A website for sunshine.co.uk, www.sunshine.co.uk, seen in February 2017, included text on a web page promoting the Grande Villas Resort which included information about the hotel. Under the heading “Special Information”, text stated “Please note: Hotel prices may not include city/room taxes set by local authorities. These taxes may vary according to the city and hotel category. These taxes are payable directly to the hotel”. On a subsequent web page, text stated “Total Price. £983.40” alongside a link to “Pay full amount £983.40”. On a separate web page, text stated “The Govt. of Florida charges a sustainable tourism tax on all overnight stays in the state. The tax is usually 6% of the room rate per room”.
The complainant, who believed the ad did not make sufficiently clear that they had to pay an additional tourism tax and resort fee, challenged whether the price claims were misleading.
Sunshine.co.uk believed the website made clear that the hotel price shown to the customer did not include the resort fee or taxes with the claims “please note a resort fee may be payable” and “Please note: Hotel prices may not include city/room taxes set by local authorities”. They said that the tourist tax was not made to Sunshine.co.uk and was instead set by the local government. They said that was backed up in their terms and conditions, which the customer was directed to read and agree to before confirming their booking.
Sunshine.co.uk said their customers were able to book up to 18 months in advance at times, meaning that the tourist tax was subject to change in the intervening period. They said that if they included the specific cost of the tourist tax, they would be responsible for misadvising customers and would have to remedy the situation at a cost to their business. They said that, should the customer want an exact fee, then they could contact them closer to their departure and they could request the accommodation to advise what the charge was so the customers could be aware before they travel.
We considered that consumers would understand from the claims “Total Price. £983.40” and “Pay full amount £983.40” that the total price of the hotel including all fees and costs was £983.40. While we acknowledged that the website included qualifications which stated that there were additional taxes to pay that were payable directly to the hotel, we considered that those qualifications were not prominent and insufficient to counter the overriding impression that the total cost of the hotel was £983.40.
The CAP Code required that quoted prices must include non-optional taxes and fees that applied to all or most buyers. The only exception was when those fees and taxes could not be calculated in advance. We considered that the additional costs were material information that consumers needed in order to make an informed decision about whether to make a booking.
We understood the resort fees and tourist taxes were subject to change and that if a customer booked far in advance the cost could change in the interim, between booking and the date of holiday. However, we considered that those costs at the time of booking could still be calculated in advance. The fact that the fees were subject to change did not preclude the advertiser from presenting the costs at the time the booking was made, and making clear that those fees were subject to change.
Because the ad did not make clear the total price of the hotel including the cost of the additional taxes and fees at the time of booking, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.18 3.18 Quoted prices must include non-optional taxes, duties, fees and charges that apply to all or most buyers. However, VAT-exclusive prices may be given if all those to whom the price claim is clearly addressed pay no VAT or can recover VAT. Such VAT-exclusive prices must be accompanied by a prominent statement of the amount or rate of VAT payable.
The ads must not appear again in its current form. We told Sunshine.co.uk to ensure they made clear the total cost of the booking including the resort fee and tourist tax.