ASA Adjudication on Virgin Holidays Ltd
Virgin Holidays Ltd
10 August 2011
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
A brochure, for Virgin Holidays promoting Sandals Resorts, in 2011 featured an opening statement from Richard Branson stating "... Take your pick from the best the Caribbean has to offer with Sandals Luxury Included® Resorts ... Everything you could imagine is included and there are no hidden extras and no tipping, just the finest gourmet dining, impeccable service and a big choice of rooms and suites that will suit all tastes and occasions ... At Virgin Holidays, we're committed to giving you great service so go ahead ‘Ask for the World’. When it comes to service, and we're talking Rockstar Service here, I wouldn't ask for anything less ...".
On page 5 of the brochure, a section on Premium Economy flight upgrades stated "Choose from a dedicated menu and your meal will be served on china dinnerware with accompanying stainless steel cutlery ... ".
Page 8 was headed "Luxury Included®" and stated "Luxury Included® is the embodiment of unrivalled, vibrantly unique hotels that are only Sandals resorts. Inspirational beachfront locations, exemplary standards of service, exceptional cuisine choices, and accommodation that is truly world class ... ".
Page 10 was headed "Sumptuous Suites" and stated "SANDALS RESORTS are renowned for the world's most exquisite suites, tastefully complimented by elegant décor and refined furnishings ... ".
The complainant, who booked a holiday at a Sandals resort through Virgin Holidays, challenged whether:
1. the claim "Luxury Included®" was misleading, because his experience did not reflect this;
2. the claims "Sumptuous Suites" and "SANDALS RESORTS are renowned for the world's most exquisite suites, tastefully complemented by elegant décor and refined furnishings" were misleading, because his bedroom suite did not reflect this;
3. the claim, regarding the Premium Economy flight, "Choose from a dedicated menu and your meal will be served on china dinnerware with accompanying stainless steel cutlery" was misleading, because he was served a cheese and egg roll in foil during the flight.
1. Unique Vacations (UK) Ltd (Unique Vacations), who replied on behalf of Virgin Holidays Ltd (Virgin), explained that rooms at their Sandals resorts were sold as part of a Regulated Package Holiday by tour operators such as Virgin because they were not ATOL licensed and therefore could not sell the flight component of the holiday.
They explained that the aim of the "Luxury Included" strap-line was to position themselves as a premium, all-inclusive holiday provider. They pointed out that the term was a registered trademark and they referred to several other holiday companies who were using the term "luxury" in their strap-lines. They said it was commonly accepted in the travel industry that the term "luxury" was not objectively defined and was used to describe the overall holiday experience rather than just the fixtures and fittings in hotel accommodation. They said that page 7 of the brochure explained that Sandals resorts were more than just all-inclusive resorts and defined the "Luxury Included" inclusions. These were, for example, up to 11 gourmet a la carte restaurants per resort, unlimited premium brand alcoholic drinks, all water sports including unlimited scuba diving for certified divers, locations on some of the world's most stunning beaches, private off-shore islands in certain locations, private pools and private gardens (in selected suites), indoor/outdoor jacuzzi tubs, plasma TVs, a personal butler service in selected suites (certified by the Guild of Professional English Butlers), championship golf courses at selected resorts, Har Tru tennis courts, fitness centres, various land sports, yoga, spa treatments and services. They maintained that many of these services and facilities were either not offered by their competitors, or were offered but on a more limited scale.
Unique Vacations said that in addition to these facilities and services, which could be objectively evidenced, they offered exemplary standards of service with highly trained staff and staff to guest ratios which were among the best in the Caribbean. They said they had won numerous industry-recognised awards over the years, including World Travel Awards, Thomas Cook Awards, Travelife Awards and Condé Nest Awards. Several such awards were won by the resort the complainant had stayed at. They provided a copy of a customer satisfaction survey for the complainant's resort which had a cumulative satisfaction score of 96%. They pointed out that Sandals resorts had a loyalty programme boasting over 22,000 members in the UK and a return guest ratio rate of over 60%.
Unique Vacations provided photographic evidence of the facilities and features at the complainant's resort as well as a promotional DVD of the resort.
2. Unique Vacations said that each category of suite at Sandals was different, with its own unique character designed to suit the individual. They explained that some of the more exclusive suites had private pools, butler service, swim-up lagoon access, stunning views, beach-front locations and lush private gardens.
