The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has concluded its investigation into Adventium, the owner of online booking platform Website Travel, after Adventium paid approximately $6.5-million of withheld payments to over 350 Australian tour operators.
In April 2020, Adventium announced it would withhold funds received through its platform that were owed to tour operators, citing the Covid-19 pandemic as its reason for doing so.
The ACCC then commenced an investigation following concerns raised by a number of tourism operators, particularly in Queensland.
Payments withheld at a time when agents already struggling
“We were concerned that Adventium was withholding payments from tour operators at a time when Covid-19 had already severely affected their cash flow and commercial viability,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.
“In some instances, Adventium withheld the payments for almost 12 months, in circumstances where those tour operators had already provided their travel services to consumers and incurred costs.”
“We recognise that Adventium has now made all outstanding payments to affected tour operators, and we took this into account in deciding to conclude our investigation.”
Adventium has taken steps to ensure problem won’t recur
The commission said in a statement that Adventium has taken steps to avoid a similar situation occurring in the future, by ensuring that funds obtained from travel agents for payment to tour operators are held separately from other funds.
The online booking platform, Website Travel, connects travel agents and tour operators for the purposes of facilitating consumer bookings and payments between travel agents, consumers and tour operators.
According to information on the website, over 3,400 operators and more 600 travel agents across 11 countries use the Website Travel platform.
ACCC has refocused enforcement and compliance efforts
In 2020, the ACCC refocused its enforcement and compliance efforts on competition and consumer issues arising from the pandemic.
“This includes taking action to address any behaviour by businesses which seek to exploit the pandemic either to unduly enhance their commercial position or harm consumers,” the ACCC said.
“The ACCC is continuing to closely monitoring the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry, to ensure that consumers and small businesses such as tour operators receive the protections afforded to them by the Australian Consumer Law.”