You've probably heard of "time-sharing" as a shady concept that would be forced on you by a pushy salesman. Because you will get a lot of such sales pitches in Cancun, let me demystify the subject.
What It Is
The idea behind time-sharing is that you pay a sum of money, and get the right to spend a certain amount of time at a vacation resort each year.
The pitches in Cancun are reasonably sophisticated: you get your money back after the agreement finishes; you can stay at any of thousands of resorts around the world; Cancun is the #1 vacation destination; you can vary the amount of vacation each year between 1-3 weeks; you don't have to take full weeks; you get better accomodations than a simple hotel room; taking a vacation each year will cost a lot when you look at the total over a period of many years.
Some typical complaints about time-sharing are: the accomodations aren't as good as expected; the times you can vacation aren't the times you want to go; you can only go to resorts other than your "home base" if someone in the other resort wants to swap; you don't necessarily take a vacation each year; many operators are fly-by-night and might disappear at any moment; there are unexpected costs that mean you don't really save money; you decline the offer and don't get whatever incentives were offered to listen to the pitch. So many people are unhappy about the sales tactics that a frequent plea of marinas and tour guides is "We are not a time-share company!".
How It Happens
In Cancun, you might get a sales pitch when:
I decided that these last two were probably reasonably safe bets not to be too unpleasant. At least you know where the offer is coming from, and they don't want you to be upset on the tour or during your stay. So I attended two of these free breakfast/lunch offers to see what they were like.
What You Get
What Is Required of You
If you decide to go to one of these things, go on a slow day when you have a lot of time and plan to sightsee in the same area after it's over. You get to pick the time so don't make it inconveniently early. I recommend a late breakfast or early lunch so you can subsist on that one meal until dinner.
Don't let anyone write down your credit card number.
Note what time you finish the meal. Don't let the subsequent pitch go on for more than an hour.
When being shown the facilities, take your time and snap a few photos if the view is good. I could have gotten some good pictures of the Caribbean if I had had my camera.
Ask the person showing you around any questions you have about restaurants, clubs, or local attractions.
Don't get hung up on trying to avoid leading questions from the first salesperson. "Which kind of vacation would you rather take, this way or the way you're doing it now?" and so on. This first person will hand things over to a manager; it is the manager who needs to be convinced that you are not a good prospect.
If any of the following apply to you, emphasize it to the first salesperson (who will make notes) and reiterate it to the manager (who will be the one to actually ask you to buy something):
If none of these applies to you, make sure your resistance is high before attending one of these pitches. (In my case, all of them applied and the sessions ended very quickly.)
Don't commit to anything on the spot. The push is always for an immediate sale. Now that you know about the program, you can always ask others for their time-sharing experiences, check up on the claims made during the pitch, and take your time to think of new questions and objections. If you won't vacation again for another year, why should there be any hurry?
The Lighter Side of Time-Sharing
After one time-sharing pitch, I became friends with the salespeople and went to their Christmas party, drinking tequila straight up and singing along to Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here".
At another pitch, I was told that I look like Stephen Hawking (hopefully, a sprightly and energetic version of Dr. Hawking), asked about my religious beliefs, and quizzed about my upbringing to determine if I really liked playing tennis or was pushed into it by my parents. I didn't buy but am now much more self-aware about my place in the universe!