Why reviews matter – don’t trust a brand without them

Goldcar are part of the whole DoYouSpain.com rip off strategy
An Express Queue with Goldcar, where you can expect to wait over two hours and then get royally fleeced

I’m not going to hide the fact that I am involved with Feefo who manage customer reviews. It’s obviously made me more aware of why reviews matter. But when I went overseas a few weeks ago, I broke my own golden rule and made an online purchase from a supplier I had used many times before even though they had no real reviews on their site. So I thought it was worth writing down my experience and learnings from it.

The company is Do You Spain. I must have booked cars through them ten times in the past. This time, on our way to ski with family in Andorra, I was lured by an amazingly low price of €42 for the week for a Ford Focus. Wow. It was with Goldcar as Do You Spain are a broker for lots of different car hire companies.

I read the small print that went with it and found a few little treats. Firstly €62 to take it out of the country and into Andorra. and then a full to empty policy on the fuel. So I figured say 55 litres at €1.40 per litre. By this stage we are up to a figure of €181 with no real chance to burn a whole tank of fuel on a 350km round trip to Soldeu and back. But still cheaper than five of us paying for transfers at €75 per person.

I read on and then found a hidden extra which was an €850 excess, in case I crashed it. Sensibly I thought, I can insure that with http://www.carhireexcess.com/ at £1.99 per day, that has to be £14 well spent.

So when I landed at Barcelona El Prat Airport, and after a staggering two hour wait in the Express queue I was offered the following option. An upgrade to a slightly bigger car. Okay, don’t mind if I do. Fuel at €108, which works out at €1.80 per litre, surely the most expensive fuel in the whole of Europe?

But then the real shocker. Take out our additional insurance to protect the Excess at another €14 per day, or hand over the €850 excess and we will give it back to you if the car is undamaged. Who would trust them not to find some damage after their track record so far. Anyway, the final bill was €258 against the listed price of €42. Not terribly accurate pricing in my opinion. In fact none of the costs related in any way to the quote of €42.

So, on return home, I tried to speak to DoYouSpain and guess what?

Despite many, many positive reviews, they wouldn’t reply to my concerns or answer any of my queries. When I searched around, it appears that lots of people have expressed similar concerns on Money Saving Expert and other forums.

So the simple moral of this story?

Trust brands that display honest and open reviews. Distrust those that don’t. In fact avoid them like the plague. They are hiding reviews for a reason. And sadly, for Spain to recover, it needs to begin to behave itself, treat customers with respect and offer good fair prices we can rely on. Sadly I won’t be using these companies again and when I go back in a few weeks, i’m just paying for the transfer.

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Spain is beautiful – but bust

Spain at it's best - sun, sea, sand, empty beaches and back to it's old laid back self
Spain at it’s best – sun, sea, sand, empty beaches and back to it’s old laid back self

I wrote a piece last year after I came back from a Spanish holiday, saying that Spain had sold it’s soul and gone against its own brand values of sun, sea and fun in favour of profit.

But my experience this year gave me a vague glimmer of hope.

Most of the prices seem to have dropped in the restaurants, the cabs and the beach bars. A meal for a family of four has fallen from €100 to nearer €80. Lunch in a beach bar can be easily taken for less than €40 and the people seem to have got friendlier again. Less in search of profit and far more able to smile. Perhaps they’re resigned to the fact that their business is on the verge of bust. There are hundreds upon hundreds either gone or clearly about to go.

New build apartments are still all empty, although the prices have fallen from €220k Euro last year to a little over €120k this year.

Local figures being quoted are that of the 4.5 million properties on the Costa del Sol, only around 20% are occupied at any time – and you can tell by how deathly quiet it is. The traffic is lighter, the beaches are quieter, even the shops are quieter.

But where they win is in the places that aren’t built up. Those that haven’t been built all over still have real charm and the most fantastic food. Yes, Puerto Banus is vile, showy, ludicrously expensive and not for me – it’s not a coincidence that it has the word anus in the middle of it you know –  but drive ten miles down the coast beyond Estepona and you are back into places where the Brits and Irish haven’t yet built all over and destroyed.

I genuinely think that Spain will do a ‘Greece’ and go bust, for the rest of Europe to bail out. But if you rent somewhere on the beach, buy the local food and wine and enjoy the sun and laid back atmosphere, there are still fewer places in the world I’d rather be.

This year, for the first time in many, many years, I didn’t want to come home – and that’s what Spain should be – and always used to be about.

The death of the Spanish brand

Spain has always been one of those places that people loved to hate. Torremolinos and Benidorm have been the butt of jokes, sitcoms and the building of concrete jungles since the early 1960’s when widespread air travel bought the sun, sea, sand and Sangria within reach of the masses.

The best ever Icon that completely represents all of Spain's brand values
The best ever Icon that completely represents all of Spain's brand values

But when Spain started using the Joan Miró ‘logo’ to represent the Spanish brand, the whole offer started to make more sense. It had in effect, displayed its brand values in one beautifully simple representation to show that it was all about fun, easy living and a lovely relaxed style. For me, it is one of the most beautifully timeless ‘icons’ I have ever seen.

But then it all started to go wrong when they started trying to sneak in a few extra brand values, namely profit and perhaps even profiteering.

One of the attractions for us Brits of a Spanish holiday was always that it was incredibly cheap when we got there. Cheap beer, freshly cooked fish on the beach and change out of £20 for a family of four. The introduction of the Euro saw the first real move away from this with money pouring in from the rest of the Euro Zone and a move towards comparative wealth in the most popular destinations.

But then it all went wrong.

People rushed to buy the cheap apartments, being promised and initially seeing, spectacular growth in value, fuelled by the cheap flights of the low cost carriers. But as we’ve all worked out, there’s no such thing as a free flight and there’s certainly no such thing as a free lunch.

Sun, Sea, Sand and a pretty poor branded investment with a superb view over the motorway
Sun, Sea, Sand and a pretty poor branded investment with a superb view over the motorway

Profiteering was rife. Land that was being bought for comparative buttons, was being converted to thousands upon thousands of Penthouse apartments, and in an exact mirror of the buy-to-let crash in the UK, there soon became a HUGE oversupply and the market tanked.

Where I was staying above La Cala, which was a lovely development, there were only one in eight apartments occupied. Around us in other developments, the figures looked much worse, with one opposite only having three occupiers in over 100 apartments – and that is in the height of their summer season. I personally know three people who are trying to sell (absolutely lovely) places in that region alone and all are now offering them at 40+% less than they were a year ago, with not even a sniff of a viewing, let alone any buyers.

The taxi drivers are reporting a 25% drop in traffic and the one I spoke to said he could not afford to have another summer like it. He had moved from selling timeshare, but he acknowledged, that dreadful mistakes had been made in the property market. Even the taxi market is massively oversupplied with over 400 taxis waiting at Malaga airport on one of the days I was there, for far too few fares.

The restaurants reacted by putting their prices UP, so that a meal for four is a struggle for less than 100 Euro. They too are reporting huge falls in numbers – which is hardly surprising either. The visitors seem to have reacted by staying away and buying from the supermarkets, which still offer remarkable value.

So Spain has completely trashed its brand values. It has stamped all over them and probably ruined them forever. Unless they can rebuild their business case with far fewer visitors and go back to their original values, their situation will get worse and worse and worse – and they already have 25% unemployment in some areas.

Spain is a lesson for any brand owner. Know your brand values, keep them steady and keep looking after your customers. Give them reasons to fall in love with you over and over again and never, ever put profit before quality.

Anyway, Turkey for me next year. If that’s not a Spain waiting to happen, I don’t know where is!