THE consumer watchdog is investigating complaints against Echuca Luxury Houseboats relating to COVID-19 cancellations.
It comes after dozens of people claimed they were left thousands of dollars out-of-pocket after they had to cancel their holidays due to the coronavirus shutdowns restricting non-essential travel.
An ACCC spokesperson said it was aware of issues consumers were experiencing with the houseboat operator and was looking further into these issues.
“If consumers’ travel is cancelled, the ACCC expects they will receive a refund or other remedy, such as a credit note or voucher,” the spokesperson said.
“In some cases, consumers may be entitled to a refund under the terms and conditions of their ticket.
“Where travel cannot go ahead due to government action, the consumer guarantees are unlikely to apply. Consumers’ rights to a refund will be governed by the terms and conditions of the contract entered into between the consumer and travel provider.
“If consumers had a right to a refund under these terms and conditions at the time they purchased their ticket, businesses are not permitted to change the terms at a later time to deny them a refund. Similarly, if consumers were previously told by a business that they would receive a refund for their cancelled travel, the business is not permitted to later deny them the promised refund.
“Consumer rights may also be impacted by other laws including those governing the frustration of contract. If the contract terms and conditions do not cover the situation of a booking not being able to go ahead due to third party actions, in most cases, consumers should be entitled under contract law to a refund.”
Echuca Luxury Houseboats owner Andrew Mackenzie last week assured customers whose bookings were affected by coronavirus restrictions they would have all deposits and trip payments replaced with vouchers.
However, some people claimed the vouchers were only worth 50 per cent of the total cost.
“All customers impacted by the stay at home orders have received vouchers to the value of 100 per cent of their original bookings,” Mr Mackenzie said yesterday.
“Our response is consistent with the recommendations of the ACCC.”
Since the story broke, Luxury on the Murray and Murray River Houseboats say they have been wrongly implicated.
“The similarities in our name is causing us grief with people wrongly thinking it was us,” Luxury on the Murray owner David Grubb said.
“It’s impacting us from a local perspective but also from people in Melbourne who don’t know any better. It has far-reaching effects.”
Mr Grubb said the COVID-19 crisis had also impacted his business, which had been rescheduling trips or offering credits as instructed by the Department of Fair Trading.
“It’s not an ideal situation for anyone but 99 per cent of our customers have been fantastic,” he said.
“Houseboats are an important industry for Echuca-Moama and is made up of family businesses so we need people to support us at this difficult time.”
Murray River Houseboats owner Ken Montgomery said the issue had caused a lot of confusion because there were multiple houseboat operators in the area, some with similar names.
“A news organisation put up a story about it, mentioning it was Murray River Houseboats, so straight away there was confusion about us,” he said.
“Other houseboat operators shouldn’t have to suffer in addition to the difficulties they’re facing with COVID-19.
“We want the local community to understand there is confusion and they need to be sure who the offending company is and if they are thinking about going on a holiday in Echuca-Moama or are making recommendations for a holiday, they should go through Echuca-Moama Tourism.”