ASA rules On the Beach ad to be misleading
A website for an online travel agent On The Beach, www.onthebeach.co.uk, seen on 16 December 2016, promoted an apartment called Laguna Park 2. The page was headed “Laguna Park 2” and beside the text, three gold stars were shown. At the bottom of the page text stated “Official rating 2 star”.
The complainant, who had booked a holiday at the apartment, challenged whether the three-star rating was misleading.
On The Beach Ltd said that apartment complexes in Spain such as the Laguna Park 2 were often run as hotels as they provided similar services. However, they were ranked in “keys”, not stars, with the highest rating being “3 key”. They said that in order to provide a level playing field with hotels that used a star ratings system, it was common practice to allocate an equivalent rating for apartments. They stated that the key rankings were usually translated as: one key being equivalent to two star, two key equivalent to three star and three key equivalent to four star. They said that this was the case across many travel websites.
On The Beach said they were willing to amend the ad by adding the text “official rating 2 key which is equivalent to a 3 star” and adding a label next to the three gold stars which stated “Our rating”.
The complaint was upheld. The ASA accepted that it was common practice across the industry for travel agents to use their own rating system for accommodation.
They considered that consumers would understand that travel agents used their own rating system, but that they would also understand that accommodation generally had an official rating determined by the appropriate authority in the territory the accommodation was located. The guidance issued on the ABTA website was that consumers must satisfy themselves that the accommodation had the facilities they were looking for because star ratings differed across the industry.
They understood that the official rating for accommodation was usually communicated using star symbols and therefore unless the ad made clear that the travel agent was using their own rating, consumers were likely to expect the star rating to be the official rating. They acknowledged that text at the bottom of the page stated “official rating 2 star”. However, they noted that the text lacked prominence and, nevertheless, they considered that the qualification contradicted, rather than clarified the more prominent three star rating.
While they welcomed On The Beach’s willingness to amend the ad, because at the time of the complaint it did not make clear that they were using their own rating system as opposed to the official star rating, the ASA concluded that the ad was misleading.
(Source: ASA, 26 April, 2017)