On The Beach has been ordered by the advertising watchdog to clarify holiday accommodation star ratings as it upheld a complaint against the online travel agent.
The compliant was made against the company promoting an apartment in Spain with three gold stars when at the bottom of the website page text stated that it carried only an official two star rating.
The complainant, who had booked a holiday at the Laguna Park 2 apartment, challenged whether the three-star rating was misleading.
The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the advert seen on its website last December must not appear again in its current form.
“We told On The Beach to ensure that they made sufficiently clear when they were using their own rating system in future ads,” the ASA ruled.
On the Beach had argued that it was common practice to allocate an equivalent rating for apartments in order to provide a level playing field with hotels that used a star ratings system.
The company stated that the key rankings were usually translated as: one key being equivalent to two star, two key equivalent to three star and three key equivalent to four star.
It said that this was the case across many travel websites.
On The Beach said it was willing to amend the ad by adding the text “official rating 2 key which is equivalent to a 3 star” and adding a label next to the three gold stars which stated “Our rating”.
The ASA said it accepted that it was common practice across the industry for travel agents to use their own rating system for accommodation.
“We considered that consumers would understand that travel agents used their own rating system, but that they would also understand that accommodation generally had an official rating determined by the appropriate authority in the territory the accommodation was located,” the ASA said.
“The guidance issued on the Abta website was that consumers must satisfy themselves that the accommodation had the facilities they were looking for because star ratings differed across the industry.
“We understood that the official rating for accommodation was usually communicated using star symbols and therefore unless the ad made clear that the travel agent was using their own rating, consumers were likely to expect the star rating to be the official rating.
“We acknowledged that text at the bottom of the page stated ‘official rating 2 star’.
“However, we noted that the text lacked prominence and, nevertheless, we considered that the qualification contradicted, rather than clarified the more prominent three star rating.
“While we welcomed On The Beach’s willingness to amend the ad, because at the time of the complaint it did not make clear that they were using their own rating system as opposed to the official star rating, we concluded that the ad was misleading.”