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Published on: 9 January 2024

Price deception by travel providers

The Consumentenbond does not have to rectify a publication about misleading consumers by travel providers. D-reizen and Prijsvrij claimed rectification of the articles published earlier this spring by the Consumers’ Association via summary proceedings before the court in The Hague, among other things, but the court rejected this claim.

What are the relevant facts of the case?

D-reizen and Prijsvrij are professional travel service providers. They offer holiday trips for individuals. The Consumers’ Association is engaged in consumer advocacy and information regarding product choice and services through research, information and advice. They conducted a survey of 12 online travel providers in February 2023 to determine whether an offered trip could actually be booked for the price stated in the advertisement. The companies investigated included D-reizen and Prijsvrij. The survey revealed that at these travel providers, not a single trip was available at the price mentioned in the advertisement. Moreover, in the immediate vicinity of the travel offer, the compulsory tourist tax and SGR and Calamity Fund contributions were missing. Also, in most of the travel offers, the ‘bare’ travel price increased during booking. The Consumers’ Association subsequently published the research result under the headline ‘Large-scale price deception by travel providers’.

Balancing social interests

Both parties invoked the Supreme Court’s 1987[1] Consumentenbond/Westerkamp ruling[1]. In it, the Supreme Court stated, inter alia, the following. When assessing the lawfulness of a comparative product survey and the publication thereof by an institution such as the Consumers’ Association, it is in principle a matter of weighing up two important social interests. These interests are, on the one hand, providing the public with an expert opinion. On the other hand, protecting the commercial interest of the company offering the products or services. This means that the research conducted must be careful, but at the same time the researcher is free to make his own choices in the comparison. However, these choices must be reasonable and must not be careless. The court concludes that a comparative examination that meets reasonable criteria is generally not contrary to the interests of interested parties.

Correction of incorrect statements and unsound research

The travel providers D-reizen and Prijsvrij claimed, inter alia, that the Consumers’ Association should be ordered to rectify the following statement. The statement: ‘that Prijsvrij and D-reizen did not comply with the rules regarding travel offers and were therefore guilty and/or guilty of (large-scale) price deception‘. According to the travel providers, the Consumers’ Association’s investigation was flawed. They argue that the current price of a trip depends on the availability of flights. And that this results in higher or lower prices. The travel providers had already announced that they would soon implement the missing information on tourist tax, SGR and the Calamity Fund.

Rectification not an issue

The court ruled that the Consumers’ Association, as a consumer organisation, has the right to investigate whether trips could actually be booked at the prices offered and to publish the results. Their sample of 12 online travel providers showed that many trips could not be booked at the advertised price. The Consumers’ Association’s characterisation as “large-scale price deception” is a value judgment based on the survey conducted among these providers, the court said. Therefore, rectification is not an issue. According to the court, the Consumers’ Association’s investigation meets the required standard of care. The general interest in disclosing the abuse exposed by the Consumers’ Association outweighs the interests of D-reizen and Prijsvrij in this case.

End of price deception

Since spring this year, the Consumer & Market Authority (ACM) has been keeping a close eye on the travel industry. In August 2023, the regulator sent a letter to 11 of the 12 largest travel providers. The letter stated that these companies were not complying with rules on price disclosure. And that the ACM plans to take enforcement action.

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[1] HR 9 October 1987, ECLI:NL:PHR:1987:AC1068.

Articles by Bert Gravendeel

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