ASA Adjudication on Center Parcs (UK) Ltd
Center Parcs (UK) Ltd
One Edison Rise
25 March 2009
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
A leaflet, handed out to Center Parcs customers at the end of their visit, claimed "Come Back Soon Save up to 25%* ... Book your next break now, whilst you are here or within 28 days of returning home, to take advantage of this exclusive offer". Further text stated "Along with up to 25%* off your next break at any of our four Villages, there are plenty more reasons to book now. For a start, there's a better chance that your preferred accommodation will be available on the dates you want ... Choose an arrival date that suits you from the table opposite. And, don't forget, you need to book now, or within 28 days of returning home ... ". A table, under the text "This exclusive offer ends 28 days after your return home", gave a selection of dates from November 2008 to December 2009. The dates were colour coded to indicate whether a 25%, 20% or 15% discount applied to them. 12 October 2009, and seven other dates, were subject to a 25% discount. Small print at the bottom of the page stated "*TERMS AND CONDITIONS: 1. This offer is only valid on the arrival dates shown in the table above ... 3. In order to qualify you must book during your current stay or within 28 days of your departure from any Center Parcs UK Village ... 5. Availability of this offer is restricted and no guarantee can be given as to the availability of a particular accommodation type or arrival date. 6. This offer can be withdrawn at any time ...".
The complainant thought the leaflet was misleading because, as soon as he returned home from a Center Parcs visit in October 2008, he tried to book a break starting on 12 October 2009 but was told no discount was available at his preferred Village, Whinfell.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
Center Parcs said the "Come Back Soon" promotion and similar incentives had run continuously since 2003. They stated that 9% of all bookings across all four Villages in 2007-2008 were made under that promotion. The leaflet the complainant had seen was released in September 2008 and withdrawn in December 2008.
They explained that, as at 16 December 2008, only five breaks were no longer participating in the promotion because the availability of discounts was exhausted for all accommodation types for those dates at those Villages. One break related to Elveden Village for bookings in January, one to Longleat Village for bookings in February and three to Whinfell Village for bookings in October. They said, for the whole of 2009, only 6% of all accommodation types at all Villages for all available dates were fully subscribed under the promotion and most of those types which were fully subscribed had already been on sale at discount for over nine months.
Center Parcs understood that the complainant had tried to book a break starting on 12 October 2009 at Whinfell Forest. They explained that demand for Whinfell Forest was significantly higher than at the other Villages for that date. The first booking for 12 October 2009 at Whinfell Forest with the 25% discount was made on 23 July 2008 and by 27 October, 66% of all bookings at Whinfell Forest for 12 October 2009 had been with the discount. They said that represented 12% of the entire bookings available for that arrival date and exceeded the anticipated uptake of the promotion.
On 27 October 2008, they made the decision to withdraw the Whinfell Forest break commencing 12 October 2009 from the promotion. Center Parcs said take-up of the promotion was normally 9-10%. They did not withdraw the leaflet from circulation because it covered many different arrival dates throughout 2009 and, at that date, over 95% of all breaks and accommodation types were still available under the offer. They believed the leaflet's terms and conditions made clear that the offer was limited and some accommodation types and dates could sell out. They said the requirement to book within 28 days of returning home was eligibility criteria and not a guarantee that all breaks and types of accommodation would be available for that length of time.
The ASA noted that, of 316 breaks, comprised of 79 available dates at four Villages, discounts were exhausted at only five; we considered that was a small proportion. We understood that, for each break, 10% of the total bookings available would be sold under the promotion if demand required it; we considered that was a reasonable proportion. We also noted the leaflet's terms and conditions stated " ... Availability of this offer is restricted and no guarantee can be given as to the availability of a particular accommodation type or arrival date ...", which prepared consumers for the possibility that certain Village, accommodation type and arrival date combinations might be unavailable.
We noted the decision to withdraw the 12 October 2009 break at Whinfell Forest from the promotion had occurred fewer than 28 days after the complainant received the leaflet, which stated that breaks needed to be booked within 28 days of returning home. However, we acknowledged that, when read in conjunction with the terms and conditions, the claim "This exclusive offer ends 28 days after your return home" was unlikely to be interpreted as suggesting that availability of discounted breaks was guaranteed providing they were booked within 28 days, but would be seen to mean that customers would not be eligible to book a discounted holiday 28 days after their break. We therefore considered that customers might expect certain breaks to have sold out before the 28 day limit. We also noted that when the complainant tried unsuccessfully to book Whinfell Forest, he was told a different Village was available on his preferred arrival date. We also understood that he could have visited Whinfell Forest on a different date and receive the discount.
We understood that five breaks sold out before Center Parcs stopped distributing the leaflet; no discounts were available for any accommodation types at those Villages on those dates. However, given that that was such a small proportion of the total number of breaks and the terms and conditions stated that availability was restricted, we considered it would have been disproportionate and unreasonable to expect Center Parcs to highlight to customers the dates for which discounts were exhausted for some Villages at the time of distributing the leaflet.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 and 7.2 (Truthfulness), 27.4 (Sales promotion rules - Introduction), 30.1 and 30.2 (Sales promotion rules - Availability) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)