|BBB Tip: Vanity Awards|
Allure of vanity awards hard to dismiss
Your organisation may deserve an award but be aware of vanity awards disguised as legitimate prizes.
A vanity award is less of an honour because the recipient essentially has to fork out money for it. An organisation is asked to purchase the award by paying a high entry fee, sponsorship or other charges.
It is a business model that transcends borders and industries with US non-profit organisation Better Business Bureau issuing warnings about such schemes in the United States and Canada since 2008.
Even government bodies have been known to pay for vanity awards.
In 2017, The Star reported the Penang Municipal Council and Seberang Prai Municipal Council had revealed that they might have fallen for a vanity awards scheme by the Europe Business Assembly (EBA) in 2013 and 2014. (See related posts below)
Penang Island City Council mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd said they won the EBA awards without assessment by any judges after paying a total of €7,800 (RM39,088) in entry fees.
The now retired Penang Island City Council (MBPP) mayor Datuk Patahiyah Ismail was awarded the Best Municipal Manager while the council was given the Best Municipality Award in 2013.
A year later, the Seberang Prai Municipal Council got the Best City award while its then president Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif was named the Best Municipal Manager.
Two European NGOs – the Center for Investigative Reporting of Serbia (CINS) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) – exposed the EBA titles as a vanity awards scam.
The report states that such organisations sent solicitation letters to companies and government agencies in the world, telling them that they had been nominated for various awards.
“Anyone who replies, shows interest and agrees to pay gets an award. Most of the letters contain the ceremony programme generally held in an attractive European capital, pictures of the trophies and information about costs,” the report added.
In 2011, The Star highlighted the proliferation of dubious awards due to high demand for such prizes.
The report said some organisers were giving out less-than-credible awards and then asking the “winners” to sponsor or buy dinner tables at lavish presentation events.
The asking price for such sponsorships ranged from RM4,000 to RM30,000, with some companies admitting they paid up for fear of business rivals getting the awards instead.
The organisers also banked on these companies’ need for recognition to boost their business. These companies treated such sponsorship as investments.
The Star reported that when demand for such awards increased, the “supply” can be raised simply by creating new categories.
Having to pay for a ‘win’
Legitimacy of money-making awards ceremonies questioned
|‘Honours’ list: Adeva giving a speech at its awards ceremony in Kuala Lumpur. Screencap from APTTF’s Facebook page.|
Like most other people, leaders in the business world take pride in receiving recognition for their hard work and achievements. They also see value in being considered as among the best. These sentiments have helped spawn a lucrative mini industry built on award ceremonies that are more about earning money than honouring and encouraging excellence.
Businessmen have raised questions over the growing number of award programmes whose organisers demand payments from those who are supposedly nominated for prizes. The charges range from administrative fees to sponsorship.
Entrepreneur Jan Wong said he had been contacted by 10 different award organisers congratulating him on winning their awards but with one big condition.
“I was told that to qualify for the awards, I needed to pay for the nomination, a table (at the awards ceremony), marketing exposure or the trophy ,” said Wong, who was in Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2017.
“If I don’t want to pay, I won’t win,” he added. He questioned the prestige of such awards.
There are similar concerns about a recent travel industry awards ceremony in Malaysia by a little-known organisation called the Asia Pacific Tourism and Travel Federation (APTTF).
Participants said they had doubts about the Asia Pacific Tourism and Travel Awards after the event turned disorderly. The Tourism Minister did not show up although the organiser said he would. Some winners received the wrong awards, while several others were not given their awards that day.
“The chief executive officer’s explanation as to why they did not present our awards was that they had misplaced a box of trophies in the office,” participant Melissa (not her real name) said.
“When he was closing the event on stage he even asked if he had missed out any awards. But we were too polite to speak up.”Melissa said many award categories had five winners each. There was one category with about 30 winners, she added.
She said the event was supposed to be a prestigious gala dinner but it turned out to be a low-budget conference-style luncheon.
Participants paid RM575 to RM755 per seat or RM4,500 per table to attend the April 11 ceremony in a Kuala Lumpur hotel. There were about 200 award recipients.
In its promotional materials and conversations with participants, the APTTF claimed that Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines (MAS) had endorsed and supported the awards ceremony.
However, both organisations have denied any such affiliation.
“Malaysia Airlines is not associated, has not endorsed nor has any involvement with the APTTF,” MAS told The Star.
Tourism Malaysia said it is not a member of the federation and that the APTTF Malaysian Chapter is not a recognised travel association.
“The APTTF Malaysian Chapter is not registered with the Registrar of Societies and is not found in the Companies Commission of Malaysia’s MYDATA portal,” said Tourism Malaysia, adding that it had declined the invitation to attend the awards ceremony.
Further checks by The Star revealed that the website photo of the APTTF chairman is a stock image (an image provided by an agency that can be used for a fee).
The website also has the text of a speech by the chairman addressing the award winners. He has a Japanese name that does not show up elsewhere in an Internet search.
According to former APTTF employees, the people behind the Asia Pacific Tourism and Travel Awards had also organised the Asia Lifestyle Tourism Awards (ALTA) through an organisation called Asian Sports Group.
“My job was to call hotels all over South-East Asia to convince them to join the APTTF as a member. The hotels had to pay a fee and an award would be given when they joined,” said Jeff (not his real name).
“We actively name-dropped tourism ministries to convince the hotels and tour operators to sign up,” he said, adding that the organiser also operated under the name ASG Management Group Sdn Bhd
.Sarah (not her real name) said she was tasked to organise ALTA 2018 which was supposed to be held in Shenzhen in September 2018. However, the event was cancelled although participants had purchased tickets to the event.
“The event didn’t happen because the company didn’t exist,” she said.
Thailand-based hotel operator Paisal Panchalad, who is among those affected by the cancellation of ALTA 2018, said the company did not reimburse the US$1,605 (RM6,638) he had paid despite multiple assurances from the CEO.
“CEO Adeva Sangkuni informed us that he would refund all money but he did not do that,” he said, adding that there were many others with the same complaint.
Sarah was not surprised that several winners of the KL awards ceremony last month did not receive their prizes. She said a similar thing happened in ALTA 2017, leading to a big hotel brand in Malaysia boycotting the organiser.
Sarah and Jeff said they suspected something was amiss with the company after discovering that many of the officials listed on the websites were fake.
The former employees claimed that the company did not pay their salaries during the one to two months that they worked there in mid-2018.
Last year, they lodged reports with the Companies Commission of Malaysia, Labour Department and the police against APTTF and ASG Management Group over the companies’ unregistered operations and the unpaid salaries
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