Travel companies are misleading holidaymakers – and may be in breach of consumer law – by promoting properties with glossy photos that bear little resemblance to the disappointing reality, according to Which? research.
When Which? Travel looked into the real holidays behind the glossy website images, it uncovered a number of alarming examples – including a poolside building site, a premium cottage with a back garden more akin to a prison yard and a case where images were used of a hotel rather more appealing than the one the customer was actually sent to.
When Linda Allsop arrived at her hotel in Mallorca, she was pleased to see it looked just like in the photos, spilling onto golden sands, just a few steps from the ocean.
So she was shocked when a porter carried her luggage to the hotel across the road instead. Despite the website of Holiday Hypermarket (part of the Tui group) describing her hotel as ‘on a beach’ alongside photos of the Hotel Levante, she had in fact been booked into the sister property, Levante Park.
Linda told Which?: “Surely that’s false advertising. I was in sheer disbelief that I wasn’t staying in the hotel pictured!”
Several Tripadvisor reviews prove Linda isn’t the first guest to feel this way. Tui refunded Linda and her partner £50 each and the online description was changed to ‘two-minute walk to a beach’.
However, when Which? checked, photos of the beachfront hotel were still being used for promotion and Holiday Hypermarket was again claiming the hotel was ‘on a beach’.
The hotel’s marketing potentially breaks regulation 5 of consumer protection law: a misleading action, which could cause the average consumer to make a transactional decision they wouldn’t have otherwise taken.
Which? has contacted the Advertising Standards Agency, and if the complaint is upheld the operator will have to change its marketing.
Robert Thompson couldn’t wait for a week of indulgence lazing by the water’s edge when he booked the Hotel Castello di Rodi in Rhodes with Tui.
But when he turned up, what he found was overgrown trees, cracked tiles by the pool and sunloungers so rusty they were ready for the scrap heap.
It was little better inside the hotel. The lobby’s brown leather armchairs, which had looked so classy online, were haemorrhaging their stuffing.
“The whole place was tatty, tired and dingy,” he told the consumer champion. “I couldn’t believe it when the door handle to the balcony fell off in my hand. It was almost farcical!”
Mr Thompson was given a £500 voucher in compensation after a lengthy complaints process via Abta (the Association of British Travel Agents)
Robert isn’t the only one: the internet is littered with disgruntled holidaymakers who were duped into booking what they thought would be a paradise getaway just to find that the reality is far-flung from the glossy brochures.
Which? was also contacted by Mr Heath who had booked to stay in the five-star Movenpick on Dubai’s exclusive Jumeirah Beach. But when he headed for his sun lounger, instead of swaying palm trees he found a “crane swinging right over the pool”.
Extensive construction works meant his stay was ‘very noisy with banging, hammering, drilling and shouting’.
He booked through Travel Republic, which rejected his compensation claim. It told Which? it had warned Mr Heath about ‘enhancement works at the hotel’ during the booking process.
Mr Heath says he didn’t see this warning. Subsequent checks by a Which? researcher found it in small print at the foot of the payment page.
Francesca Brown couldn’t wait for a soak in her Hoseasons ‘VIP’ cottage hot tub on the Isle of Wight.
The image promised a warming dip in a pretty garden of a clapboard house. But what she found when she checked in was a mound of gravel surrounded by overgrown weeds, tree roots and discarded cigarette butts. “It looked more like a prison yard than a premium cottage,” Ms Brown told Which? researchers.
Ms Brown secured an £86 payout, but that was only equal to 15 per cent of the cost of the holiday.
Which? believes that hotels and booking sites need to act more responsibly when advertising their properties and present the reality rather than the fantasy.
That’s why it will be reporting some of these cases to the ASA and encouraging it to take appropriate action where consumers are being misled.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor said:
“While there are some telltale signs to look out for before you book, no one is immune to falling for an idyllic set of promo photos.
“Hotels and booking sites should not be misleading holidaymakers with promises they can’t keep. If your hotel is a far cry from what you were expecting you do have rights to be moved or to a refund, so don’t be afraid to use them.”
Notes to Editors:
Top tips on how to claim if your holiday accommodation is not as promised
If your holiday is not as it was pictured when you booked, complain to a manager or rep straight away. Not only does this give them an opportunity to address the issue, but it also helps you make a better case if you’re still dissatisfied.
Keep a diary of events and collect photo or video evidence, while pocketing receipts for any extra expenses you incur.
If the issue isn’t resolved, write to your hotel or travel agent when you get home – enclosing copies of your evidence (keep originals).
If you’re still unhappy, approach any relevant trade body (like Abta) or – if all else fails – the small claims court.
For more advice which.co.uk/hotelclaim.
Rights of reply
When Which? presented the photos of Robert Thompson’s holiday to Tui, a spokesperson for the company told said that it ‘takes all customer feedback seriously’ and that it’s ‘reviewing the content on its website for this hotel to look at any possible improvements.’
In response, Hoseasons told Which?: ‘The images of the site are representative of the customer experience, although in some cases we recognise there are variations in the outdoor space. We are reviewing the current pictures to ensure they give a clear overview of the site and will be removing any we believe don’t meet our guidelines.’
Images of the Brown’s Isle of Wight hot tub (more pictures available on request)