The Australian consumer watchdog has concluded its investigation into online booking platform Website Travel after it paid around $6.5 million of withheld funds to more than 350 Aussie tour operators.
In April 2020, Adventium announced it would withhold funds received through its Website Travel platform that were owed to tour operators, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as its reason for doing so.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) then commenced an investigation following concerns raised by a number of tourism operators, particularly in Queensland, it said.
“We were concerned that Adventium was withholding payments from tour operators at a time when COVID-19 had already severely affected their cash flow and commercial viability,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.
In some instances, Adventium withheld the payments for almost 12 months, in circumstances where those tour operators had already provided their travel services to consumers and incurred costs.
“We recognise that Adventium has now made all outstanding payments to affected tour operators, and we took this into account in deciding to conclude our investigation,” Court said.
Adventium has taken steps to avoid a similar situation occurring in the future, by ensuring that funds obtained from travel agents for payment to tour operators are held separately from other funds, the ACCC said.
Adventium owns the online booking platform, Website Travel, which connects travel agents and tour operators to facilitate consumer bookings and payments between travel agents, consumers, and tour operators.
According to the Website Travel website, more than 3,400 operators and over 600 travel agents across 11 countries use the Website Travel platform.
In 2020, the ACCC refocused its enforcement and compliance efforts on competition and consumer issues arising from the pandemic.
This included taking action to address “any behaviour by businesses which seek to exploit the pandemic either to unduly enhance their commercial position or harm consumers”, it said.
The ACCC said it will continue to closely monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry, to ensure that consumers and small businesses such as tour operators receive the protections afforded to them by the Australian Consumer Law.
Featured image source: https://websitetravel.com/Kee