‘It was nothing like what we expected. It was a dump’

When Hugh Selby saw pictures of a beachside shack on idyllic Hawaiian island of Oahu, he was so captivated by the clear water and palm trees he decided to book.

It looked a world away from his home in landlocked Canberra, so he copped the $300-a-night price tag and began looking forward to soaking in the Pacific.

When he rocked up at the Rocky Point Beachfront accommodation a couple of months later with his family, he was so disappointed that he declined to stay there.

He said he was greeted by a “dilapidated” basement, which he described as “old” and “dirty”.

Rather than the incredible beach views that had captivated him as he entered his credit card details into the Wotif website, the underground shack simply looked out over a scruffy outdoor kitchenette.

Mr Selby was sucked in the stunning beach views promised on the website. Picture: WotifSource:Supplied

The shack cost just over $300 a night to rent out. Picture: WotifSource:Supplied

Now, Wotif — one of Australia’s most popular holiday booking providers — has been forced to pay out the disgruntled holiday-maker after a tribunal decision.

He took Wotif’s parent company Expedia to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT), which found the travel provider was misleading and deceptive in its promises that customers could “book with confidence” because the company has “heaps of local knowledge”.

This was view Mr Selby and his family were greeted with. Picture: Hugh SelbySource:Supplied

It didn’t look like the Wotif pictures made out. Picture: WotifSource:Supplied

“It was not unreasonable for the applicant to form the view, based on the representations (the pictures of the shack) that the respondents (Wotif) had ‘heaps of local knowledge’ and that you could ‘book with confidence’, that Wotif was promising that the applicant could rely on the information provided about Rocky Point Beachfront in Haleiwa, Hawaii, and that the applicant could enter into the contract with Rocky Point Beachfront with confidence,” senior member Jann Lennard said.

“This has not proved to be true. The accommodation was, as a matter of fact, not as described on the website but in a dilapidated and rundown condition, and with no sea views.”

Mr Selby told The Canberra Times he would have happily paid backpacker’s rates for the accommodation back in the 1970s.

“But I’m not 22 and this was not being offered at backpacker’s rates,” he said.

After refusing to stay at the shack, the tribunal findings show Mr Selby was unable to reach the owner so he complained to Wotif and demanded a refund of the $628.34 for the two-night stay.

Mr Selby wanted a full refund for the trip. Picture: Hugh SelbySource:Supplied

However, the company refused and offered him a $150 coupon instead, which Mr Selby refused. He wanted all his money back.

Defending itself in the tribunal, Wotif said it wasn’t responsible for the nature of the ad or the quality of the accommodation.

It said there were clear exclusion clauses on its website and said the crucial statements — “heaps of local knowledge” and “book with confidence” — were merely “puffery”, a sales pitch.

“So what you essentially say is there’s no contractual liability because of the exclusion clauses and that the phrase ‘Book with confidence’ and all the other stuff there about we’re pretty good at all of this and we’re different from all the other websites … and we’ve got lots of happy campers and honeymooners and end of year, gap yearers, all of that is mere puff, you

say,” the company said in the tribunal.

“It’s a marketing ploy. We don’t actually expect people to believe the promises that we put there. And they need to accept that they’re hyperbole?”

However, the ACAT didn’t accept this and awarded a full refund to Mr Selby, plus filing costs.

Nicky Breen from consumer advocacy group Choice told the ABC that Wotif’s response was “not good enough”.

“Companies like Wotif that facilitate these third-party transactions — it’s not good enough for them to simply throw their hands up when things go wrong and say ‘hey, not our fault, we didn’t mean that, no refunds for you’,” she said.

“(Mr Selby) shouldn’t have had to go to court; the company should have done the right thing and given him a refund in the first place.”

News.com.au has approached Expedia for comment.

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