Booking fee guidelines could spell ticket price war

Sally Bramley

Ticket agencies could be squaring up for a price war after the publication of new guidelines stating that operators must include booking fees in the overall cost of tickets or face prosecution.

The new rules, drawn up by the Committee of Advertising Practice which drafts guidelines for the Advertising Standards Agency, state that if an extra charge on top of the face value of ticket is applicable then the price quoted in any advert should include that charge. Where there are several methods of booking tickets, such as post, telephone or online, the lowest price shown should include the minimum extra charge. Any failure to do so, could ultimately end up with the operator being prosecuted by the Office of Fair Trading.

Government legislation contained within the existing Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations already insisted advertisers could not conceal or leave out important facts relating to price. However, customers often complain that small print is easily overlooked. Plus the proliferation in recent years of electronic and premium rate telephone booking has meant many customers have committed to long and costly transactions without initial warning of the likely extra expense involved.

Ticket consultant Roger Tomlinson said the new rules would put pressure on agents to drive down the now more obvious booking charges. In turn, this could have a knock-on effect for independent companies who have to cover additional bills, such as office rental costs.

Said Tomlinson: “The simple fact is that theatre box offices have carried the cost of sales inside the prices, fees have only been imposed by third party resales. More and more producers want to deal with the public through their own methods, meaning those third parties will feel the squeeze. The long-term business model will change to give producers selling tickets directly and not adding charges on top.

“But there will always be a place in the market for outside ticket agents to meet the needs for some purchasers, such as tourists unaware of other ways of getting tickets.”

Last October, consumer magazine Which? [ published a damning report into ticket agencies claiming some charged up to 25% extra for seats. The investigation found that some operators were failing to make clear charges.

Although the CAP rules are voluntary and part of system of self-regulation, spokeswoman Donna Mitchell warned that they would be backed up in law by the OFT. Also, organisations which are members of CAP, such as newspapers, could refuse to carry adverts which do not comply with the regulations.

Andrew Brown, chairman of CAP, said: “This [guideline] will help those promoting ticket-based events to ensure that their ads are more helpful by stating clearly what consumers will have to pay to attend those events. The existence of extra charges can significantly affect the amount that consumers are required to pay in comparison to what they are expecting to pay.

“By making clear their pricing structures, advertisers operating in this field should find they have fewer instances of disappointed customers who believe they have been misled about the cost of attending ticket-based entertainment events.”

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