They provided an inventory for the complainant's bedroom suite listing its facilities and fixtures and photographs of the same. These included a mahogany four-poster king-size bed, a separate living room, a marble bath, whirlpool, flat screen 42 inch TVs in the bedroom and living room, iPod dock, room service and butler service. They said that the complainant's issues with the suite related to cleaning and maintenance and they provided evidence to show that the suite was cleaned regularly and monitored for any maintenance issues that needed rectifying. They explained that the complainant was upgraded to a more expensive suite on the third day of his 14-day holiday as a gesture of goodwill, and that the complainant was satisfied with that suite.
3. Virgin did not believe the claim "Choose from a dedicated menu and your meal will be served on china dinnerware with accompanying stainless steel cutlery" was inaccurate or misleading. They explained that the "dedicated menu" was the main meal service and was either lunch or dinner, which generally consisted of a starter, main course and dessert. They said that the "dedicated menu" meal was served on china dinnerware. They explained that the cheese and egg roll served to the complainant was not part of the choice from the "dedicated menu" and was merely a breakfast snack which was served in addition to the "dedicated menu" meal, and the complainant would have known this.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted that the term "luxury" was widely used in the travel industry and was not objectively defined. We considered that interpretation of the term was relative and depended on the expectations and standards of the individual. We noted that Virgin were not the only holiday company to use "luxury" within their strap-line and that "Luxury Included" referred to the overall holiday experience. We also noted that Virgin sought to define the term "Luxury Included" on page 8 of the brochure.
We further noted that the Sandals resorts, including the resort the complainant had stayed at, had been awarded numerous accolades by industry-recognised, independent bodies and that such awards could be used as an external benchmark as to quality and service. We were satisfied that the evidence provided by Virgin indicated a degree of luxury at the Sandals resorts. In particular, we considered that the facilities, amenities and accommodation offered at the resorts were sufficiently high-end to warrant the use of the term "luxury". We noted, for example, that Sandals resorts offered private pools and private gardens, butler service, indoor/outdoor jacuzzi tubs, unlimited scuba diving for certified divers and spa treatments and services. We noted that whilst some of these facilities or services were optional extras which had to be paid for, or depended on the type of accommodation booked, they were, in principle, available to all guests. For these reasons, we concluded that the claim "Luxury Included®" and the description in the brochure of what that represented was not misleading.
2. Not upheld
We noted that the complainant had raised various complaints about his first bedroom suite which related to the operation and cleanliness of the patio and balcony doors, the cleanliness of the air conditioning vent, the general standard of the furniture and poor TV reception. We were satisfied that Virgin had provided sufficient evidence to show that the suite was cleaned regularly, the suite was regularly inspected in case of any maintenance issues, maintenance issues were rectified quickly and the standard of the furniture was high. In relation to the poor TV signal, we understood that each TV set was checked for picture quality, sound, aspect ratio and cleanliness of screens prior to each arrival and the various channels were checked for clarity. Although we noted that Virgin had no control over the external TV signal. We also noted that Virgin offered a range of accommodation to suit different budgets and that the most expensive suites were beach-front villas with their own private pools or jacuzzis, private gardens and butler service. We further noted that the complainant had been upgraded to a more expensive suite as a goodwill gesture by Virgin between three and five days into his 14-day holiday and we understood, from Virgin and the complainant, that he was satisfied with the second suite.
We noted that the fixtures and features of the complainant's first suite exceeded those normally found in an average hotel room. For these reasons, we concluded that the claims "Sumptuous Suites" and "SANDALS RESORTS are renowned for the world's most exquisite suites, tastefully complemented by elegant décor and refined furnishings" were not misleading.
3. Not upheld
We noted that the cheese and egg roll was a breakfast snack and did not form part of the main meal from the "dedicated menu", which was a three-course meal served as lunch or dinner. We considered that because it was served in addition to the main meal and because passengers did not choose it from a menu, it would have been clear to passengers that the cheese and egg roll did not form part of the "dedicated menu" which would be served on china dinnerware. For these reasons, we concluded that the claim "Choose from a dedicated menu and your meal will be served on china dinnerware with accompanying stainless steel cutlery" was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.6 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.