I would like to make known my experience with Sunset Beach at the Hacienda Tres Rios Hotel. This was our first trip to Mexico and so we were not aware of how easy it is to get lured in by this type of company.
As soon as we arrived in Mexico we were ushered towards a man sitting in a booth near the exit to the airport. We assumed that he was someone with our resort so we listened as he explained all the sights and where our hotel was located etc. He then said that if we signed up for a hour and a half presentation at the Hacienda Tres Rios the next morning and paid $20 USD each we would receive free tickets to one of the local attractions (which are about $70 USD each). I was hesitant but he assured us the presentation would only last an hour and a half so we signed up. I also asked if there was a way to cancel if we changed our mind later that night "No problem!" we were told "Just get if refunded through your hotel". In the meantime we missed the bus to our resort and had to wait at the airport for an extra hour.
Later that night we decided that we did not want to waste our precious vacation time (we were only in Mexico for a week) at what we assumed would be a timeshare presentation. We spoke to someone at our hotel, showed them our receipt and asked if they knew how we were able to get a refund for the money we had paid. They knew nothing about it. We were travelling with another couple and in total we were looking at $80 USD we would lose if we did not attend the presentation, we chose to just go.
The next morning we were picked up by a taxi and taken to a very beautiful hotel. We were served breakfast and shown around the property, we thought the hotel was lovely but had no intention of purchasing anything. After about an hour we finally sat down to discuss purchasing. I have never been to a presentation like this before and when I look back on it am completely appalled that we fell for it. They start by serving drinks and talking about how great of a deal it is, how it will only go up in value, that it's a really good investment etc. I said a very firm NO three or four times expecting that to be it, but every time they came up with a new deal, a lower price and a LOT more drinks. After we had spent about 6 hours total we caved, signed a contract and put down an $8,000 USD deposit
During the contract signing I asked about every document we signed. There was one in particular that was in Spanish, I asked what it said and was told that it "pertained to our 5 day right to cancel". I was already wondering if we made the right choice and asked how we would go about cancelling if that's what we chose, the financial rep evaded the question but gave us her email address.
By the time we got out of there we had spent most of the day at the presentation. Eager to get on with our vacation we chose to not worry about it as we figured we could just cancel the contract in the next five days.
On the fourth day we decided that, yes, we had a made a bad decision under bad circumstances. We cancelled a trip we had planned and instead stayed at our hotel to make sure we cancelled our contract. We scanned our contract looking for phone number, there were none that were for the hotel only for their booking line. We tried to email but the internet at our hotel was down. At this point we started feeling very uneasy and so called Visa and filed a dispute figuring this would at least prompt a response from Sunset. We also asked the Visa rep to send an email to the address provided as we were unable to (this email address later came back as invalid).
We tried calling every number we could find in our contract, they were either for the booking line or invalid so we wrote up a signed letter and faxed it to a number we found on the contract and made sure we got a confirmation slip. Again, we wasted almost another entire day doing this but felt confident that we had taken the proper steps.
Once home I received a call from Sunset Beach welcoming us, I informed the agent that we had cancelled our contract and asked for a number that I should call to ensure it was put through. She said someone would contact us. Later that day when I did not hear back from anyone I started to feel uneasy especially after I started researching Sunset on the internet, I found several email adresses for the hotel and sent an email to all of them stating that we had cancelled our contract and that I was requesting confirmation.
Later in the day I was called by the representative who had orignally sold us the contract, he claimed that we had signed away our right to cancel because we got a special deal (that document in Spanish was a waiver to our 5 day cancellation, our copy of this document is surprisingly absent). Since I had done my homework I informed him that this is illegal, he then said that we could only cancel by a certified letter sent directly to the hotel (this is not true, cancellation can be sent by "any method of average reliability). Our only option according to him was to downgrade our package, I explained to him that we would accept no less than our contract being cancelled and our deposit refunded. He said that if this was the route I chose, our contract would be forwarded to the legal department and that "you will not get your deposit back, trust me, once it goes to them they'll play hardball. Your best choice is just to downgrade to something else". At this point I was really angry, they were bullying us! I asked for the contact number for their legal department and was told "someone will call you".
Frustrated and worried about our money I started doing some research and found various complaints and articles from other people that had been in our exact situation. I started emailing every address I could find for Sunset, filed complaints with the Federal Consumer Board, sent a certified letter to the Hacienda Tres Rios and called Visa to make sure the charge was still in dispute.
After a couple days I was contacted by the financial rep for our contract who basically said the same thing as the other rep had. This time I refused to get off the phone until she gave me the name and number for their legal department, she gave me a phone number for Hector Tornell (no email address though, guess they don't like things in writing) which I called serveral times but was never able to get ahold of.
Some time passed and we never heard anything from Sunset. I continued to send emails, file complaints and we were in constant contact with Visa who was reviewing our case. After about a month I was finally contacted by Hector Tornell who was terrible! He was immediately aggressive saying they were going to send us to collections and we were going to lose our deposit. When I explained that we had cancelled legally he said "And what are you, a lawyer?" I ended up hanging up on him. (Hector Tornell has since been fired from Sunset).
This went on for the next two months, Sunset would not contact us and we continued to persist but were confident that Visa would return our deposit.
Finally in March (we signed in December) I received a call from a woman who said that she was the last person in line before our case was sent to arbitration. She said the same thing about downgrading our package, keeping our deposit etc. and assured me that our cancellation was not valid. I informed her that I was disgusted with her company's policies and cleary unethical behaviour and that we had no intention of having anything to do with Sunset. She said we would have to fight this in court which meant coming to Mexico, she offered to send me some 'options' so we could downgrade. Otherwise, she would keep our deposit which "is at lot of money and I don't want to keep it, we would prefer for you to be happy". I told her the only way we would be happy is if our contract was cancelled and our deposit refunded.
A couple of days later we found out from Visa that our deposit had already been refunded. I suppose that explains why they were so eager to scare us into keeping our contract.
We are still not sure what will happen from here, if they will still try to sue us or send us to collection but we have our money back and we (at least) complied with the law.
This whole orderal took four months to resolve and the entire time we were subjected to lies, threats and manipulation from Sunset. My question is, why are they (and for many years now) allowed to lie and manipulate people? Why has the Mexican embassy or other consumer organizations not stepped up to stop this kind of unethical behaviour? If you have had a similar experience PLEASE write the Mexican embassy, complain to consumer agencies, anything that will take a stand and prevent this from happening to other people. At the very least we can make our opinions known, if enough people are made aware it might at least make Sunset reconsider their business practices.
Vancouver, British Columbia