to get the freebies. I heard of couples who agreed to several presentations and then took turns attending the sessions leaving the other to enjoy the pool at their resort. Nevertheless the travelers who made it through without stopping did so with a determined aggressiveness that bordered on rudeness. One year Ann and I did successfully make it to the taxi stand without a sales commitment because Ann told several salesmen to “back off,” but then we got nabbed in the lobby of our own resort by a polite but persistent sales rep upping the ante until finally it was too good to be true and too tempting to turn down; we actually made money on this trip.
This year, despite our earlier pledge of a “no sales presentation” trip, we succumbed because Ann was curious about a new development so it didn’t take much of an effort to snare us. Julio escorted Ann and I to a booth where Juan took over. The large three-ring binder was opened to page after page of glossy photos of the ocean-front property.
“Just 90 minutes that’s all we ask,” Juan said, “and we give you two free dinners.”
“Does that include the taxi to Cabo?” Ann asked.
“Sure we give you free taxi to town—and you get a delicious Mexican breakfast and a special gift for your time, a bottle of tequila—free!”
Ann hesitated—the pot was sweetened. “We also give you two more certificates for dinner in Cabo (more photos of the restaurant).” Ann hesitated again.
“We throw in two certificates for a dinner cruise or you want to ride a wave runner or maybe have a nice massage?”
The wave runner caught Ann’s attention. She turned to me. I deferred to Ann because she spoke some Spanish and she was the veteran traveler, “Sure, why not?”
Juan sealed the deal; itemizing all of our freebies on a tri-copy including the $20 deposit from each of us to insure that we would appear at the appointed time for our sales presentation the next day. The money would be returned to us when we showed up. Ann reminded Juan of the free taxi into town and it was quickly added to the list. Each of us had to pay $20 and then sign on the dotted line, but we got only one yellow copy as proof of the deal. Juan reached under the counter for our gift certificates and then dramatically dealt them to us like they were the winning hand at a poker game.
Juan had one last instruction. “When I pick you up tomorrow morning please walk one block down the street from your resort—they do not like competition on their property.”
At the appointed time the following morning, and remembering our instructions,
Ann and I headed down the hill. We spotted Juan waving his arms like a windmill and calling out our names. He immediately ushered us into a van that had no other passengers. As we pulled away from the curb I noticed another van appeared behind us and Juan motioning to a couple walking down the same hill. I thought it unnecessary and expensive not to share the ride van but remembering past sales experiences, potential buyers rarely talked with each other.
The ride to Playa Grande, a resort built on the other side of a rocky hill south of downtown Cabo, took 15 minutes for us to arrive at the main entrance. We could see a maze-like scattering of condos snaking down the hillside circling around swimming pools shaded by palm trees, and all connected by brown cobbled paths running through lush lawns and blooming flower beds.
When the van stopped in front of the elegant resort entrance, the door opened and we were welcomed by an attractive Mexican woman who directed us to a table inside the two-story marble lobby furnished with the latest in interior design. Another attractive Mexican woman checked off our names and then introduced us to our sales representative.
Cathy was a blonde, youngish-looking Californian in her 40’s who wore loose-fitting layers to help disguise the extra pounds. She directed us toward steps leading downward and as we walked along pathways edged by lush grass and brilliantly colored flowers, Cathy gathered critical information. “Where are we from? Do we come to Cabo often? Where are we staying in Cabo? Are we retired or still working? What do we like to do while here?” Cathy’s questions were asked in a pleasant tone but with a purpose; to find out about the frequency of our travels (it takes money to go tripping), our financial status (occupations are always a good indicator of overall wealth), and perhaps discover a good lead-in for a sales pitch—similar to what the offer of a free wave runner ride did to Ann’s will power.
Unintentionally we gave Cathy a good opener. When asked how we liked staying at Casa Robles, Ann mentioned the loud music last night—which was a Friday and also our first night in Cabo. As we discovered later our resort hosted an outdoor poolside buffet with a Mexican band on Fridays, but Ann and I had opted to walk into town for dinner thus clueless that the music stopped promptly at 9:30 pm. Cathy’s sales pitch emphasized Playa Grande’s peaceful ambiance, and that the beach was essentially private because public access was discouraged by its other-side of the hill location from the town. What Cathy didn’t mention, but Ann knew because of her many years of coming to this area, was that the unusually strong under-currents caused by the Pacific Ocean colliding with the Sea of Cortez on this side of Cabo made it risky for swimming. In fact no one was swimming in the ocean the day of our visit even though there were tourists sunbathing on the beach. Cathy emphasized that the college kids liked the loud beach scenes on the bay side, where Casa Robles was located, but here it is quite nice—“as you can tell.”
