• Hugh paid hundreds of dollars per night for this view. He got a basement

    Posted December 18, 2018 06:13:13

    One of Australia's biggest holiday booking providers, Wotif, is misleading and deceptive in its promises that customers can "book with confidence" because the company has "heaps of local knowledge", a tribunal in Canberra has found.

    Key points:

    In doing so, the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) compelled Wotif's parent company Expedia to fully refund a Canberra grandfather for a Hawaiian holiday gone awry.

    When Hugh Selby booked an apartment with beach views through Wotif, he took their assurance he could "book with confidence" seriously.

    So when he arrived on the island of Oahu, to find he had paid hundreds of dollars a night for a "dilapidated" basement with views of an outdoor kitchenette, he felt ripped off.

    "When we got there, it was nothing like what we expected. It was a dump," he said.

    "[We] looked at each other and said 'hey, this is supposed to be a holiday, we don't even want to spend one night here'.

    "The place is dirty, the place is old, there's no view, it's not what we left Canberra for."

    Mr Selby did not stay at the apartment, and tried to get a refund from the US-based proprietor, but when that failed, he took Wotif's parent company Expedia to the ACAT, which has now found it engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.

    "We'd actually paid Wotif, we hadn't paid that place, we paid Wotif," he said.

    The ACAT decision was delivered on December 7, but Hugh was unable to speak about his experience until payment was finalised.

    'Book with confidence' just puff: Wotif

    The ACAT found Expedia, acting as Wotif, engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by claiming consumers could book with confidence because of the company's "great local knowledge".

    It found that those assurances "induced" Mr Selby into feeling safe in booking the apartment.

    The ABC sent questions to Expedia, which included whether it would alter the way Wotif was marketed in light of the decision, but a spokeswoman responded that the company did not comment on legal matters.

    In the tribunal lawyers for Expedia submitted that the website's terms of use included a warning that "the information displayed on this website concerning specific travel products and services is provided to us by the relevant travel suppliers … or their agents".

    "The Expedia Companies are not responsible for such information and we rely on the accuracy of the information supplied by the relevant third part suppliers," the terms of use state.

    Expedia's lawyers said claims on the website that customers could "book with confidence" through Wotif were little more than a sales pitch or "puffery".

    But the Tribunal found those claims overrode the fine print designed to protect Expedia from liability.

    "It was not unreasonable for the applicant to form the view … that Wotif was promising that the applicant could rely on the information provided about Rocky Point Beachfront in Haleiwa, Hawaii," ACAT senior member Jann Lennard said.

    It awarded a full refund to Mr Selby, plus filing costs.

    'Not good enough': Choice

    Nicky Breen from consumer advocacy group Choice said the internet increasingly saw "facilitator" companies like Wotif putting consumers in touch with providers.

    "Companies like Wotif that facilitate these third-party transactions — it's not good enough for them to simply throw their hands up when things go wrong and say 'hey, not our fault, we didn't mean that, no refunds for you," she said.

    "[Mr Selby] shouldn't have had to go to court, the company should have done the right thing and given him a refund in the first place."

    Ms Breen said it was obvious that customers would take a claim like "book with confidence" at face value, and Expedia could not hide behind claims their assurances were "mere puff".

    "I was shocked by the counter-argument," she said.

    "When a well-known travel company that's widely recognised, widely used, tells a consumer they can book in confidence, it's perfectly understandable that that person would think that was true."

    Topics: courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, consumer-protection, business-economics-and-finance, travel-and-tourism, internet-culture, information-and-communication, canberra-2600, act, australia, hawaii, united-states

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