A website for Alton Towers Theme Park, www.altontowers.com, seen on 3 July 2023, contained a page headed “Rainy Day Guarantee”. Text below the heading stated “If the weather affects ride offering during your visit to Alton Towers Theme Park, you can return for FREE. Pre-booking a reservation ticket is essential”. Under a heading “What happens if it rains at Alton Towers?” text stated “[…] Unfortunately, wet weather conditions can disrupt our rides and attractions. In some cases, we have to close certain rides to preserve the guest experience and until the bad weather passes. We cannot predetermine ride closures, but we will provide real-time updates on the Alton Towers app. If the weather affects the ride offering during your date out at Alton Towers, you can benefit from our Rainy Day Guarantee. This means that guests with qualifying tickets can return to the theme park another day, to enjoy your favourite rides in the sunshine! Qualifying Rainy Day Guarantee tickets: Online 1 day pass, Online 2 day pass (1 day only), Short break 1 day pass, Short break 2 day pass (1 day only) […]”.
Text further down the page stated “[…] 2023 Rainy Day Dates […]” followed by a list of dates in March to July.
At the bottom of the page, text under a heading “Alton Towers Rainy Day Policy Terms & Conditions” stated “If you have a qualifying ticket and if weather affects the ride offering at Alton Towers Resort on the day of your visit to the Theme Park, you will be entitled to return for a FREE visit. This will need to be used within 12 months of your original visit […] Exclusions apply. To be eligible for the Rainy Day Guarantee, you must have purchased your ticket on altontowers.com or altontowersholidays.com, for a specific dated ‘1 Day Pass’ or ‘2 Day Pass’ or hold a valid Merlin Magic pass […]”.
The complainant, who was told that the Rainy Day Guarantee policy did not apply to the day of her visit to Alton Towers even though it rained most of the day and many of the rides were closed, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd t/a Alton Towers Resort explained that their Rainy Day Guarantee was invoked after one hour of continuous rain. Their weather records for the day in question showed there were intermittent light rain showers over a four-hour period and one continuous heavy downpour which lasted for 27 minutes. Their ride system showed they had ‘good’ ride availability for the day in question (93%). In the interests of guest comfort, they paused four rides due to rain: Pinball Wizard from 1.19pm to 1.31pm, Galactica from 1.20pm to 2.10pm, Get Set Go Treetop Adventure from 1.20pm to 1.30pm and TH13TEEN from 1.18pm to 1.58pm. During the day some of the other rides were paused but for reasons unrelated to weather. They were routine pauses as part of their standard day-to-day operations. Three of their rides were closed for extended maintenance/rebuilding work and that was explained on their website.
They explained that their Rainy Day Guarantee was declared by the Park Duty Manager on the day who monitored the weather during adverse conditions. To qualify for the Rainy Day Guarantee, as explained in the Terms and Conditions on their website, a consumer must have purchased their ticket online and directly from Alton Towers Resort. However, they accepted that as the website was currently worded, it did not specify that they activated their Rainy Day Guarantee on the basis of the amount of rain and its direct impact on ride availability. They said they were reviewing their Rainy Day Guarantee and, once finalised, they would review how that is communicated to consumers and guests on their website and other marketing channels.
They also provided some weather data for the date in question.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the claims “If the weather affects ride offering during your visit to Alton Towers Theme Park, you can return for FREE”, “If the weather affects the ride offering during your date out at Alton Towers, you can benefit from our Rainy Day Guarantee. This means that guests with qualifying tickets can return to the theme park another day” and “If you have a qualifying ticket and if weather affects the ride offering at Alton Towers Resort on the day of your visit to the Theme Park, you will be entitled to return for a FREE visit” to mean that with a qualifying ticket (as specified in the ad), if adverse weather during their visit led to closure of one or more rides for any period of time, they would be entitled to a free visit another time.
We understood, however, that the Rainy Day Guarantee was only invoked after one hour of continuous rain and was declared by the Park Duty Manager on the day. We understood that on the day the complainant visited the park, there were only 27 minutes of continuous rain which affected some ride offerings, none of which were closed due to the weather for more than 40 minutes. That day was not therefore declared a “Rainy Day” under the terms of the guarantee. The weather data provided showed how much rain fell during the day and gave an indication of times but did not give precise detail about how much continuous rain there was on the date in question. Notwithstanding that, we considered that the requirement for there to be at least one hour of continuous rain for the guarantee to be invoked was a significant limitation to the guarantee that should have been made clear in the ad. We also considered that the ad omitted information regarding how a “Rainy Day” under the guarantee was declared and for how long rides needed to be out of operation for in order for the guarantee to be invoked, which we considered was material information likely to affect a consumer’s understanding of how the guarantee worked. Because the ad omitted that information, we concluded that it was misleading. We welcomed Alton Towers Resort’s assurance that they were reviewing their advertising in relation to the Rainy Day Guarantee.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification) and 3.54 (Guarantees and after-sales service).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd t/a Alton Towers Resort to ensure their future ads included material information about their guarantees, including any significant limitations to their guarantees.