An international investigation has revealed that over 40 per cent of UK-based travel websites contain potentially misleading information.
According to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), 54 of the 135 UK sites investigated could be in breach of Control of Misleading Advertising regulations.
The watchdog said that more than 100 potential breaches of consumer legislation were identified.
The OFT and 55 local trading standards authorities took part in a co-ordinated International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network sweep which involved over 1,000 websites in 24 countries.
UK-based sites identified as making potentially deceptive, misleading or false claims (and/or which have breached other consumer laws) are being pursued either by local trading standards or the OFT with a view to taking further action.
"Our focus in this investigation is on the Misleading Advertising regulations. But if there are breaches with other regulations we have powers to challenge these companies," an OFT spokeswoman told vnunet.com.
Claims currently being investigated include:
- 'Hot deals' on a front page which bear no resemblance to the prices of the holidays actually available on the website.
- An advertisement stating 'Australia from £599' when the cheapest price was £891.60.
- An offer of seven nights in Austria in March for £99, when the cheapest price was £259.
- A claim of 'up to 70 per cent discount off worldwide hotel rooms' with no further mention of any savings or discounted deals.
- A special offer of accommodation at £64 per person per night (pppn) with certain conditions, when it couldn't be booked for less than £128 pppn.
Initially the OFT will contact the companies informally and tell them that they are breaking the law.
If a company persists in breaching regulations the OFT or trading standards can apply to the High Court for an injunction.
"Ignoring a court injunction is contempt of court and could result in a fine or imprisonment," said the OFT.
A spokesman for travel watchdog ABTA insisted that it was not aware of any of its members being involved in doubtful practices.
"All our members are endorsed by the government's Trust UK kitemark scheme which is a sign that a website is run reputably and information contained on the site is accurate," he said.
"If the OFT is aware of any ABTA member breaking the rules it should send us details and we will take action. But I think many cases involve website details not being updated quickly enough."
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