An email newsletter from Park Plaza Hotels offering Black Friday deals on London hotel rooms has been ruled misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ad was also found to have breached the ASA's rules on the availability of the offer within its guidelines on promotional marketing.
It has been ruled the advertisement must not appear again in the form complained about, and ASA told Park Plaza Hotels Europe to ensure it made a reasonable estimate of likely response to promotions and included sufficient information regarding likely availability in future.
Customers on Park Plaza Hotels Europe's database received an email newsletter on 20 October 2016, which stated: "BLACK FRIDAY ARRIVED EARLY LONDON £119…Enjoy Black Friday one week early with our exclusive offer…£119 for all our London hotels. Book before 23.59pm (CET) Tuesday 22 November 2016 on parkplaza.com for stays between 18 November 2016 and 15 April 2017".
Two complainants, who were unable to find any rooms available for £119, challenged whether the ad was misleading and could be substantiated.
The footer of the newsletter referenced that terms and conditions would apply, and when customers clicked through the newsletter they were directed to the booking landing page which outlined all terms and conditions including the offer being subject to availability and dates that were excluded from the deal.
Park Plaza stated that it was customary in the travel industry to offer the lowest category of rooms as customers were usually aware that if they desired a suite, a premium charge would apply. It added that it believed it had made sufficient room availability for the promotion, but the uptake had significantly outperformed other campaigns.
It said the promotion generated nearly 1,000 room-nights, compared to only 30 room-nights a month earlier for a similar promotion, more than three times the number of room-nights than during the entire month of October by various newsletters.
The ASA considered consumers would understand the promotion to mean that they would be able to book a room at a Park Plaza hotel in London for £119 for between 18 November 2016 and 15 April 2017 if they booked before midnight on 22 November 2016. In the absence of qualifying text, it considered that they would understand the promotional price to apply to all rooms, standard or otherwise.
It also noted Park Plaza Hotels had not provided sufficient detail to demonstrate how it had estimated the likely demand for the offer or how many rooms were available at the promotional price.
The ASA acknowledged Park Plaza Hotels had stated that the offer was "subject to availability", however, it did not consider that this negated the requirement for sufficient information regarding availability to be provided, and was concerned that the information appeared on a separate page and was therefore not sufficiently prominent.
It considered that where hotels or dates had, or were likely to have, very limited availability under the promotion, that information would affect a consumer's decision to participate and should therefore be made clear in the main body of the ad.
The ASA said: "Because Park Plaza Hotels had not demonstrated that they had made a reasonable estimate of the likely response and had not included sufficient information about the likely room availability at the promotional price, we concluded that the ad was misleading."
A spokesperson from PPHE Hotel Group, which owns the Park Plaza brand, said: "PPHE Hotel Group can confirm that in reference to the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) case number A16-366114, a final ruling has been made stating that the Group's Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts brand has not been able to substantiate a specific rate advertised externally under the promotion "Black Friday Arrived Early London £119". PPHE Hotel Group has worked closely with the ASA, supplying various documents in support of the advertised rates being clearly available with associated terms and conditions, subject to availability. The Group is disappointed to be informed that the ruling has been made against the brand and that the advertisement was deemed as misleading due to two complainants not being able to book rooms priced at £119 during the stay period.
"PPHE Hotel Group stands by the fact that the promotion's advertised rates were bookable subject to availability and is investigating whether promotional terms and conditions need to be amended to ensure an increased level of clarity at all times."
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