Travel and accommodation: an industry guide to the Australian Consumer Law

This guide was developed by:
  • Australian Capital Territory Office of Regulatory Services
  • Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission
  • Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Tasmania
  • Consumer Affairs Victoria
  • New South Wales Fair Trading
  • Northern Territory Consumer Affairs
  • Queensland Office of Fair Trading
  • South Australia Consumer and Business Services
  • Western Australia Department of Commerce, Consumer Protection
Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2013
ISBN 978-0-642-74919-2
This publication is available for your use under a Creative Commons By Attribution 3.0 Australia licence, with the exception of the Australian Consumer Law logo, photographs, images, signatures and where otherwise stated. The full licence terms are available from the Attribution 3.0 Unported licence page on the Creative Commons website.
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Based on the Commonwealth of Australia material
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The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is Australia's national consumer law, replacing previous consumer protection laws in the Commonwealth, states and territories. The ACL applies at the Commonwealth level and in each state and territory.
This guide provides information on the ACL for travel and accommodation businesses.
This guide is relevant to you if your business:
  • provides holiday accommodation
  • provides travel; for example, airlines or coach services
  • provides services related to travel, such as tours and recreational activities
  • markets, sells or takes bookings for any of the above.
It covers key aspects of the law such as refunds and cancellations, focusing on issues where:
  • industry bodies have requested more detailed guidance for business
  • consumers frequently report problems to national, state and territory consumer protection agencies.
  • This guide supplements the ACL guides for business and legal practitioners, available from
  • Consumer guarantees
  • Sales practices
  • A guide to unfair contract terms law
  • Avoiding unfair business practices
  • Compliance and enforcement: how regulators enforce the Australian Consumer Law
  • Product safety.
In addition, guides to unfair contract terms for specific industries can be found on the Australian Consumer Law website.
This guide gives general information and examples – not legal advice or a definitive list of situations where the ACL applies. You should not rely on this guide for complete information on all your obligations under the ACL.
For more information, visit:

State and territory consumer protection agencies


For the purposes of this guide:
A supplier is anyone – including a trader, a retailer or a service provider – who, in trade or commerce, sells, exchanges, leases, hires or provides products or services to a consumer.
Trade or commerce means in the course of a supplier's or manufacturer's business or professional activity, including a not-for-profit business or activity.
A consumer is a person who buys any of the following:
  • any type of products or services costing up
  • to $40,000 (or any other amount set by the ACL in future) – for example, an airfare or hotel accommodation
  • a vehicle or trailer used mainly to transport goods on public roads. The cost of the vehicle or trailer is irrelevant
  • products or services costing more than $40,000, which are normally used for personal, domestic or household purposes – for example, a luxury cruise.
A person is not a consumer if they buy products to:
  • on-sell or resupply
  • use, as part of a business, to:
o       manufacture or produce something else (for example, as an ingredient)
o       repair or otherwise use on other goods or fixtures.
Major failure and minor failure refer to failures to comply with consumer guarantees. The ACL does not use the term "minor"; it only makes reference to a failure that is "major" and "not major". However, throughout this guide the term "minor failure" is used for simplicity and will apply to circumstances where a failure will not be major.
A representation is a statement or claim.

Consumer guarantees on services

Under the ACL, you must meet the consumer guarantees of providing services:
  • with due care and skill
You guarantee to use an acceptable level of skill or technical knowledge when providing the services, and take all necessary care to avoid loss or damage
  • which are fit for any specified purpose
You guarantee that services will be reasonably fit for any purpose specified by the consumer; and any products resulting from the services are also fit for that purpose. You also guarantee that services, and any resulting products, are of a standard expected to achieve the desired results that the consumer made known to you
  • within a reasonable time (when no time is set)
You guarantee to supply the service within a reasonable time. What is "reasonable" will depend on the nature of the services.
The consumer guarantees apply to services sold in trade or commerce, that
  • were purchased on or after 1 January 2011
  • cost up to $40,000 (or any other amount set by the ACL in future), regardless of purpose or use
  • cost more than $40,000, and are normally acquired for personal, domestic or household purposes – for example, a luxury cruise or travel agent services.
Services not covered by consumer guarantees include:
  • services bought before 1 January 2011. These are covered by statutory implied conditions and warranties under the Trade Practices Act 1974 and state and territory legislation in force before 1 January 2011
  • services costing more than $40,000, which are usually for commercial use – for example, chartering a cargo vessel to transport livestock
  • transportation or storage of goods for the consumer's business, trade, profession or occupation.
Consumer guarantees cannot be excluded, even by agreement.
For more information on consumer guarantees applying to services, refer to Consumer guarantees: a guide for business and legal practitioners, available from the Australian Consumer Law website.