By now we had walked down the winding pathway to the breakfast buffet; it was a stellar array of food. Several tables were set up for the fruit (six choices), cold cereal, milk and pastries, and seven different hot dishes which included the Mexican chilaquiles, refried beans and rice and one large table for ordering omelets. Three or four fruit juices were aligned on top of the bar counter. Cathy ate with us, continuing in an easy manner to pin down our interests in buying a time-share. Ann and I remained consistent in our unwillingness to take on debt for a vacation. Cathy said she understood but it still might be worth the effort.
After breakfast Cathy took us into several different models, all nicely decorated, to show us our options.
“We only have a few units left,” Cathy cautioned, “so if interested, you should act today because they’re selling fast.”
Price was never mentioned during the walking tour—that waited until we were seated at a round table in the sales room. Cathy pulled out a blank sheet of paper from a file folder, clicked her ball point and wrote $55,000 at the top of the page. Our eyes grew wide at the sum but Cathy never hesitated as she immediately began listing the credits we would receive, dramatically subtracting each sum from the subtotal—that way we could see the price continue to drop and appreciate how really inexpensive it would be to invest immediately. When the final price appeared at the bottom of the page, Cathy underlined it twice with a grand gesture, leaned back in her chair and said nothing for a few seconds, giving us time to absorb the great deal we had just been offered. Noticing our unenthusiastic response Cathy had one final offer.
“However,” and there was another pause, “If you buy today, there is a special deal,” and we watched as Cathy subtracted that amount from the double underlined figure, circled the new sum several times and then tapping her pen on the table, leaned back in her chair and lowering her voice an octave said, “You can’t let this offer get away.”
“It’s too much money,” Ann said.
Not a problem, we have in-house financing available.”
Taking out a loan to pay for a vacation was not something conservative retired teachers did, so we declined that offer.
Leaning forward in her chair Cathy focused on Ann, “How can we make it work for you? Maybe a studio unit instead of a one bedroom, that’s less money?”
“No, it’s just too much money for me at this time.”
Cathy turned her attention to me, “And you—can you afford to let this deal get away?”
I shook my head no but said nothing.
“How about every other year, that wouldn’t take as much money?”
“No, that wouldn’t work, either,” Ann said.
Shuffling papers into her file folder, Cathy edged forward in her chair, and lowering her voice asked, “You do have the money don’t you, so why not enjoy it now?”
“It’s just not a good time for us to be spending that much money. Sorry.”
Sitting upright Cathy slid the sheet of paper detailing our final bottom line cost into a file folder, stood up, and said, “Excuse me a minute” and walked away. That’s the last we saw of Cathy.
Her replacement was Ed, an older American guy with thinning gray hair and a straggly gray beard, wearing a Hawaiian shirt over gray slacks. Ed sat down, leaned his elbows on the table, looked first at Ann then me and proceeded to ask the same questions Cathy had asked of us, and he too, pulled a sheet of paper from his file folder, clicked his pen, and wrote $55,000 at the top of the page. He continued with the same sales pitch we just heard, and ending with a twice-circled “steal” which was an even higher sum than Cathy’s bottom-line figure.
“No,” we both said in unison, “That’s too much money.” After a lengthy pause, Ed asked if we liked to go on cruises. “Not really, too confining and too much food.” Ed ignored our response or maybe he didn’t hear them as he pulled out a chart of the different cruise lines that were options for trade through the Playa Grande system.
“No, cruising is not what we want to do.”
Stroking his beard Ed contemplated a bit longer before suggesting we could use our Playa Grande unit as trade to stay at other RCI resorts around the world. “It’s a good way to buy a less expensive room and still stay in very nice places.”
“But we like coming to Cabo in January, that’s why we’re here.”
Each of Ed’s offers required a blank sheet of paper, more numbers, always starting at $55,000, and ending with a discount if purchased immediately. Wadding up the latest refused offer, Ed leaned back in his chair, said nothing as he appeared to be contemplating his next move which gave Ann the opportunity to take a bathroom break, and leaving me to reject the next deal.
“You know,” Ed said a low voice when Ann returned, “We have in-house financing to make this possible.”
Shaking my head I repeated, “Not an option because going into debt for a vacation is unacceptable.” I stood up and nodded in the direction of the restrooms because I needed a break. By now I had tired of the inane repetition and my watch told me we had been doing this for almost three hours. It’s time to bring this thing to end I thought so I returned to the table, gave Ann a knowing look, she nodded in agreement.
