By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Consumer Protection Council (CPC) has ordered VIP Express Tourism Limited to refund over N25 million to 63 aggrieved subscribers of its holiday packages due to alleged gross violation of their rights.
CPC’s order, which was signed by its Director General, Mrs Dupe Atoki, was the outcome of its investigation into the operations of the company, following complaints alleging gross abuse of consumers’ rights against the company.
The Council’s investigation was informed by the multiplicity of consumer complaints, concerning the quality of service provided by VIP Express Tourism Limited and in particular allegations that consumers of its services had been pressurised, manipulated or deceived into contracts for the provision of vacation accommodation services
VIP Express Tourism Limited is into hospitality business through which it enlists subscriptions from the public with the promise of facilitating subscribers’ holiday destination desires after their completion of agreed payments.
According to the Council, “VIP Express Tourism Limited purchases timeshares on behalf of its members but once the member signs on to any of its packages, the contract cannot be rescinded neither can the member get a refund of monies paid because abinitio members were made to waive their cancellation rights upon signing the contract.”
It explained further the company’s business practice, which is designed in such a manner that “after a 90-minute presentation, prospective clients must immediately execute a 10-page contract and endorse 17 clauses containing a non-rescission clause and a non-refund clause, without the benefit of legal counsel, financial or other advise and in circumstances that do not afford the client time to consider the offer, is unscrupulous, obnoxious and exploitative”.
CPC alleged that the company’s operational method was predatory and that its business practice in which consumers were pressurised to unwittingly sign off their legal rights to rescind or get a refund of monies paid was unethical and exploitative.
The Council contended that, contrary to what has been obtainable in VIP Express Tourism Limited’s business operations, international best practice allows for cancellation of timeshare.
The Council disclosed that its investigation substantiated various allegations of violations of its enabling Act, arguing that “the complainants having paid various sums of money to the respondent at various times are entitled to a refund, because the contract is obnoxious, unscrupulous, exploitative and therefore cannot be enforced against them”.
CPC, therefore, directed the company to, within 30 days of the receipt of the order, refund the total sum of N25,062,223 to the aggrieved consumers, and that “in the event of default pay interest thereon at the prevailing bank interest rate for any day of default until final liquidation.”
The Council also ordered the company to within the same 30 days “review its contract agreements by removing the clauses that waive the consumers right to rescind the contract and get a refund and submit same to the Council for review”, and that the agreements must “specify the time within which prospective subscribers may rescind the contract and be entitled to refund.”
It also directed VIP Express Tourism Limited to “ensure full disclosure of all material facts in all documents to prospective subscribers to enable them make informed decisions”; refrain from the use of unscrupulous and obnoxious methods of persuasion to get customers to sign contracts; and to desist from the use of predatory systems to get the custom of consumers.
CPC also ordered the company to “provide a written consumer complaint and redress policy with specific provisions regarding cancellation, reservation, refund of subscribers’ monies” and to submit same to it for approval within 30 days of the receipt of the Order and post same on its website.
It also directed the company to “present written assurances in line with Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Council Act that it would refrain from a continuation of any conduct which is detrimental to the interest of consumers of their services”.
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