Major vs minor failures

When a service fails to meet a consumer guarantee, your obligations depend on whether the failure is major or minor.
A major failure with services is when:
  • a reasonable consumer would not have acquired the services if they had known the nature and extent of the problem. For example, a reasonable consumer would not pay to stay in a holiday rental if they knew it was infested with mice
  • the services are substantially unfit for their normal purpose and cannot easily be made fit, within a reasonable time. For example, a consumer books a holiday at a health resort where the staff are not qualified to provide the health services
  • the consumer told the supplier they wanted the service for a specific purpose but the services, and any resulting product, do not achieve that purpose and cannot easily or within a reasonable time be made to achieve it. For example, a consumer books a premium air ticket with additional leg room, telling the airline they need room to stretch out an injured leg; but their seat does not allow them to do this
  • the consumer told the supplier they wanted a specific result but the services, and any resulting product, do not achieve that result and cannot easily or within a reasonable time be made to achieve it. For example, a consumer books a shuttle bus service to the airport, specifying they want to arrive in time for a particular fight, but the bus is running late and the consumer misses their fight
  • the supply of the services has created an unsafe situation. For example, a family with children books a holiday house where the balcony rails are too low to prevent children falling over.
When there is a major failure, the consumer can:
  • cancel the services and get a refund for any unconsumed services (for example, the unused nights of a hotel stay), or
  • keep the contract and get compensation for the difference in value between the service delivered and what they paid for.
The consumer gets to choose, not the supplier.
The consumer may also seek compensation for any consequential or associated loss or damage resulting from the supplier's failure to meet the consumer guarantees. The loss or damage must have been reasonably foreseeable and not caused by something outside human control, such as a cyclone.
When the problem is minor, the consumer cannot cancel the service and demand a refund immediately. They must give you, the supplier, an opportunity to fix the problem:
  • free of charge, and
  • within a reasonable time.
If you refuse or take too long to fix the problem, the consumer can get someone else to fix the problem and ask you to pay reasonable costs they incurred in getting someone else to fix the problem, or cancel the service and get a refund.
A family books hotel accommodation, specifying they need a cot for their baby. When they arrive at the hotel, there is no cot in their room. The hotel can easily remedy this problem by providing a cot, so it is not a major failure. This must be done within a reasonable time, otherwise the consumer may terminate the contract and ask for a full refund.
A consumer may be entitled to compensation from you if they suffered any loss or damage because of the failure, and it was reasonably foreseeable that they would suffer loss or damage because of the failure.

Allowances for recreational service providers

Under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and some state and territory fair trading laws, suppliers of recreational services can exclude, limit or modify liability when they do not meet the consumer guarantees to provide services:
  • with due care and skill
  • fit for any particular purpose
  • within a reasonable time (when no time is set).
Suppliers may only limit their liability for death or personal injury, including illness (mental or physical) and disease, but not for property loss.
If you are a recreational service provider, you should get legal advice to establish whether you can limit your liability.

Common issues

Online bookings

If you use an online booking agent or website, they will have their own terms and conditions in relation to deposits, booking fees and cancellations. Sometimes these terms and conditions may conflict with yours, so it is important to provide consumers with clear information about relevant terms and conditions of both the online booking provider and the end provider (your business).
You should also be aware that consumers may rely on representations made by an online booking provider regarding certain aspects of your services; for example, room type, quality rating or views.
To minimise the risk of a dispute:
  • ensure you have an agreement with the online booking provider that clearly sets out the relevant terms and conditions
  • provide clear information on who the consumer should contact to change or cancel their booking
  • ensure images of rooms have tags or titles indicating the room type
  • clearly disclose if a quality "star" rating is self-rated.

Holiday deals and group buying

Group buying websites – also referred to by some people as "daily deals" or "deal of the day" – sell vouchers or coupons for products and services with discounts. In some cases, the vouchers are offered on the condition that a minimum number of buyers take up the deal.
Common issues encountered by consumers include non-supply and incomplete supply of services, and difficulty in booking services and redeeming vouchers.
If you offer these deals you need to be aware of the potential demands and risks. You should consider the potential demand created by advertising your services through group buying websites and whether your business can deliver those services on time and in a reasonable manner. For example, you may want to limit the deal offered so it doesn't restrict your ability to serve both regular and new customers.
You should also work with the group buying website to:
  • ensure that you can deliver services as advertised and that the terms and conditions of sale are fair and clearly expressed
  • ensure any terms and conditions are clear; for example, if you only intend to offer the services on certain days of the week or for a limited time
  • make sure any price representations are accurate.
A consumer purchased an online group buying voucher for six nights' accommodation in a "beach view" room at a resort, valid for use within 12 months of purchase.
A month later, he tried to redeem the voucher. However, the resort informed him that the "beach view" rooms advertised were not available for the selected dates, and he would be offered different rooms at an extra cost of $100 per night.
Not wanting to incur these extra costs, the consumer enquired about different dates within the 12-month booking period, but found the "beach view" rooms had been booked out for the entire period.
Because the resort could not offer the consumer the accommodation that had been advertised, it could be argued that they had misled or deceived the consumer into making the purchase and the resort was therefore liable to provide a full refund.
In addition, because the resort had accepted payment for the advertised accommodation, it was required, by law, to supply the accommodation within the voucher's 12-month validity period or offer the consumer a full refund. The supplier could make up for the lack of available "beach view" rooms by offering the consumer an alternative arrangement (such as a "beach view" room in another property of the same quality and standard), but the consumer does not have to accept this.

