Canberra man sues travel giant Expedia over misleading and deceptive statements
Advertisement

Canberra man sues travel giant Expedia over misleading and deceptive statements

The ad showed a neat beachfront shack complete with stunning views of pristine white sand, crystal clear waters and palm trees.

But in reality the $300-a-night room offered was dilapidated, run-down and located in the basement.

This was the disappointing experience that led Canberra man Hugh Selby to sue global travel juggernaut Expedia in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal earlier this year.

A photo of the beachside accommodation's view as published on Wotif.

A photo of the beachside accommodation's view as published on Wotif.Credit:Wotif

In a decision published this month in favour of Mr Selby, the tribunal said it was not unreasonable for him to think - based on the website's proclamations that it had "heaps of local knowledge" and that you could "book with confidence" - that he could rely on the information about the accommodation and book his holiday with confidence.

Advertisement

But that proved not to be true, the tribunal said.

"The accommodation was, as a matter of fact, not as described on the website but in a dilapidated and run-down condition, and with no sea views," senior member Jann Lennard said.

The holidaymaker had booked two nights at the Rocky Point Beachfront/Paradise in Haleiwa, Hawaii, in April this year through Wotif, which is owned by Expedia.

But when Mr Selby arrived with his wife to check in, they were greeted with a basement room with no view to the beach and in such poor condition they refused to stay there.

Mr Selby said the kitchen was located outside the room against a deteriorating exterior.

He told The Canberra Times he would have happily paid backpacker's rates for the accommodation back in the 1970s.

Hugh Selby took travel giant Expedia to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal after he relied on their website's claims to book his Hawaiian holiday accommodation.

Hugh Selby took travel giant Expedia to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal after he relied on their website's claims to book his Hawaiian holiday accommodation.Credit:Hugh Selby

"But I'm not 22 and this was not being offered at backpacker's rates," he said.

Mr Selby was not able to reach the owner of the holiday accommodation so he complained to Wotif and demanded a refund of the $628.34 for the two-night stay.

But the company refused, instead offering him a $150 coupon.

There was some back and forth, but he refused the company’s offers none of which met the full price of the accommodation. Mr Selby said that in an effort to speak to someone in Australia about his complaints he walked into Expedia's Sydney offices.

It was here, where he was given the same generic number at which to direct his complaints, that Mr Selby said he became really "pissed off".

He decided to sue Expedia in the tribunal, where he would be protected from having a costs order made against him.

Mr Selby told the tribunal that he had relied on statements and representations published on the Wotif website when he booked the accommodation.

Those statements included "book with confidence" and "stay with peace of mind" published on the opening page.

The website also said it was an "online travel company ... [we] have heaps of local knowledge".

In its defence, the company said it was not liable for the nature of the advertisement or the quality of the accommodation and pointed to exclusion clauses also published on the website. It also argued the statements were just puffery - a sales pitch.

The accommodation's kitchenette was located outside.

The accommodation's kitchenette was located outside.Credit:Hugh Selby

During the hearing, Ms Lennard asked the company’s lawyer whether the phrases were "a marketing ploy. We don't actually expect people to believe the promises that we put there. And they need to accept that they're hyperbole?"

"Yes," came the response from the  lawyer, "with the addition that you know, being puff, it's what does the reasonable consumer take from that.

"A reasonable consumer does think that the website is great, does think that they'll get value for money, does think that the properties will be as described ...

"And as is the reality with anything, there will be a bad experience here and there."

But Ms Lennard found for Mr Selby, and said the company had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.

She also noted that its exclusion clauses were in conflict with the representations made clearly and boldly on the website.

"Businesses cannot rely on small print and disclaimers as an excuse for a misleading overall message," she wrote.

"I reckon I was really lucky," Mr Selby said.

"Because I got an ACAT member who actually knew the ACT consumer law. God bless her I say."

Ms Lennard ordered Expedia pay the man $628.34 in damages plus the cost of the tribunal filing fee and an ASIC search fee for a total of $709.34.

Elliot Williams is a reporter for The Canberra Times

Alexandra Back is a reporter with The Canberra Times

Most Viewed in National

Loading
Advertisement