An email from Park Plaza Hotels Europe BV, received on 20 October 2016, stated “BLACK FRIDAY ARRIVED EARLY LONDON £119…Enjoy Black Friday one week early with our exclusive offer…£119 for all our London hotels. Book before 23.59pm (CET) Tuesday 22 November 2016 on parkplaza.com for stays between 18 November 2016 and 15 April 2017”.
Two complainants, who were unable to find any rooms available for £119, challenged whether the ad was misleading and could be substantiated.
Park Plaza Hotels Europe BV stated that the customers in their database received a newsletter containing details of the promotion and the footer of the newsletter referenced that terms and conditions would apply. They stated that when customers clicked through the newsletter they were directed to the booking landing page which outlined all applicable terms and conditions including the offer being subject to availability and the dates that were excluded from the deal (referred to in the terms and conditions as ‘blackout’ dates).
They stated that it was customary in the travel industry to offer the lowest category of rooms as customers were usually aware that if they desired a suite, a premium charge would apply. They explained that usually their promotions were bookable for several weeks and were promoted through similar email newsletter campaigns. They stated that Park Plaza had made ample rooms available at the promotional rate across its London hotels. However, the interest for the promotion was overwhelming compared to other newsletters. They said that in this instance the promotion was available for a short period of time and generated nearly 1,000 room-nights, compared to only 30 room-nights a month earlier, for a similar promotion. They said that the email promotion generated more than three times the number of room-nights than during the entire month of October by various newsletters. Also, during the promotional period they had accepted bookings at the promotional rate on 84% of days within the promotional period.
They stated that they believed they had made sufficient room availability for the promotion, but as the uptake significantly outperformed other campaigns they may have had to disappoint customers.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the promotion to mean that they would be able to book a room at a Park Plaza hotel in London at the price of £119 for stays between the 18 November 2016 and 15 April 2017, if they booked before midnight on 22 November 2016. In the absence of qualifying text, we considered that they would understand the promotional price to apply to all rooms, standard or otherwise.
We noted that Park Plaza Hotels had not provided sufficient detail to demonstrate how they had estimated the likely demand for the offer or how many rooms were available at the promotional price.
We acknowledged that Park Plaza Hotels had stated that the offer was “subject to availability”, which was displayed on their click-through terms and conditions. However, we did not consider that this negated the requirement for sufficient information regarding availability to be provided. We were concerned that the information appeared on a separate page and was therefore not sufficiently prominent. We considered that where hotels or dates had, or were likely to have, very limited availability under the promotion, that information would affect a consumer's decision to participate and should, therefore, be made clear in the main body of the ad.
Because Park Plaza Hotels had not demonstrated that they had made a reasonable estimate of the likely response and had not included sufficient information about the likely room availability at the promotional price, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are 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), 8.9 8.9 Phrases such as “subject to availability” do not relieve promoters of their obligation to do everything reasonable to avoid disappointing participants. and 8.10 8.10 Promoters must be able to demonstrate that they have made a reasonable estimate of the likely response and either that they were capable of meeting that response or that consumers had sufficient information, presented clearly and in a timely fashion, to make an informed decision on whether or not to participate - for example regarding any limitation on availability and the likely demand. (Promotional marketing - Availability).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Park Plaza Hotels Europe BV to ensure that that they made a reasonable estimate of likely response to their promotions and included sufficient information regarding likely availability.