Questionable sales tactics at an international travel company, which customers say left them stranded overseas, have been revealed in a joint investigation by CBC News and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
A North Vancouver man is one of many former employees blowing the whistle on a company accused of misleading young travellers who want to work abroad.
Jeremy Gilron quit his job at Vancouver’s Global Work & Travel Co. after just four days of sales training this past summer.
Global Work & Travel arranges job interviews or volunteer positions overseas, as well as accommodation, airport transfers, flights, cellphones, bank accounts and insurance.
'I felt like I was tricking people'
Gilron said he didn’t have the stomach for the high-pressure sales tactics he said are used to take advantage of 18-to-30-year-old customers who want help arranging a working holiday.
"I didn't feel comfortable. I felt like I was tricking people," Gilron said of his work on the sixth floor of a downtown Vancouver tower he described as a "boiler room."
He said he was trained to create a false sense of urgency to get customers to put down a non-refundable $695 deposit.
"Say anything, say what you can to get the ball rolling. That's what I was told to say, because you want people to sign up right there, right now," he said.
Gilron said he was to earn $100 commission from each $695 deposit collected, but he never made a single sale. Packages range between $1,000 and $6,000.
CBC called the company and recorded the sales pitch.
"We guarantee you a job opportunity within the first five days of your arrival," a salesman named Alex said. "All we ask for is a small deposit of $695, and that gets your spot booked in on the program."
The caller was urged to pay up immediately because "right now... it’s pretty much full. We do have limited spots per month."
'Just come up with a number'
Gilron said that was likely a lie and part of the the false sense of urgency he says he was trained to foster.
"I was told just come up with a number," he said. "You know, say, like, 'I'm looking at my intake right now. There's only one spot left — and I'm looking at my spreadsheet. The program is filling up.' "
Gilron and several other former salespeople told CBC the company's sales staff do not actually have a list in front of them and have no limit on the number of working-holiday packages they can sell.
There are limited spaces on volunteer and teaching packages.
The call CBC placed was transferred to the sales manager, who wanted a credit card number. "Sometimes it comes down to minutes…. That's why it’s very rare that the spots have opened up," the manager said.
Staff say they were told to lie
CBC spoke to two dozen former Global Work and Travel employees from its offices in Vancouver, Australia and London, who said the company takes advantage of inexperienced young travellers.
Louisa Canning said she was told to lie to clients and to pretend she had been on the same working holiday she was selling from the Australian office.
"I didn't like doing it," she said.
She said the sales team was trained to be aggressive and dishonest.
"They'd tell us to say on the phone that it's guaranteed, you know, 'We'll guarantee you an interview, we'll guarantee you a job out of that interview,' but then it's in the fine print," she said.
The contract travellers sign only guarantees a "job opportunity" overseas.
Another former employee said confusion over what "job opportunity" means led to complaints from angry clients while she worked there.
Amanda Stewart spent a year booking flights and insurance for Global Work and Travel in Australia.
"We were just getting bombarded with calls and emails from the clients and the kids that had no jobs. We had one who told us that their job offer was just a link to a Craigslist ad."
She told CBC News the company sends "so many people overseas without a job, without a hope of a job, without any interviews, so they don't care as long as they got the money in the end."
"If they only had five jobs and they could sell 100 people, they would sell a hundred people," Stewart said.
She forwarded CBC News an email she wrote to the company’s owners in January 2012, warning they were overselling working holidays to Canada. "There are still 60 people that have left that still do not have jobs… after being in Canada, for some over a month now," the email reads. "This is a concern as we have another 30 or so people that have paid in full and wanting to depart before the end of February."
Stewart said the company "had no jobs for any of them."
"They told us not to worry about the kids and just do our job and book flights and collect money, and I resigned straight away," she said.
Company denies allegations
In a statement, one of Global Work & Travel’s owners, Jurgen Himmelmann, said: "No traveller ever has arrived into Canada and not received job opportunities or not received our promised services.... We have no shortage of job opportunities but we can't force the customer to accept a job, nor can we control the customer's interview performance or make a decision for the employer."
But Glenn Anderson, 23, of Australia, said he did not receive everything he was promised by a Global Work & Travel salesperson.
He was one of the clients stranded in Vancouver at the time Stewart wrote that email.
"It was kind of a bit scary at first. It was my first time travelling," recalled Anderson, who said he paid $5,463 AUD for the "get it all" package.
He said he met dozens of other jobless young clients of Global Work & Travel in Vancouver.
"At the time I was in the hostel, I met another 20 to 30 Australians that were stuck there without work as well," he said.
He claims he was "tricked" into buying a package.
"They told me it's a great deal… They definitely did lie," Anderson said.
Back home in Newcastle, Australia, his parents were frantic that their son was running out of money and that the only "opportunity" Glenn had was an appointment with a temporary labour company, which he said he could easily have made himself online.
Maree Anderson said she was overwhelmed with worry about her son, whose dream was to work in Canada.
"It was all coming apart at the seams for him, and as a mum I guess my heart was breaking," she said.
After using up all his savings, Anderson eventually found a job on his own after two months, at a Jiffy Lube. He now works at a resort in Banff, Alta.
His parents complained to Office of Fair Trading officials in Australia, who ordered the company to refund him $595 AUD of the $5,463 he paid.
Anderson also complained he was even overcharged for his plane ticket, despite promises of "a great deal."
Karine Tomlinson, who worked as a travel agent for Global Work & Travel, said "the prices are heavily inflated, so for example you got a one way ticket to Canada that's actually worth $800, you'd actually have to be charging $1,600."
Tomlinson quit her job at Global Work and Travel's Australian office after five months.
"I've been in the travel industry for 20 years and I've never, ever come across a company that marks up by so much. It's outrageous and, really, they are exploiting young people," she said.
CBC News has obtained an email from company president Pierre Himmelmann that lists commissions for travel agents and instructs them to mark up all airfares by $600 to $1,000.
In a statement, Global Work & Travel Co. co-owner Jurgen Himmelmann said: "We do not promise discounted airfares. We don’t say we’ll match internet airfare prices. We’re a travel agency, and all travel agencies globally operate by buying an airfare at a wholesale price, adding a margin, and then selling it."
Steve Szentesi, a Vancouver-based lawyer who specializes in Canadian competition and advertising law, reviewed Global Work & Travel’s website and what Gilron told CBC News about his sales training in Vancouver.
"If they are advertising that there are limited opportunities when there is not, and that turns out to be false, that can trigger the misleading-advertising provisions," he said.
Szentesi said under Canada's Competition Act, businesses cannot make false claims on their websites or over the phone.
"You can't lie to generate a sales lead," he said. "If they have a sales force saying things that are literally false or misleading, or omitting additional important information, like extra fees — if that's the case, that's problematic and that's a risk."
- Competition Bureau: False or Misleading Representations and Deceptive Marketing Practices Under the Competition Act
In a statement to CBC News, Global Work & Travel Co. denied "any allegations that our travel consultants are trained in sub-par or unethical practices. Nor do they use fabricated high-pressure sales tactics."
"There is a genuine sense of urgency for most of our programs."
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