Dodgy hotel bust by trading standards
An Aberystwyth hotelier has pleaded guilty to twelve offences relating to unfair commercial practices in a case taken to court by Ceredigion County Council’s Trading Standards Section.
Emyr Davies, proprietor of Ty Belgrave House, the Four Seasons and the Queensbridge Hotels pleaded guilty to a range of offences including the persistent misuse of Visit Wales star gradings on his premises and websites, misdescribing one of his hotels as refurbished when it was not, and repeatedly accepting bookings for the Four Seasons Hotel when the establishment was full and he was unable to accommodate guests.
Eight of the offences related to complaints where customers had booked into the ‘four star’ Four Seasons Hotel but on arrival were sent to lower grade accommodation in other establishments owned by Mr Davies or even to rooms in his own home.
The Chairman of the Bench stated during his summing up how these were very serious offences and had degraded the tourist industry in this area. He went on to say how others rely on this system of grading and that Mr Davies had let down his guests very badly indeed.
Mr Davies was sentenced to pay a fine of £8400 and ordered to pay investigation and legal costs of £3000 to Ceredigion County Council. Compensation orders to the value of £550 were also made in favour of four of the witnesses who were misled about bookings, making a total amount of fines, costs and compensation of £11,965. Mr Davies’ application for his costs to be paid was disallowed and it was agreed that he will pay the sum in instalments of £1000 over the next twelve months.
Cllr Dafydd Edwards, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Environment, Regulation and Planning said: “Ceredigion County Council aims to support local businesses and encourage growth, but in this case we have unfortunately had to take enforcement action against Mr Davies after he repeatedly ignored the advice of our officers and continued to act in contravention of consumer protection legislation.
"Not only have we worked to protect consumers and visitors to Ceredigion, we have acted to stop the unfair advantage that Mr Davies attempted to create for himself by misleading customers about his facilities.”
Inspections earlier this year by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's Trading Standards officers show that half the hotels visited are using photographs and descriptions online that do not match up to what the officer saw on his visit.
Misdescriptions included statements about lifts going to all floors when they don't, flat screen TVs that don't exist in all rooms, exclusive hotel-branded toiletries that were not available and photos of rooms described as 'immaculate' or 'beautifully appointed' which, in reality, only applied to two rooms whilst the others were shabby and in need of renovation.
Other issues included unclear credit card surcharges, confusing cancellation policies and hotel websites that give no details of business ownership and other basic information that customers should be able to see.
Officers also found two online booking agents that act for many of the budget hotels in the area, claiming to be linked to London 2012 and using London 2012-related logos without the authorisation of The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited (LOCOG). Some hotels were also using LOCOG's logos and wording that may make people think they are associated in some way with the London 2012 Games when they are not. These logos and such wording have since been removed.
The Trading Standards Institute expressed concerns about misleading hotel descriptions and star rating during its Good Sports Don't Fake It campaign in November 2011.
TSI's chief executive Ron Gainsford said: "Trading standards are working hard with other authorities to stop rogues ruining our enjoyment and hurting honest business.
“There are plenty of very good hotels, hostels and b&b’s available, but we have a real concern that terrible accommodation could tarnish the image for all and leave a bitter taste in the mouth of many Olympic visitors.
"We want consumers to be aware of fake accommodation websites and misleading descriptions with self assessed star ratings – what seemed a great deal will turn to disappointment when it turns out the accommodation is substandard or worse doesn’t exist.
“Check, double check and check again before you book to be sure the accommodation exists and genuinely has the star rating that it claims."