A TV ad for holidays to Barbados showed a man surfing across a wave. A voice-over stated, "Lesson 24, how to ride a wave. Book now at BA.com forward slash Barbados. Seven night holidays including flights from £549 per person with British Airways." On-screen text stated "British Airways BARBADOS 7 night Holidays Accommodation and Flights from £549pp ... Book by 31st January 2012; Terms and Conditions Apply; Based on 2 adults sharing; Selected dates and accommodation". The man was then shown falling into the sea and waving his oar while the voice-over stated, "How to ride a wave ... ask a Bajan." The final shot showed a palm tree and on-screen text stated which stated "BARBADOS www.visitbarbados.co.uk Lessons on the art of fine living".
The complainant, who had been unable to find any holidays at the advertised price on BA's website, challenged their availability.
British Airways Holidays Ltd (BAH), also responding on behalf of the Barbados Tourism Authority, explained that they were a wholly owned subsidiary of British Airways, but were a separate business with their own profit and loss sheet and their own board. They said BAH acted as a tour operator; negotiating flight rates with British Airways Revenue Management, and hotel and car rates with various ground suppliers; then deciding what selling price to offer for the packaged holiday before offering them for sale. BAH said they themselves held the ATOL licence that allowed them to sell such packages.
BAH said when a sale was in progress they and all other tour operators and direct customers sold seats on the same flights and booking rooms in the same hotels thus taking from the same stock of seats or rooms. Although they did not have control of availability, or access to availability data, they conducted audits before the promotion went live and each week during the sale period to ensure that there was sufficient availability at the 'from' price. They said if a holiday failed an audit it was immediately referred to their pricing team for adjustment. They provided a copy of one such audit, availability data for the hotels and flights in question, and a list of booking references of holidays which had been sold at the advertised price of £549. As well as that formal audit, their pricing team did daily manual live checks. On occasions when availability was close to having just ten per cent inventory, they reduced their margin or made adjustments immediately to ensure that they remained compliant and had sufficient inventory at that price.
Clearcast said they had received confirmation that well over ten per cent of the holidays were available at the 'from' price and that there was sufficient capacity to meet demand. They said they had also been told that the inventory would be checked and, if necessary, adjusted regularly to ensure availability.
The ASA noted that the complainant had tried repeatedly to find the holiday at the 'from' price of £549 but had been unsuccessful. Although BAH had provided an audit spreadsheet this did not identify a holiday at the advertised price. Notwithstanding that, we understood that BAH's auditing process involved manual searches of their website to see if holidays could be found at the offer price. Although BAH believed this manual audit demonstrated ten per cent availability for the travel period we considered it merely demonstrated that, from the test bookings made, that ten per cent were available. We did not consider that sufficient and considered, when demonstrating availability, advertisers needed to meet a different criterion: that ten per cent of holidays overall were available at the 'from' price, with that availability spread evenly across the travel period. We therefore did not consider that their manual auditing process would be capable of demonstrating availability.
We noted that BAH had also supplied booking data. However, we did not consider that sold data, which only showed that some customers had been able to book at the offer price, demonstrated that ten per cent of the holidays were available at that price across the travel period. We also noted the flight and hotel capacity documents, but again we did not consider that those documents, which showed only snapshots of availability at given times, demonstrated the spectrum of availability of holidays at the price that had been claimed in the ad.
We were concerned by the complainant's experience and that BAH were not able to demonstrate availability of the holiday at £549. We were also concerned that the ad did not state the travel period for the offer. We therefore considered that the ad exaggerated the availability of the holiday at the advertised price and, because we understood that BAH did not have the means of demonstrating ten per cent availability of that price, the ad should have made clear that availability was extremely limited. Because it did not, we concluded that the ad breached the Code.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 3.18 3.18 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product or service depicted in the advertisement. and 3.24 3.24 Price claims such as "up to" and "from" must not exaggerate the availability or amount of benefits likely to be obtained by consumers. (Prices).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told BAH to ensure that, when advertising holidays at prices that might be limited or unavailable while the ad was still in use, to make clear that such offers were extremely limited. We also told BAH to make clear to which travel periods promotional offers applied.