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6 dangers hidden in travel disruptor sites

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Hidden traps lie in wait for the average Aussie when booking overseas trips online and using glossy, sharing economy websites. Lengthy Terms and Conditions (T&Cs), where travel sites offer few protections and sidestep liabilities, can mean Aussies have no recourse if services don’t live up to scratch. Recent comparethemarket.com.au research has also found potential gaps between standard travel insurance and the cover offered by these online businesses.

Abigail Koch, comparethemarket.com.au spokesperson, says: “How many times have you ticked the ‘I agree to the Terms and Conditions’ box after giving the T&Cs a cursory glance when you’ve booked and paid for trips, travel guides, accommodation and more?

“Disruptor travel sites such as Airbnb offer an attractive and often cheaper alternative when we’re organising overseas trips, but Australians need to be aware that by agreeing to these ‘connecting’ sites’ T&Cs, travellers can be left between a rock and hard place if they need to claim on their insurance.”

Abigail cautions, “In some cases, any pre-booking checks and verifications must be done by the consumer with some sites side-stepping liability and offering no insurances at all.”

Comparethemarket.com.au offers six key issues to consider carefully before ticking the ‘I agree’ button on disruptor travel websites.

Hosting sites

1. Your belongings may not be protected

Check if your host offers accommodation to other guests because if they do, as far as Australian travel insurers are concerned, shared property is considered a hotel, or public place and this means your belongings must be under lock and key.

Abigail says, “If your precious things go missing in a shared house, your insurance company will only cover possessions if they were locked up in your room.”

2. Hosts don’t have to verify identities or have sex offender checks

In their T&Cs, sites like Airbnb declare that, while they have processes designed to verify or check identities or backgrounds of members (including hosts and guests), they ‘do not make any representations about, confirm or endorse any Member or the Member’s purported identity or background’.

“While most of us are trusting in nature, this caveat means that the hosting site is not obligated to check a person’s identity and this can pose a security risk for guests,” Abigail says.

The T&Cs clause on sex offenders is particularly alarming where Airbnb asks users to “acknowledge and agree that Airbnb does not have an obligation to conduct background or registered sex offender checks on any member, including, but not limited to, guests and hosts, but may conduct such background or registered sex offender checks in its sole discretion.”[1]

“Read reviews carefully, use the internet to search people’s names, and where you draw a blank, reconsider your options,” says Abigail. “If there are no reviews on your host, reexamine your booking. For your own peace of mind, your best bet is to go with established hosts with lots of great feedback on their profiles.”

3. Check personal liability

“Check your host’s liability cover. This may seem fussy, but it means if you trip over a rug and break your wrist, or you drop your case on another guest’s foot in the hallway, you are both covered,” Abigail says. “Airbnb offers cover up to a $US1 million worth of damages to its hosts, for example.”

However, Abigail recommends that you double check your host’s insurance covers shared accommodation. “Travel insurance will cover medical bills, but your host will need the right liability insurance to make sure you’re covered for other losses such as future earnings,[2]” Abigail says.

4. You’re not covered if your host has put a gloss on the accommodation pictures

“Research your property as thoroughly as possible – checking review questions such as ‘Did the apartment/house match the photos?’,” Abigail says. “Most travel insurance companies will not allow you to claim against your insurance to book alternative accommodation if the place you booked doesn’t match the images on the website.”

You can contact the hosting site if there are serious discrepancies, but, once you’ve ticked the ‘I agree’ box, you have little recourse, Abigail adds.

Ride-sharing services

5. Check local laws for ride sharing services such as Uber

Different laws apply to using ride-sharing such as Uber or Lyft in every country you visit and in the US, each state and locality approaches ride-sharing in different ways when it comes to insurance.

Abigail says, “Cases are being worked through the courts across the world and it’s important to check the current rules before using ride sharing because this is a shifting landscape.” [3]

In the US, a test case where a 24-year old Lyft passenger was killed in November 2014 in an accident is still in the courts. “Fault is still being assigned and this is despite the expectation – due to promises made on the ride sharing firm’s site – that Lyft is expected to cover the accident regardless of fault,” Abigail says.

6. Tourism and guide sites

Show-around [4] is a new site that puts you in touch with local guides in cities across the world. This sounds delightful, but in the site’s T&Cs, the business sidesteps any security or safety issues with a guide by putting the onus completely on the user to do any checks to verify the guide’s credentials.

“These T&Cs show that Show-around assumes no responsibility for any loss or damage resulting from any interaction on the site. The list of what they don’t cover is extensive and includes any indirect loss, consequential loss, loss of data, loss of income or profit.

The site states, “Your use of the Site, Application and Services is without any warranty or guarantee and is entirely at your own risk.”

Vayable, another site that connects travellers with local tour guides, makes no guarantee that the service will meet your requirements, that it will be timely, secure, or error free.

“Suddenly, the tour bus with the man on the mike at the front pointing out local attractions, booked through the local tourist authority, seems like a great idea,” Abigail says.

[1] https://www.airbnb.com.au/terms

[2] http://www.travelinsurancedirect.com.au/TIDbits-blog/airbnb-is-it-covered-in-your-travel-insurance

[3] https://www.moneytips.com/am-i-insured-when-i-use-a-shared-riding-service

[4] https://www.showaround.com/

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