An online booking platform has paid about $6.5m of withheld payments to more than 350 Australian tour operators – including those in the Whitsundays.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has now finalised its investigation into Adventium.
In April 2020, Adventium announced it would withhold funds received through its Website Travel platform that were owed to tour operators, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as its reason for doing so.
The ACCC launched its investigation following concerns raised by a number of tourism operators, particularly in Queensland.
“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.”
The company has also 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.
Dawson MP George Christensen has welcomed the win for Whitsunday businesses.
“During all the trials that the tourism industry was facing as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was disgusted to learn that Adventium, a foreign booking agent, was holding onto holiday booking money which should have gone to small tour operators,” Mr Christensen said.
“The ACCC investigated after I raised these concerns with them, and this morning the ACCC has advised me that Adventium has now finalised all those outstanding payments.
“This morning I will be imploring the Prime Minister to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again, where we have a foreign online booking agent essentially holding mum and dad tourism operators to ransom.
“There needs to be substantial reform in this area.”
The outspoken politician has called for more transparency around online booking agent commissions, and consideration of both caps on commissions that can be charged, as well as a time-limit on when these commissions are paid to tour operators.
In May last year, Daily Mercury reported Red Cat Adventures was just one of a number of operators in the region owed money by Adventium.
Red Cat Adventures owner Julie Telford said her business was owed $161,000 from bookings in February and March, prior to COVID-19.
Adventium owns the online booking platform, Website Travel, which connects travel agents and tour operators for the purposes of facilitating consumer bookings and payments between travel agents, consumers and tour operators.
According to the Website Travel website, more than 3400 operators and more than 600 travel agents across 11 countries use the platform.
Source: Whitsunday Times