Just how bad is the Consumer Protection Act?

There’s been huge reaction to the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) in the tourism industry and we have seen this particularly in the B&B and guesthouse sector. 

Is the news as bad as we’ve been led to believe? Certainly many experts on the CPA have been giving lectures and going into individual clauses which have terrified their listeners.

Perhaps I’m very guilty of over-simplifying the Act, but I think there are a couple of basic things we need to remember. 

Firstly, the act was introduced to protect the consumer from unethical practice. Secondly every one of us almost every day is a consumer and thirdly – and probably most central to the entire Act – is to ask oneself “How would I want to be treated?”

Taking this simple question into all aspects of the running of one’s business should give the B&B or guesthouse owner a fair degree of comfort. 

The question needs to be looked at from every angle though: reservations, brochures – and especially websites: “How would I want to be treated?”

For instance – how would you feel if you’d been told that an establishment had wonderful sea views, when in fact all you can see is a tiny bit of the ocean when you walk to the bottom of the garden? How would you feel if you were told that the establishment had ‘secure’ off street parking?

As an example: the use of the word ‘secure’ could be extremely dangerous. If a guest drives through your gate and somebody either slips in on foot or ‘tailgates’ and holds him or her up – is the property secure? If the guest felt that by saying your parking was ‘secure,’ you’d engaged in false advertising – and if he or she had been severely traumatised and in view of this false advertising, he or she would want compensation.

Would he or she succeed in a case against the establishment? 

We don’t know at this stage as this kind of event has not been tested in court – but we do know that it can be costly to defend such an action. Even if you win.

So: does insurance help?

It is seldom, if ever, that one will get insurance to protect against false advertising. But what is available to BnB SURE policy holders is an optional section to cover Tax and Legal Costs arising from the enforcement of the CPA should this sort of thing arise or should one get a visit from SARS.

It’s crucial that establishment owners check all their advertising and look for – and take steps to mitigate – dangers in the operating of their establishments (particularly, where establishments are multi-listed on several tourism websites you need to ensure that all are correct).

Just remember the golden question: “How would I want to be treated?”

You can download BnB SURE’s A Guide to the Consumer Protection Act and Consumer Rights here

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