$500 payout after waterfront spot given to someone else

The couple and holiday park have not been named. Photo: Getty Images
The couple and holiday park have not been named. Photo: Getty Images
When a couple arrived at a holiday park ready to set up in their usual prime waterfront spot they had booked for the past 20 years they found another family already settled in for the summer.

Furious with what appeared to be an administrative blunder and refusing to be relocated, they went to a motel and returned the next day hoping the park’s staff had moved the other family to another spot.

However, that did not happen and the couple left the park and holidayed elsewhere.

They also turned to the Disputes Tribunal, arguing the holiday park had breached its contract by failing to secure their booking.

Now, in a recently released decision, the tribunal has upheld the couple’s complaint and ordered the holiday park to pay them $500.

According to the decision, in which neither the couple nor the holiday park are named, the campground’s policy stated guests could rebook their spot for the following year, once they had completed their stay.

While the couple did this every year, in 2021, they phoned the holiday park and asked to move their 2022 booking to 2023, to which the staff agreed.

However, when they turned up in January this year, expecting their usual spot to be vacant, they were told the electronic booking system used by the holiday park could not accept bookings made more than 11 months in advance.

Staff instead offered them a different spot, which was situated at the rear of the site and did not have ocean views.

In their claim to the tribunal, the couple argued the holiday park should pay them $3284, which they said covered petrol, alternative accommodation and “expectation damages, mental distress, disappointment and loss of amenity value”.

The holiday park counterclaimed for $1709 in cancellation fees, a park interruption fee and costs related to preparation for the tribunal hearing.

Tribunal referee Laura Mueller found the rollover booking system had worked well for many years but the arrangement went astray when the couple were unable to make their January 2022 booking.

Their spot was given to someone else that year who then rebooked it for January 2023.

The holiday park had failed to notify the couple that their booking had been altered, the decision stated.

“The holiday park confirmations do not include the site number allocated, therefore [the couple] were unaware that they had been allocated a different site,” Mueller said.

“In the fine print of the confirmation, it stated that ‘these sites do not have ocean views’, which [the couple] did not notice and [the] holiday park did not draw their attention to.”

On the balance of probabilities, it appeared the campground had verbally agreed to transfer the booking to 2023 and it constituted a breach of contract when that site wasn’t available, Mueller found.

“[The] holiday park knew, or should have known, that the alternate rear site was not what [the couple] expected, had not been agreed to and that they would not be happy with the change.

“[The] holiday park should have notified [the couple] of the unavailability in advance and allowed them the opportunity to decide to come or not, not spring it on them at arrival.”

Mueller said the couple was “genuinely distraught” to have travelled to the holiday park only to be told their booking had been changed without notice “and their annual waterfront holiday was not to be”.

She awarded them $500 in general damages for the breach of contract and dismissed the holiday park’s counterclaim.

- By Jeremy Wilkinson
Open Justice multimedia journalist, Palmerston North