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Sunday, 14 April, 2002, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Consumers 'seduced' by discounts
Family on holiday
People are confused by discounts, says report
Tour operators are seducing consumers with big discounts that often turn out to be misleading and bad value, according to a new survey.

The current situation is totally unacceptable

Bruce Treloar, Trading Standards Institute

In its fourth annual survey, travel agent Travelcare said that while tour operators were keen to offer discounts, the practice was complex and difficult for consumers to understand and determine the real value of a holiday.

Travelcare, part of the Co-operative Group, and the Institute of Trading Standards, have now joined forces to call for more information to be given to holidaymakers.

Finding the best deal for a holiday can be more difficult than you think, the survey found.

In search of the ideal break

There can be wide variations in prices for holidays, even if they fly from the same airport and offer the same accommodation.

There is also no standardised ratings system which can help consumers compare the quality of accommodation and costs, the report said.

Travelcare's survey findings include:

  • A holiday to Lanzarote was discounted at 30%, but this was still more than 70 expensive than an undiscounted alternative offered by a competitor.

  • A Menorcan holiday, departing from the same airport on the same date to the same hotel, varied in price by more than 500 among three different companies.

  • Travelcare also found that prices were often increased between the first and subsequent editions of a holiday company's brochure.

    For example, one holiday to the Don Pancho Hotel in Benidorm for 7 nights from Luton increased in price by 100 between brochure editions.

    In the brochure's third edition, published in the busy January sales period, there was a 164 discount. But because the brochure price had increased, it was 3 more expensive than the earlier edition.

  • There were wide variations in how individual holiday companies grade hotels against official ratings, with five tour operators - including Cosmos, Airtours, Thomson, JMC, and First Choice, giving higher ratings than the country's local standard.

Further research by Travelcare showed that people are very confused by the current system of discounts.

The Association of British Travel Agents, an industry body, defended the price discounts offered by tour operators.

It said that it was understandable that prices changed between brochures because supply and demand changed.

Frances Tuke, a spokesman, also said that people were wise to the practice of discounting.

Top six causes of complaints
Standard of Accommodation 38%
Building Work 7%
Overseas Representatives 6%
Accommodation Change 5%
Flight Change 5%
Car Hire 3%

"I think people go into buying a holiday with a certain amount of money in their pocket, when it comes to buy a holiday like for like, they are aware they will probably end up paying the same amount for a holiday whether it is discounted or a not.

"They are savvy about it. It is a very competitive market out there."

But Travelcare and the Trading Standards Institute are urging consumers to be sceptical about holiday prices.

They say that consumers must scrutinise and compare prices carefully before purchasing a holiday.

Amanda Williams, head of sales at Travelcare, said: "Consumers trying to find a good holiday deal have never had it so bad."

"Our research shows that many are confused by discounts and what's more the latest industry figures show they are being given less choice than ever before by big travel agents."

Bruce Treloar of the Institute of Trading Standards, which released its own report in discount prices in March, said that consumers were being disadvantaged by "the smoke and mirrors which surround holiday prices".

"The current situation is totally unacceptable," he said.

Ongoing gripes

The annual travel survey also found that there was a drop in complaints against holiday representatives, but for the fourth year running, the standard of accommodation remains the number one cause for complaint.

There were also complaints against aeroplane delays, with 98% of those surveyed said that they were not compensated for a delay and in about two-thirds of cases, free refreshments were not provided.

Travelcare is the fifth largest retailer of package holidays in the UK, and said it had reduced its complaints by 14% during the summer 2001 season.

The report was audited by The National Centre for Business and Sustainability (NCBS), a consultancy based at the University of Salford.

Frances Tuke, Association of British Travel Agents
"People are not being ripped off"
See also:

07 Mar 02 | Business
Travel brochures 'mislead' consumers
18 Sep 01 | Business
What now for tourism?
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