Telemarketing sales

Many travel and accommodation deals are also sold through telemarketing, which may make them an "unsolicited consumer agreement" under the ACL.
There are specific provisions in the law that apply to this type of selling.
Salespeople who make unsolicited contact with consumers to sell products or services must comply with:
  • limits on the days and times when they can call or visit
  • requirements for what they must tell the consumer; for example, their cooling-off rights
  • requirements for the sales agreement, including that it must be in writing
  • restrictions on when they can take payment and supply the products or services.
Even if you have contracted another business to do telemarketing for you, your business is still responsible for compliance with the law. The contractor is considered your dealer or representative.
For more information on unsolicited supplies, refer to Sales practices: a guide for businesses and legal practitioners, available from the Australian Consumer Law website.

Representations and expectations of holiday accommodation

Consumers sometimes complain when accommodation appears different from what was advertised by the supplier.
Two friends travelling together book a deluxe two-bedroom suite. The photos of this room type on the hotel's website show separate sleeping areas, but when they arrive at the hotel, they find their beds are right next to each other. When they raise the issue with the hotel manager, they are told it will cost an extra $500 to upgrade to a room that meets their requirements.
The best approach is to advertise what the consumer will get accurately. If there are differences between what is advertised and the accommodation that may ultimately be supplied – for example, some rooms have substantially different layouts or views from those represented – you should include a clear and legible warning at the time of booking alerting the consumer to the possibility that they may receive something different.
You should also ensure any descriptions and photos of your accommodation do not mislead consumers about its price, quality, location or amenities. It might also be helpful to include tags or titles on the photographs shown on your website.
It is unlawful for a business to make false or misleading representations about products or services when supplying, offering to supply, or promoting those products or services.
For instance, a business must not make false or misleading representations about:
  • the standard, quality, value or grade of products or services
  • a particular person agreeing to acquire products or services; for example, falsely claiming a celebrity as a client
  • testimonials by any person relating to products or services
  • the sponsorship, approval, performance characteristics, accessories, benefits and uses of products or services
  • the price of products or services
  • a buyer's need for the products or services
  • any guarantee, warranty or condition on the products or services
  • the requirement to pay for any guarantee, warranty or condition on the products or services.
Whether a representation is considered false or misleading will depend on the circumstances of each case. A representation that misleads one group of consumers may not necessarily mislead another group. Whether a representation about a service was misleading would depend on whether it would mislead a reasonable person within this group.
A telemarketing salesperson called a consumer, offering vouchers for fourteen nights' holiday accommodation. The salesperson persuaded the consumer by comparing the cost of the vouchers to the normal price of the accommodation.
The consumer agreed to buy the vouchers. However, when he received them, he found they did not cover the entire cost of accommodation – they only entitled him to a discount off the price. They also contained additional conditions such as purchasing meals in specified locations.
The consumer was entitled to a refund, as the supplier had made representations to him about the service that would have misled a reasonable person.

Component pricing

You must not promote or state a price that is only part of the cost, unless also prominently advertising the single (total) price.
The single price means the minimum total cost that is able to be quantified (or calculated) at the time of making the representation in order for a consumer to purchase the service.
The single price is calculated by adding up each of the price components that you are able to quantify when you make the price representation; for example, any tax, duty, fee, levy or charge imposed on you.
A prominent single price is one that:
  • stands out so it can easily be seen by a consumer
  • is clear, eye-catching and very noticeable.
A travel business advertises an overseas package holiday (fights and accommodation) for $1990. In fine print at the bottom, it states this price excludes airport taxes. These are known costs totalling $250, and should therefore be part of the total price.
The total price of

the holiday ($2240) should have been displayed as prominently as the $1990 package price, because the total price was quantifiable.
While what is "prominent" may vary on a case-by-case basis, you should consider factors such as the size, placement, colour and font of the price, as well as the background of the advertisement. For example, if a single price is smaller or in a colour that is harder to read than any component price, then this is likely to mean it is not as prominent.

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