November 14, 2017
Vacation is the time of the year which people tirelessly plan to ensure that their vacation takes place without any hassle. Planning in advance not only provides peace of mind, but also saves money, making it a lot easier to enjoy.
Undoubtedly, Fiji is a tourist destination and with a plethora of accommodation, tourists have innumerable options to choose from. One growing form of securing accommodation in Fiji is also through the Airbnb website.
Travellers generally choose Airbnb because it is affordable and convenient when planning vacations. People who have premises to rent can advertise through the Airbnb website and start earning additional income. Property owners are required to place pictures of the accommodation with clear description to give their potential customers a true image of the premises.
According to Airbnb, they provide “a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world ….”
Further, the Airbnb website has its own terms and conditions and cancellation policies for the benefit of both the travelers and the property owners, which if clearly read and understood, will safeguard travelers.
Unfortunately, some property owners tend to mislead travelers when they advertise their premises.
One such case was handled by the Council recently.
Susan was misled into paying for a house, which was far from the description advertised on the website.
Susan who resides in Australia was looking for a mid-year holiday destination in Fiji for her family. While browsing through the Airbnb website, she saw an advertisement which caught her attention. The advertisement depicted a recently renovated 4 bedroom self-contained house with a stunning view of the sea, white sand and coconut palms in Coral Coast, Sigatoka. Immediately,
Susan booked the house for 21 days. She paid more than FJD$2,500 (AUD$1,600) into the owners account and a further FJD$240 (AUD$150) as bond.
The complainant was anticipating the house to be as luxurious as a hotel villa based on what was provided on the website. Unfortunately, her expectation quickly turned into an ugly reality when she entered the house. The advertisement stated that it was “Recently renovated 4 bedroom boasts a luxurious stay at the laid back region of the coral coast, surrounded by sea and white sand and coconut palms.”
The whole house was dirty and the sink in one of the bathrooms gave really bad odour. There was no electricity in one of the bedrooms. The air-conditioning unit in the main bedroom was faulty and the remote had no batteries for the second unit in the lounge, pillows were without covers, unclean beddings, tea towels and bathroom towels, no hot water in the kitchen or bathroom, insufficient crockery or cutlery and the main bedroom door could not close properly. The beach was also far away from this house.
After finding the house well below the description in the advertisement, Susan emailed the property owner the very next morning stating that she would not be staying on the premises anymore.
Instead of providing solutions to the problem, the property owner reminded Susan of the strict cancellation policy on the Airbnb website which stated “50% Refund up until 1 week prior to arrival, except fees”.
However, during the process of making payment she was provided with a flexible cancellation policy which stated “Full Refund 1 day prior to arrival, except fees”.
Since the property owner refused to provide refund at that point in time, Susan and her family decided to vacate the property a week earlier. After vacating the premises, Susan immediately sought the Council’s assistance to get the refund of the bond and one week’s accommodation charges, which she paid in Australia.
Based on the facts, the Council contacted the property owner informing him that the case is of misleading advertisement and it would be in their best interest to provide a refund. The property owner refused to provide refund stating that the matter was out of Fiji’s jurisdiction and the Council should not intervene.
The Council then informed him that the matter is within Fiji’s jurisdiction and the property in question was not registered for commercial purpose. This case dragged for almost a year and with great difficulty the Council managed to get a refund of FJD$1,400 (AUD$916) for Susan.
In light of the above, the Council advises property owners not to engage in homestay business, unless it meets the requirements of Fiji Revenue and Custom Services. They should not engage in misleading advertisement to entice unsuspecting travelers