Resort scam: Tourists duped by fake holiday listing

A fake listing on Booking.com used photos of this Touch of Spice house on Whitbourne Place. Photo: Touch of Spice
A fake listing on Booking.com used photos of this Touch of Spice house on Whitbourne Place. Photo: Touch of Spice

A bogus listing for a non­existing Queenstown holiday home has left groups of Asian tourists scratching their heads.

Plush pad ‘Villa Manata’ is being advertised by global accommodation giant Book­ing.com — but the supposed holiday let doesn’t exist.

Aspen Grove resident Brent Carlsson spoke to a couple of perplexed visitors trying to find the house on nearby Manata Lane.

A quick yarn revealed they’d signed up online, so he alerted Booking.com of their plight.

His concerns were reinforced after some detective work.

The property, which boasts a hot tub and fitness centre, was being advertised using photo­graphs pinched from luxury Queenstown provider Touch of Spice.

The company’s marketing boss Nora Zenasni was made aware of the scam over the weekend, via one of its booking agents who recognised the photographs of ‘The Views’ digs.

Booking.com confirms it’s investigating the bogus listing, and isn’t taking reservations.

It refused to speak to Mountain Scene but an emailed statement from Tracey Foxall, via the company’s public relations agency, says it has ‘‘stringent security protocols’’ to ensure listings are legit.

Booking.com regional boss Foxall says additional background checks are done. She also confirms a dedicated fraud team monitors activity 24-7.

While she admits protocol dictates it will relocate customers to another property at ‘‘no extra expense’’, she didn’t answer specific questions, including if the property was listed by a Kiwi, how many people were potentially duped and over what period.

Carlsson says he knows of at least three or four groups in the last month, made up of five to six people, and all Asian,

‘‘The poor visitors who spent hours searching for their digs will be out of pocket as well as out of accommodation.

‘‘The poor guys last week parked at the bottom [and were] walking up and down four times in the pouring rain.

‘‘They looked like drowned rats — I don’t think they would have been really happy.’’

Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd says a recent rise in this type of scam is ‘‘disappointing’’.

‘‘It appears to have come with the proliferation of online accommodation booking and private property holiday accommodation booking systems.

‘‘I certainly feel very sorry for the visitors who have been caught up in this on their visit to Queenstown.’’

He urges caution when booking online, and stresses tourists need to ensure they book through legitimate sites that ‘‘should eliminate these risks and will also ensure their rights are protected’’. While it is the first fraudulent case Touch of Spice has dealt with, Zenasni admits it’s a concern.

‘‘We were shocked to hear about the fraudulent listing using images of one of our properties, and as soon as this was brought to our attention we immediately alerted Booking.com to remove this listing.

‘‘We take it very seriously and it is definitely a cause for concern, and one of much greater concern for Booking.com themselves who have been the targeted platform.’’

The police are unable to confirm if they have received any complaints, but urge people to contact them immediately if they think they’ve been scammed.

louise.scott@scene.co.nz 

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