“It’s just not going to work for us,” Ann said in her best teacher tone. Ed looked at us, gathered the wads of paper strewn in front of him, stood up and said, “Give me a minute” and walked away. That was the last we saw of Ed.
We thought the presentation had finally ended but not to be. Carlos, the boss of the sales force, sat down and gave us a long look. He was a handsome older Mexican with a serious demeanor and the physique of a linebacker. After quick introductions—the only time he smiled—Carlos pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote $55,000 on the top.
That did it. Ann’s reaction was swift. “We have said no ten times over. What is so difficult about accepting the fact that not every presentation will result in a sale.” Mercifully Carlos did not reach for another sheet of paper. Instead he stood up, coolly thanked us for coming and pointed to an open door as though saying “that’s the way you get out of here.”
With the sales presentation finally over we breathed a sigh of relief realizing all that remained was to collect our $40 deposit and our free Tequila. We walked along another outdoor path bordered with trees and flowers, turned a corner and was met by a young nicely dressed Mexican man seated at a card table outside another large building. His name tag said Aldo. Looking professional in his white shirt, black tie, and black slacks, Aldo jumped up and said, “I take just a few minutes to ask about your experience with us.” We hesitated. “Just six short questions—please?” Ann and I took turns responding politely to each of Aldo’s inquiries about the breakfast fare, appearance of the resort, and overall impressions noting that he only wrote down a word or two of our comments. As he neared the end of his questionnaire Aldo switched topics.
“Would you like to rent two weeks at Playa Grande?” and then penned a sum at the bottom of the page and circled it. Underlining and circling must be a requirement for sales representatives.
“Are you still trying to sell us something? I thought you were checking us out of here.”
Aldo slid his questionnaire into the ubiquitous file folder, stood, leaned across the table to shake our hands and with a big smile, pointed to a small building with an awning over its front counter. Finally checkout! We got our $40 deposit, our generic Tequila in a wine-split-sized bottle, two $50 certificates for dinner and a certificate for an hour on a wave runner. At last the sales presentation had ended. We headed towards the main entrance but within moments a young, blonde-haired woman with “Susan” on her name tag approached us. We both stopped in our tracks.
“No, no,” she said seeing our reaction, “I don’t work for Playa Grande.”
Instead she worked for Villa del Palmar, another time share in Cabo, and Susan had her own card table with a three-ring binder situated under an umbrella across the marbled plaza.
“We can’t do this again,” we said in unison.
“Please. Just let me show you some photos. You won’t be obligated to do anything,” she said with a big smile.
“We just said no to Playa Grande, and we’ll say the same thing to your resort—it would be a waste of your time,” I said.
“Oh please. It would be a big help if you could give me five minutes. I’ll give you an invitation, but you don’t have to use it.”
Mentally exhausted after our morning of high pressured sales people, Susan, a native of Minnesota who looked like she could have been one of our college students, assured us “It will only take five minutes—I promise—please.”
“You have five minutes” Ann said as we sat down under her umbrella.
True to her word, after a quick scanning of only a few photos in the three-ring binder, Susan listed our gifts on a tri-copy if we wanted to accept the invitation; two $50 certificates for dinner and a free taxi to the resort, and of course breakfast.
“Our presentation is very low-keyed,” Susan assured us, “Not like what you just experienced here, and it’s only 75 minutes.”
I had no intention of using my invitation so I gave it to Ann who tucked it in her purse. As we neared the main entrance of Playa Grande and the taxis, we realized we missed a minor detail when snared at the airport. We had received free transportation to Playa Grande, but since we didn’t purchase a time-share—we had to pay for the return trip. We could see Casa Robles across the bay but it meant walking around the inlet and through down town Cabo to get home. It had been a 15 minute taxi ride this morning to get here, but a leisurely 45 minute return walk
Several days later sitting pool-side at our comfortable resort enjoying happy-hour margaritas and talking about our upcoming day trip to Todos Santos, an artsy Mexican village about an hour north, Ann said she might be interested in the Villa del Palmar invitation. “Susan did say it would take just 75 minutes.”
“You can’t be serious,” I said, “You really want to do another presentation?”
“Why not, it’s just down the beach from us and I am curious about the layout. Besides we could ask if they have a rental car agency in the hotel.”
As we stepped from our complimentary taxi in front of the Villa del Palmar sales office we could see Susan working as a greeter.
