Check out the highlights from World Venture’s ‘A View From The Edge’ weekend in Sydney, 2016. Courtesy: WorldVentures
FORGET Flight Centre. Forget Webjet. The travel agent of the future is a friend, family member, work colleague or random acquaintance from high school who contacts you out of the blue to ask, “Are you open to a new travel idea?”
At least, that’s the vision of WorldVentures, a controversial multi-level marketing business which set up shop in Australia at the end of last year. It now claims to have 10,000 members locally and is gearing up for a three-day motivational training event in Brisbane starting on Friday, with around 3000 expected to attend.
Founded in the US in 2005, WorldVentures 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.
WorldVentures now has more than 500,000 members in nearly 30 countries with revenue of $731 million ($US560 million) in 2015. But the company has come under fire in the US for drawing in members with flashy motivational seminars and promises of easy cash which usually fail to eventuate.
In December, WorldVentures senior vice president of global sales and international expansion Kyle Lowe said in a media release that Australia was “one of our fastest growing markets globally and is a strong area of focus for WorldVentures”.
“Our new local headquarters opening is an important step as we continue this exciting phase of growth,” he said.
The general manager for Asia Pacific, added: “A WorldVentures office in Australia will help us to increase the number of Australian DreamTrips members will be able to enjoy, as well as better provide our local Independent Representatives with the support, mentorship and development that they require to build their businesses.”
So how exactly does it work? Assuming you just want access to cheap holiday deals, a Gold membership costs $261 ($US200) with an ongoing fee of $65 ($US50) per month, while a Platinum membership costs $392 ($US300) plus $131 ($US100) per month.
According to the WorldVentures brochure, some of the “amazing DreamTrips” on offer — none of which include flights — include a two-night trip to London for $404 ($US309) per person, at a saving of $98 ($US75), or a four-night ski trip to Montana for $1174 ($US899) per person, a saving of $196 ($US150).
“Whenever we talk about DreamTrips, flights are not included,” a spokesperson said.
“The DreamTrip begins from when you land at the destination. This enables travellers to use their frequent flyer points or find the most cost effective flights available. It provides freedom for travellers to manage their own flight preferences.”
In other words, you’ll be paying between $1045 and $1959 ($US800-$US1500) in your first year just to join the club to access these deals.
Seems pretty steep, right? Luckily, WorldVentures has a solution to those pesky membership fees. As the brochure explains: “Tell just four friends about your exclusive DreamTrips Membership and, when they sign up to become members like you, your monthly membership fees will be waived!
“As long as you have four referrals with paying memberships at your level, your monthly membership fee is on us. It’s our way of saying ‘Thank you!’ You’ll also get DreamTrips Points for each person you refer.”
No, thank you, WorldVentures.
Based on how many people you sign up and how many DreamTrips you and your “downlines” sell, members will move up through the hierarchy to earn greater commissions and bonuses.
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”.
If you manage to make it to “International Marketing Director”, you can expect to earn up to $33,025 ($US25,000) in weekly bonuses, up to $66,050 ($US50,000) a month in commissions, and $33,025 ($US25,000) worth of “TravelDollars”, according to WorldVentures promotional material.
Just to be clear, it’s not a pyramid structure so much as a triangle-y, branching tree sort of thing, up which cash, commissions and bonuses flow.
So will you actually make money? If past performance is anything to go by, no, probably not.
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 $196 ($US150).
As the document makes clear, there are “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.
In 2015, Singaporean travel blogger Dina Malyana explained why she refused to join. “One of my Facebook friends is a highly passionate WorldVentures member,” she wrote.
“Here are some of the phrases I see on my newsfeed pretty regularly. ‘Travel and get paid’, ‘Fun, freedom, fulfilment’, ‘Make a living while living’, ‘The more you travel, the more you travel’.
“It is so sad (and annoying) to hear the mantras. On top of that, he shares the success stories of members at the top of the food chain, spreading the message that it is not too far within reach to earn big bucks and be a ‘fulltime vacationer’ with WorldVentures.”
In the US, the Better Business Bureau has warned that it has received a “pattern of customer complaints” about WorldVentures, and requested the company’s “voluntary co-operation” in 2014 to address the concerns.
“Specifically, complaints received by BBB allege that WorldVentures gives misleading information about their product to consumers prior to a purchase, exaggerates the savings realised by their product and fails to provide refunds for cancelled services,” the non-profit organisation said.
“After initially providing BBB with a strategy to eliminate the pattern of consumer complaints, the business has failed to eliminate the pattern of complaints in question.”
A spokesperson for WorldVentures Australia said members were “under no obligation to sign up more people — joining the club and taking great value holidays is all they need to do”.
“We understand that the company’s business model isn’t for everyone, however for thousands of Australian members, it is a viable travel option for them to ensure they put aside funds to take a holiday every year,” she said.
“Just like other businesses with direct-selling models, the core product is treated separately. In this sense, the DreamTrips holidays could be considered stand-alone products for people wanting to travel and the experiences offered to be considered on their own merits.
“From a general consumer’s perspective, there are many benefits to membership of this type of travel club — safety of travelling as a group, new experiences they otherwise wouldn’t organise or know about themselves, enjoying the company of like-minded people and the cost benefits of holiday packages.”