Keeping faith: MP Wayne Furbert shows off YTB’s website, which contains inspirational messages from its American founders, testimony from self-help gurus and footage from the firm’s glitzy conferences in the U.S.  *Photo by Tim Hall
Keeping faith: MP Wayne Furbert shows off YTB’s website, which contains inspirational messages from its American founders, testimony from self-help gurus and footage from the firm’s glitzy conferences in the U.S. *Photo by Tim Hall
MP Wayne Furbert has launched an impassioned defence of the travel firm he brought to the island, which is being sued in the U.S. for allegedly being a scam.

Speaking fully about YTB (YourTravelBiz.com) for the first time, Mr. Furbert admitted that a large proportion of the 700 Bermudians who paid $500 to sign up have not made any of their money back.

However, he said those members only had themselves to blame, and anyone willing to work hard can make a success of YTB. Several other successful members have come forward in support of Mr. Furbert, saying that they have earned thousands of dollars in commission since joining the scheme. One woman said that YTB will be the reason she will be able to leave an inheritance for her children.

The Bermuda Sun understands that Mr. Furbert is himself earning between $100,000 and $500,000 a year through YTB. Sources said that Mr. Furbert was awarded a "sapphire ring", which the leadership of company hands out to representatives who recruit large numbers of new members. "The sapphire ring goes to those in that commission bracket: over $100,000 and anywhere up to a dollar short of $500,000 in a calendar year," the YTB insider said. Mr. Furbert would not confirm his earnings, but did say that he has twice received $10,000 bonuses for his efforts. He says his success is proof that YTB runs a sound business model.

Earlier this month, the state of California launched a $25m lawsuit against the directors of YTB in the States, saying of the company: "YourTravelBiz.com operates a gigantic pyramid scheme that is immensely profitable to a few individuals on top and a complete rip-off for almost everyone else." Since he launched the scheme here in February, Mr. Furbert believes that around 700 people have signed up - each paying $500 up front and around $600 a year in subscriptions. Mr. Furbert, former leader of the UBP, says that those who are out of pocket have not put in the necessary amount of hard work.

"It's 'network marketing', not 'netwait marketing,'" he said. "If you don't work it, you are not going to make any money. It's the same if you open a landscaping business, or an accountancy business: you invest, and if you don't work hard, you are not going to make money. People [YTB members] say to me: 'I didn't make any money'. And I say: 'Of course you didn't; you didn't tell anyone about it. You didn't open any doors.' This is not a get-rich-quick scheme, and it's hard work, but if you work hard the earnings are there."

Secret agents

Mr. Furbert was unwilling to guess how many Bermudians have failed to make back their investment. He would say only: "We have a lot of secret agents walking around Bermuda. Secret agents get in and then don't tell one person [about the scheme]." In exchange for their fees, a YTB member is given access to their own travel website. The member makes money every time someone books flights, cruises or other services through the site. YTB members are also rewarded for persuading other people to sign up.

In his lawsuit, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. says that only a small fraction of members make any money through their website - and that among those who do make travel commission, the average yearly earning is just $39. Mr. Furbert admitted that he makes only a small fraction of his own earnings through website bookings. "But that's because I chose not to focus on that side of things," he said. "I'm not pushing the travel side. There is more money to be made in the marketing, that's a fact."

However, he said that even if someone just books their own travel, and perhaps their family's travel, through their own website, then they are likely to break even for the year, or even make a small profit. Mr. Furbert claims to have members in Canada and in several U.S. states and says he regularly flies abroad on recruiting missions. An entrepreneur who owns Paradiso Café on Reid Street, Mr. Furbert says he dedicates three to four hours a day to YTB.

He said: "I know not everyone can do that. Not everyone is in a position to fly to the States so regularly or commit that number of hours. But I'm a workhorse." Mr. Furbert said that a friend of his handed him literature on YTB when he was in the States. "It just blew my mind," he said. "It made common sense, perfect sense and business sense."

Mr. Furbert put us in touch with several other YTB members who are pleased with the scheme. One of them, 34-year-old teacher Keoki Dickenson, said: "Within two weeks I'd made back $1,000." Mrs. Dickenson, of Hamilton Parish, said that she booked a cruise for herself and 12 family members on her own website. She said: "I would normally have booked with Expedia or Travelocity [online travel agents] but now I book on my own website and make the commission myself. I'm being rewarded for something I would do anyway." Mrs. Dickenson says that the prices she paid for the cruise were the same she would have paid through any other website.

What do you think? E-mail feedback on this story to senior reporter Tim Hall: thall@bermudasun.bm