Press releases

Survey of hotel and B&B websites is good news for tourists

Website descriptions of UK hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs have been found to be generally accurate and truthful in a spot check exercise by Trading Standards Officers.

Some 76 premises in England, Scotland and Wales that advertise online were subject to random visits during September and October to see if their online descriptions matched the reality.

And of the 230 or so specific claims checked, only a handful were found to be remotely misleading or inaccurate - and all of these were of a minor nature that warranted advice but no further action.

The survey was organised by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) as part of National Consumer Week (NCW), which is launched on Monday (12 November).

The week this year focuses on the theme 'Buying from Afar? Know What Your Rights Are!' and particularly aims to raise awareness among consumers of their rights and responsibilities when buying goods and services online or over the phone.

Local authorities in Aberdeenshire, Cardiff, Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Newham, Isle of Wight and West Berkshire took part in the survey.

Richard Webb, e-commerce lead officer for the TSI, said the results had been pleasantly surprising.

'Our expectation had been that we would probably find some websites making unsubstantiated claims.

'However, the reality was remarkably similar to what was described on the individual websites.

'The worst instances we found were not significant enough to warrant further action beyond advising the owner to clarify particular issues or make small changes to ensure visitors were not disappointed.'

Examples included a photo of one B&B which, while accurate, would have led viewers to believe there was easy access to gardens, when they were in fact across a road. Another premises claimed to have 'some' en suite rooms when there was in fact only one en suite.

Said Mr Webb: 'We hope this bodes well for prospective visitors from abroad and from other parts of the UK, who are increasingly turning to the Internet to book accommodation.

'However, we can assure people that we will remain vigilant and will continue to carry out spot check surveys of this kind, while also responding to specific complaints.'

A note of caution was sounded over the use of ratings following a change of ownership or a change in designation. In these circumstances, hoteliers must have their ratings reassessed before they can use them in advertising.

One authority, the Isle of Wight, found two premises which had potentially misleading ratings linked to a recent change in designation from hotels to guesthouses. Both were advised about their responsibilities.

And just last week (Nov 1) two company directors from Weymouth, Dorset, were convicted of making false claims on a website and in brochures about the rating of the hotel they owned, and were together fined a total of £2,000, plus costs and compensation to consumers. (See below for more details)Anyone who believes accommodation details on a website, brochure or advertisement are misleading or inaccurate should contact the telephone and online consumer advice service Consumer Direct, which works in partnership with local authority trading standards services, on 08454 04 05 06.

Jeremy Brinkworth, general manager for quality at VisitBritain - responsible for promoting Britain as a world class tourist destination and for developing Britain's visitor economy - welcomed the survey findings.

'This is proof that the vast majority of accommodation businesses in Britain are doing all they can to meet their customers' expectations. As more and more consumers rely on the web to plan and book our trips, it's vital that they are reassured about the accuracy of information about their accommodation. With today's visitors becoming ever-more discerning with greater expectations from the places they stay, the tourism industry cannot afford to offer poor quality and service if it wants to remain competitive.'

For specific information about local surveys, please call the TSI press office on 0845 608 9430.

NCW 2007 will be launched at the offices of the Office of Fair Trading, Fleetbank House, 2-6 Salisbury Square, London EC4Y 8JX from 10am-noon on Monday November 12. Senior representatives of TSI, Consumer Direct and the OFT will be joined by consumer affairs minister Gareth Thomas and local authority trading standards officers at the event, which will be followed by the TSI media awards presentations. Journalists and broadcasters are welcome to attend - please notify the press office of your requirements.

For more information about NCW generally, including press releases, case studies & interviews, or to discuss your requirements at the launch itself, please contact the TSI press office on 0845 608 9430 or email pressoffice@tsi.org.uk

Ref Weymouth prosecution

On 1 November 2007 at Weymouth Magistrates Court, Charles McLean pleaded guilty to three offences, and Roger Vallier to two offences, under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. The offences all involved false claims made at various points through 2006, that the Victoria Hotel, at The Esplanade, Weymouth, held a 3 diamond rating when this was not the case. It had previously held the rating but, following a change of ownership, the rating was no longer valid. Claims appeared in brochures, on the hotel's website and on booking confirmations sent to customers. Mclean was fined £1,200 and Vallier fined £800. The pair were ordered to pay prosecution costs of £657 and compensation claims to three consumers totalling £270. They were directors of Vallean Limited which operated the Victoria Hotel until January 2007. The offences came to light following complaints to trading standards.

National Consumer Week

This is the 17th annual National Consumer Week organised by the Trading Standards Institute and for the third year in association with Consumer Direct, the government-funded consumer advice telephone and online service that works in partnership with local authority trading standards services.

National Consumer Week is a platform to raise awareness about specific consumer issues and particularly to highlight new developments in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace. It profiles the work of and is supported by local authority trading standards services across the UK.

About VisitBritain

VisitBritain is responsible for promoting Britain as a world class tourist destination and for developing England's visitor economy. It has representatives in 36 countries around the world.

VisitBritain - along with VisitScotland, Visit Wales and the AA - has created national quality assessment schemes and new common standards to ensure that wherever they stay in Britain, visitors can enjoy a quality experience that meets their expectations. Additionally it only markets quality assessed accommodation to consumers - every accommodation provider listed on its websites Enjoy England or Visit Britainhas been officially checked out before its guests begin checking in.

In 2006, there were 32.7 million visits to Britain, 9% up on 2005. They spent over £16 billion in the UK, a 12% increase on 2005. Globally, the UK retains 6th place in visitor arrivals, slipping one place to 6th in spend.

An archive of media releases, information on VisitBritain's marketing activities, free-to download images and more details about the work of VisitBritain in promoting Britain as a destination can be found on VisitBritain's online press centre, Visit Britain Press

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.

Consumer Direct - 08454 04 05 06

Consumer Direct is a Government-funded telephone and online consumer advice service that works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards Services.

It provides clear, practical and impartial advice and information to help consumers resolve problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods and services. Consumer Direct is available from 0800-1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday, excluding bank and public holidays.

Calls cost a maximum of 4p per minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles or other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. The advice and information given is free.