With a big smile she hurried toward us, “I’m so glad you decided to come, thank you, thank you.”
Laughing at the unlikelihood of seeing her again and remembering the promise of a 75 minute sales pitch, I asked if that was still true.
“Oh yes,” she assured us, “It won’t be anything like you experienced at Playa Grande.”
Melissa, another fair-haired Californian, was our sales representative. As we walked through the beautifully landscaped resort towards the restaurant for our free breakfast, Melissa tells us that the 75 minutes starts with breakfast. I’m thinking that’s good to know as Ann is telling Melissa, “I’m curious to see this place, but I’m not looking to buy anything.”
“Not a problem,” said Melissa.
The breakfast buffet was excellent—and as we ate Melissa focused on information-seeking questions similar to what Cathy had asked of us. Afterwards we did a quick tour of the property, looked at three different-sized units before walking to the deal-making sales room on the top floor—the one with the panoramic view of Cabo San Lucas Bay.
Melissa pulled out a sheet of paper, wrote $52,000 at the top of the page, and then listed several credits, subtracting each sum so we could see the price drop until she circled—just one circle—the final figure. We said no. “Fortunately,” Melissa said as she leaned across the table, “There is a special offer today—you can add another bedroom to your one bedroom unit without additional cost, but you must buy today.” Again we said no. Melissa switched tactics. A new resort was being developed up the coast, about two hours north of Cabo, “It’s a great time to purchase a time share at a really good price because they are just building the first phase.”
Reminding Melissa we preferred being near Cabo because we could walk to a variety of restaurants in town as well as the grocery store, she assured us “Oh but restaurants have been included in the design of this resort.”
“It’s still too far from Cabo,” Ann said.
“But it’s affordable—you can get a really good deal and you can use that property to switch to Villa del Palmar if you want to.”
“It is a good deal but unfortunately we are not interested in buying now.”
At this point Melissa motioned to someone across the room and a petite, attractive, well-dressed Mexican woman approached. Melissa introduced Elena, explained our situation of no interest to her and then left the room. Elena sat down, looked at Melissa’s paperwork and asked, “Is there anything we can do to make it work?
“No, it is just the wrong time to be committing to this much money.”
Looking at my watch I signaled the 75 minute presentation was now approaching two hours so in unison we both pushed back our chairs to leave.
“Please, just give us five minutes with Eduardo so he can assess our presentation today.” We knew what that meant—a last chance to make a sale. As we walked towards Eduardo, I asked Ann, “Is your curiosity about this place satisfied?”
Sitting at another table we answered the innocent questions leading up to another offer, then kindly but firmly said “No, thank you,” and stood up. Eduardo politely escorted us to the check-out area where we picked up our dinner certificates.
“Is there anything else we can do to help,” Eduardo said, and remembering Todos Santos I asked if there was a rental car service on the property?
Eduardo’s eyes lit up, “Yes, I will take you to someone who can help you.” He headed toward an alcove where a small table with a three ring binder was pushed against the wall. “No,” Ann said, “We want rental car information.”
“Yes, yes, this is it,” and he introduced us to Miora, an enthusiastic, young, very determined Mexican woman. “Oh, I’m so excited you will talk to me. I can help you. What do you want to know?”
I told her we wanted to rent a car for a day drive to Todos Santos but couldn’t find a car rental agency in the town.
A huge smile appeared, Miora’s eyes brightened and, as though preparing to leap upward she flexed her knees, slapped her thighs and stood upright with both arms raised above her head saying, “I have a deal for you—please sit down.”
Opening the three-ring binder, she pointed to a photo of the Sheraton Hotel property, “If you attend one meeting, I can get you a car for free.”
I could see Ann’s eyes widen, and I am sure my mouth dropped, “NO, we can’t do this again.”
“Please, no one talks to me,” says a pleading Miora, “Just let me tell you about it. I can give you certificates for dinner or any activity you want as well as the rental car.”
Ann sat back in her chair so Miora focused on me. “I don’t want any more dinners—I just want to find a rental car.”
“I will give you $50 American dollars and the rental car.”
“Oh please, it would make my morning if you would just say yes. I will give you $75 American dollars and the rental car—please.”
“No, the rental car information is all I want.”
“Okay, how about $100 American dollars and the rental car?”
Hearing that offer Ann leaned forward and looked at me with a sly smile. I tried to read her mind but couldn’t so again I said no.
Miora was frantic. I started to stand up, and she almost shouted, “$120 American dollars and the rental car, I can’t offer any more. Please you have to help me.”
