BY MOHAMMAD SHOEB
DOHA: Country Club, a controversial company which describes itself as India’s largest leisure infrastructure conglomerate, is continuing with its local operations despite an increasing number of complaints against it from Indian expatriates, one of whom has written to the Indian embassy alleging that he has been cheated.
The embassy confirmed in remarks to this newspaper that it had received a complaint about “fraud and cheating” against the company, but wouldn’t say how it would go about looking into it.
The company, apparently unruffled by rising public sentiment against it, held a big New Year’s Eve bash.
The company offers a 30-year membership for club and holiday accommodation in India, Sri Lanka, Dubai and Thailand, especially to Indian expatriates, against a payment of QR18,000 ($4,931.5), and the payment is to be made within a year.
It has been facing a lot of criticism from its members in Qatar for not keeping its promises. People have also said that they felt intimidated and harassed by what they claimed were its aggressive and unethical marketing ways.
The company admits it has tie-ups with major shopping complexes here where its staff approach shoppers with offers of free holiday packages and gift vouchers and ask them to fill up forms giving personal details, including contact numbers.
They are then persistently called and asked to come to the company’s office on Grand Hamad Street, where smartly dressed salesmen and women literally brainwash them into buying into the company’s holiday schemes.
K J Manjanna, who has lodged the complaint with the Indian embassy, said he was “coerced” into paying QR7,000. “When I told them I didn’t have the cash, they sent their men to my house to collect the sum,” he told this newspaper.
“Country Club and Vacations WLL is a fraud company and I strongly feel that it would vanish after hosting the New Year event”, Manjanna said in his complaint.
When contacted, a senior company official remarked casually that they had heard about the complaint.
Sanjeev Nathan, Regional Manager, Customer Care, for the Middle East and North Africa operations of Country Club, said: “Yes, I have heard about this, but not directly from the embassy. We are trying to contact the complainant.”
“We will try to resolve the issue, so other (aggrieved?) members do not contact Indian Embassy or any other consumer protection forums,” he said.
Asked about the frequency of complaints from members, Nathan said: “We keep on receiving product-related queries every now and then, probably one out of every 10 members, but they are resolved on a daily basis”.
The company has a marketing model which many say violates Qatari law. It solicits prospective customers from a pool of data collected by the company’s representatives who are strategically placed at the exit of malls and hypermarkets.
They ask shoppers to fill up forms with necessary details. Interestingly, the company claims this is done in “collaboration” with the management of these outlets.
Confronted with this, Nathan said: “We have our sources of data collection to invite potential clients. It all depends on the designation and the level of salary they draw”.
Asked to elaborate on the data collection method, he said: “We have tie-ups with several malls and hypermarkets. There is a printed form which perspective customers are asked to fill up providing some personal details. If a potential client meets our criteria, we invite him for a presentation at our office located at the Bank Street”.
About the ‘success ratio’, he said every two out of 10 people who attend the presentation, join the company’s scheme.
And asked if every person who attends the presentation is given a gift, Nathan said: “Yes, we do. We gift a free holiday package for seven days and six nights in respect of any of our 56 properties spread across India, Dubai, Bangkok and Sri Lanka.