Over the past year CHOICE has taken an increasing interest in travel.
Perhaps that's no surprise – most people love travel! But there's a serious edge to it. We're really interested in what goes wrong for consumers in the travel market, and what we can do to fix it.
This is important because it's a big area of consumer expenditure – Australians spend more than $90 billion on leisure travel each year. But even though we're travelling more, there have been no improvements in our rights as consumers. We mostly understand our rights when an appliance breaks down, but it's much less clear when we're subjected to shonky treatment by hotels, hire car companies or airlines.
We're also interested in the psychology of travel. That's because travel is an area where we're often emotionally vulnerable.
When you set out on a holiday, it's often the culmination of months of dreaming and planning. You desperately want it to be fun – not just for you, but for everyone you've brought along for the ride. You want to be able to regale your friends with stories of all the good times you had, rather than everything that went wrong.
Travel providers often play into this vulnerability by holding back details until the last minute.
Take booking a hire car, for example. Some providers won't let you select all the options you want at the time of booking. When you go to pick up your car at the airport counter, you'll be bombarded with options – extra driver charges, insurance, GPS – all in a high-pressure environment where other passengers are waiting, the kids want to go to the toilet and you just want to get on the road. You're at a weak point, and many consumers just say yes.
Our research shows that this also spills over into the post-travel period. Even when things have gone wrong, consumers are reluctant to take it up with the airline or hotel because they don't want to spoil their memories of a great holiday with a protracted fight over refunds. And if you do complain, the experience will probably deter you from ever complaining again.
So that's why CHOICE is taking on travel. We don't want to spoil your holiday by making you focus on the bad stuff, but we'd like to see less bad stuff happen. We want to force airlines and car hire companies to lift their game so that prices are more transparent and you've got clear rights when something goes wrong.
First up will be a campaign on your rights when a flight is delayed or cancelled, in alliance with other consumer organisations from around the world. If you want to jump on board, you can become a CHOICE campaign supporter at choice.com.au/campaignsupporter.
CHOICE travel tips