The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is going
after Airbnb for allegedly misleading consumers with its pricing
The competition watchdog will claim consumers were deceived into
believing prices for Australian accommodation on Airbnb’s website, or
mobile app, were in Australian dollars, “when in fact for many consumers
prices were in US dollars”.
The ACCC will argue before the Federal Court in Australia that while
at least on some occasions Airbnb referred to the price as ‘USD’ in
small font on the last page of the booking process, “this happened only
after the platform had already displayed numerous dollar (‘$’) amounts
on earlier pages, without nearby reference to US dollars, and after the
consumer had clicked to ‘reserve’ their accommodation”.
“We allege that Airbnb’s misleading conduct meant that consumers were
deprived of the opportunity to make an informed choice about whether,
and at what price, to book their holiday accommodation on the Airbnb
platform,” ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.
In April this year, the Australian Federal Court ordered Trivago to
pay penalties of A$44.7 million (US$31.4 million) for making misleading
representations about hotel room rates on its website and in television
advertising, in proceedings brought by the ACCC.
watchdog is now seeking from Airbnb “declarations, injunctions,
pecuniary penalties, orders for the compensation for affected consumers,
costs, and other orders”.
“By taking this action, we are stating very clearly that digital
platforms like Airbnb need to ensure the accuracy of all statements that
may affect consumers’ purchasing decisions,” Cass-Gottlieb said.
The ACCC noted that between January 2018 and August 2021, the average
Australian dollar to US dollar exchange rate was about US$0.72.
“At this rate, an Australian consumer who thought they were paying
A$500 for their accommodation booking would have actually paid almost
A$700 before any foreign currency conversion fees.
“Airbnb did not compensate many consumers who complained about this
conduct, and so we will be arguing that the court should order Airbnb to
compensate people who were misled about the price of their
accommodation,” Cass-Gottlieb said.
In a statement to Travel Weekly Asia, Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, said, “While a fraction of a percentage of guests are believed to have been impacted, we were nonetheless extremely disappointed to have found that this occurred and we will compensate affected guests.
“Upon this issue being brought to our attention by the ACCC, we worked to update our platform so that the relevant currencies are clearly displayed from the first page for all Australian guests booking stays on our platform.
“We’re also conducting a comprehensive review of how this issue occurred and the way in which guest complaints were initially handled.
“We have worked constructively with the ACCC with respect to this matter from the start, and we will continue to engage and cooperate in good faith.
“Our team continues to work diligently to find new ways to improve and innovate so that guests, hosts and the wider community can enjoy the benefits of travel.
“To that end, we have recently introduced a number of protections to help guests book with confidence, including measures such as our flexible cancellation filter and enhanced guest booking protection.”
The story has been updated to reflect the response from Airbnb.