Private accommodation rentals come in many forms and can be booked in many ways. The traditional way of booking accommodation directly from a private provider is not covered by consumer law as it is a consumer-to-consumer transaction. More recently, booking accommodation online has become the primary means. This can be done through online travel agencies or third-party booking engines that facilitate both the bookings and the payments. That includes browsing on a myriad of accommodation booking platforms – online travel agents, holiday letting sites, peer-to-peer accommodation sites and meta-search engines. You can read more about third-party booking websites here.
While there is no EU legislation that regulates peer-to-peer accommodation rental or platform booking engines at the moment, both national governments and the EU institutions have issued guidance on how to avoid practices that could be misleading to customers. The European Commission has prepared legislation to cover the regulation and enforcement of consumer rights in the area of what it calls digital gatekeepers, which include both booking engines and metasearch engines. It has also redoubled its efforts to bring major online travel agencies in line with the fundamentals of consumer protections in Europe: to date, following EU action, Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia aligned their business practices with EU consumer law.
The basic requirements that all accommodation rental providers should abide by are:
- price transparency: customers should be shown the total price of the booking upfront, so they are clear on the cost from the beginning
- availability claims: providers should avoid creating a sense of urgency by claiming that accommodation may be booked out soon
- fair advertising: no use of misleading click-through discount deals that are not genuine or not accurate by comparison
- taxes and charges: tourist fees and cleaning charges, etc should be listed in the total price of the consumer offer.
If you are unsure whether a marketing or business practice of cross-border accommodation providers comply with the basic consumer protection requirements, contact ECC Ireland with your question here.
As online booking of accommodation became the norm over the last few years, the number of reported cases of holiday accommodation booking fraud has also spiked. Sophisticated criminals have come up with complex scams to trick those booking holiday rentals online. Among the most common scams reported are cases where fraudulent adverts are posted on legitimate n listing sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway or separate bogus websites were created for real properties, without the knowledge of the owners.
Third-party listing platforms offer security for bookings and payments and are offered by established, verified brands usually. If you decide to book accommodation directly with the private owner outside of a platform, follow this advice to avoid disappointment or fraud:
- Avoid paying by bank transfer; use your credit/debit card or a payment tool instead, so that you can at least avail of chargeback/reserved transaction if you discover that the booking was fraudulent.
- Usually, the holiday rental process requires a deposit of up to 25%, with the balance to be paid up to 2 weeks before departure (except last-minute bookings). If full payment is requested upfront (with an added discount), proceed with caution.
- When you are researching properties in your desired area, beware of choosing properties that are advertised at a significantly lower price compared to similar properties nearby and where you are given a sense of urgency to book immediately.
- Avoid making a booking for a private rental without checking into the ownership and without direct prior communication with the property owner/manager. Genuine rental owners will be able to reply with details about the property and share their knowledge of the area.
- Most holiday rental listing sites feature reviews from verified past guests. Check these out, as well as responses from the property owners. Beware of properties with no reviews and check further elsewhere for more details about the property.
- Turn to Google to do some research on the geographical location and verify the address. Some properties will also have recent street view photos.
- If the property has its own website, it might be a good idea to check its details on web identity checkers, such as whois lookup. Also check social media pages, if any.
- To check if the images are genuine, use the web tools available to check if they appear on multiple websites and for multiple geographical addresses. Try a reverse image search on photos of the property (in Chrome browser, right-click and choose ‘search Google for image’).
For bookings made through third-party agents, make sure you read the platforms’ booking conditions carefully, along with any other specific information for the chosen accommodation.