“We have a free rental car and more than enough money to cover the cost of the trip,” Ann said in a hushed tone.
“Are you serious? You want to go to another sales presentation?”
Miora was beyond ecstatic. “You are wonderful. You made my morning. You made my week. My little daughter loves you. Oh thank you, thank you.”
Needing recovery time we scheduled our third time share presentation for later in the week.
This time our 30 minute taxi ride, with return fare guaranteed no matter what happened, included a slow drive through the Sheraton’s verdant beachside property before arriving at the sales site. The morning pep talk was still in session so we were offered coffee until the meeting adjourned. Ann and I selected a spot where we could take in the glittering Sea of Cortez. It was a beautiful vista; pleasant, relaxing, serene.
Into this bit of paradise strode our next sales representative, Jean Paul. Jean Paul was a tall, athletic-looking Argentinian with slick-backed hair. After the introductions he led us to far side of the large patio that overlooked the golf course and asked if either of us were golfers?
“Yes,” Ann said, “We both enjoy the game.”
Jean Paul pointed to a green fairway in front of us and proudly announced, “It’s one of the most expensive courses in the world. See the pink house next to that fairway, that’s Michael Jordan’s house. See the three white towers on the hillside above the far green, that’s Brad Pitt’s house. Sandra Bullock also owns a house somewhere around here.”
“That’s nice,” I said, “I don’t suppose any of them worry about getting a tee time?”
Not appreciating my attempt at humor, Jean Paul asked if we had attended other time share presentations. Ann mentioned our Playa Grande visit.
“Did you buy?”
“No,” Ann said, “It was too expensive.”
“Well, if you can’t afford Playa Grande,” Jean Paul said, “You won’t be able to afford to buy here.”
Umm, I thought, that must be a new approach to selling—buying just to impress the sales rep. Neither Ann nor I took the bait, instead we agreed with him.
“Then, what can we do to help you?”
Ann said, “I don’t think there is anything you can do to help us. We can’t afford this place.”
Jean Paul looked at us with a ‘don’t waste my time’ stare, but coolly said, “Okay, let’s get you your breakfast, your gifts and get you back to your vacation.”
It sounded too good to be true, only 15 minutes into our session and we were free to go.
The “too expensive for us to buy” resort had the most mundane breakfast buffet; scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, slices of bread which could be toasted if you put it through the toaster several times, small yogurt cups, and orange or apple juice. By the time we had taken a few bites of our breakfast Jean Paul appeared with Jose, an older distinguished looking Mexican with beautiful thick graying hair.
“Jose will show you several properties that might fit your needs.”
Apparently, unless sales representatives were actively involved with clients, they couldn’t partake of the buffet so Jose dropped his folder on our table and said he would get some breakfast and join us.
He returned with a plate heaped with food and between bites described the Sheraton property in more detail. When Jose finished breakfast he threaded his way, Ann and I in tow, between a series of buildings until we reached the inland side of the units with a slice-of-pie view of the Sea of Cortez. We fast-walked through three beautifully designed condos and returned to the sales area where we took our positions; Jose across the table from Ann and me, and he pulled out the requisite sheet of paper from a file folder, skipped any special deductions and circled a sum he jotted mid page. We shook our heads no. Jose switched to the value of owning a Sheraton timeshare because it traded as a luxury resort via RCI anywhere in the world—even cruises.
“Thank you Jose for your time, but we are not going to buy anything this trip.”
He pulled another blank sheet from the file folder. “It won’t work,” Ann said. Jose grudgingly pointed towards the exit and said, “Go out there to the table at the end of the path.”
Nothing was visible until we came to an opening and could see an alcove with two young women seated at a small checkout table. The one facing us was dark-haired, the other, with her back to us, was blonde. Hearing us approach the blonde woman turned—it was Susan. It was our third sales presentation and each time we had seen Susan.
“How many resorts do you work for?” I asked.
Laughing, she said “Oh, I work several places but that’s not unusual for most of us at this level.”
As Ann and Susan talked, the other gal counted out six American $20 bills and gave them to me along with the certificate for the rental car, and she then counted out the pesos needed to pay for our taxi back to Cabo.
Undoubtedly the recession accounted for the heighten pressure to sell
time shares because that was also the motivation for our reluctance
to commit to a debt. Nonetheless Ann and I enjoyed our day in Todos
Santos. We had lunch and margaritas at the Hotel California, and
even though we didn’t spend all of the $120 on the trip, we
swore never again to attend another sales presentation. Really, we
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