Independent representatives of WorldVentures were on Rarotonga about a month ago, holding meetings to entice locals to join the scheme.
These representatives are believed to be Cook Islanders living overseas, in particular from Australia.
A Rarotonga-based Cook Islander, who wished to remain anonymous, said among the locals who have joined WorldVentures were some well-known people.
The person said he paid a $170 fee to become a member after hearing from the representative. But after attending one of the meetings, he now doubts the legitimacy of the scheme.
“It sounds like a bit of con job to me,” the person said. “Before I called for a meeting to hear more about it, I paid my money but - after I listened to what was presented in that meeting - I said ‘well, don’t worry about my $170, I made a mistake’.
“The $170 was the special fee, the fee increases to somewhere around $500 once you are part of it. I guess I got sucked into this scheme with that special rate and this is how it works.”
According to its website, WorldVentures offers the world’s biggest, best and most awarded group vacation lifestyle membership, DreamTrips, inspiring travelers all over the planet since 2005.
It says with hundreds of thousands of members in over 40 countries, they explore, discover and share carefully curated experiences through a community of fun, every day.
According to a report by Australian online media news.com.au, WorldVentures, which was founded in the United States in 2005, uses multi-level marketing tactics to sell discount travel and holiday products, with members — called “independent representatives” — paying a fee for the opportunity to sell these “DreamTrips”.
Naturally, they are encouraged to sign up other members to earn commissions and further discounts, the report added.
“At the meeting, the WorldVentures (independent) representative explained that in order to make money, we have to get four more people to join the scheme. The more people we get, the better and you climb up the ladder (of commission distribution),” the local, who talked to CI News, said.
“He said if we don’t get people, we will have to pay an ongoing fee and he reckons that can get us discount on accommodation when we travel overseas.
“The person also showed us the places he went to and all that. He also showed us that he was getting $600 a month going into his account. He reckons he just sits there and collects the money.”
WorldVentures had more than 500,000 members in nearly 30 countries with revenue of about $831 million in 2015.
According to the news.com.au report from 2017, members will move up through the hierarchy to earn greater commissions and bonuses based on how many people they sign up and how many DreamTrips they and their “downlines” sell.
They move from lowly “enrolled rep”, “active rep” and “qualified rep”, then to “senior rep”, “director” and “marketing director”, before finally reaching the lofty heights of “regional marketing director”, “national marketing director” and “international marketing director”.
According to a WorldVentures promotional material, if you manage to make it to “international marketing director”, you can expect to earn up to $37,097 (US$25,000) in weekly bonuses, up to $74,208 a month in commissions, and $37,097 worth of “TravelDollars”.
However, according to WorldVentures’ 2015 Annual Income Disclosure Statement, 77.76 per cent of so-called “independent representatives” did not earn a commission during the year. Of the 22.24 per cent who did, the median was $222.
The document also said there was “no guarantees regarding income”.
“The success or failure of each Independent Representative in WorldVentures, like any other business, depends on the Independent Representative’s own skill, dedication, personal effort, leadership qualities, and market available,” it says.
The Rarotonga resident warned people to read and understand the concept properly before becoming a member.
“They always tell us the good things but never the bad side of it. It may sound like an easy way of earning money but in order to benefit from it, you have to do your hours, work hard to get as many members as you can to maximise the gains. It’s not as easy as they make it sound,” he said.