SADDENED: Diane Terblanche chairs the National Consumer Commission's inquiry into vacation clubs. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA Pictures

Cape Town - Horror stories of potential club members forking out eye-watering sums of money for timeshare vacation ownership, only to have to cough up annual fees and being threatened with blacklisting should they wish to cancel were the order of business on the opening day of hearings into the vacation ownership industry.

The National Consumer Commission is conducting public hearings on the matter after the issue was escalated by the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud. 

The Commission is holding public hearings at the Cape Town lodge between 10am and 5pm until Thursday.

Panel chairperson Diane Terblanche felt "saddened" by one consumer's tale of desperation trying to get out of a vacation ownership contract he'd only used three times in 11 years.

Faghrie Meer told the panel that he received a call to say he had won a free holiday and when he went to claim his prize he was subjected to a QVC (Quality Vacation Club) sales pitch and he ended up paying R56 000 once-off for 20 points of holiday club membership, with an annual fee of R7 000.

At no time was he told that he was bound for life.

He and his wife had only utilised their points three times before 2009, whereafter over-subscription caused them to forfeit their holidays as they could not get bookings at resorts they wanted to holiday at. 

Meer had tried to cancel the contract for years and considered cancelling his debit order but had been threatened with blacklisting.

He feared for his future credit score, wanting a good education for his children. 

Alvin Bowler had initially enjoyed his Easy Holiday club membership until he did some digging and found that non-club members paid up to R1 000 less than he did for his getaways. 

Bridgitt Fuller was also told she had won a prize and had to cough up R100 000 for a membership to RCI to be close to her children when she visited them in London and Sydney. She soon discovered that RCI had no inner-city accommodation in any major capital of the world.  

Desperate to cancel the contract, Fuller said she blocked the R1 000 fee debit order and was then threatened with blacklisting.

Andre Brits sketched his battle to cancel his aging parents' membership with QVC. They had bought 20 points at R13 000 in 2001 and were now paying an upkeep fee of R500 a month. 

A change in life circumstances had prompted Karen April and Jaap Fourie to seek cancellation from their contracts but they too were threatened with blacklisting. 

Terblanche said the panels would take submissions in every province and the collection of information from consumers, interest groups and vacation ownership industry companies would be completed by the end of September.

Thereafter, reports would be written, analysed and recommendations would be made. 

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Cape Argus