Why you should never book with booking.com

Why you should never book with booking.com

Never book at booking.com. This is my advice to travelers, whether you are a private traveler or a travel agency.

For years I have been booking accommodation through booking.com and I have now reached the point where I cannot further tolerate their exploitation and dishonesty.

Not only have I been using them to book accommodation in my personal capacity, but my wife and I also own a guesthouse that has been listed on booking.com. Additionally we also own a successful travel agency and have been booking accommodation for our clients through booking.com on the odd occasion.

In the beginning, the idea was great. The rates were good and the convenience of booking through them outweighed the increase in cost. Over the years they have become extremely arrogant and far too powerful. Today, their objective is not to make it more convenient, but to fleece you and the property owner for every cent they can. There are literally hundreds of thousands of complaints from consumers and properties alike.

Here are the reason why you should never use booking.com again.

Property owners suffer terribly under booking.com

Booking.com charges up to 20% commission on a booking. This is a massive margin for doing absolutely nothing except for getting the client to book. Procuring the client is a big deal I agree and they should be compensated for that but 20% is extortion. Due to these high commissions that they charge they have been the biggest culprits in the global increase in accommodation costs. All that has happened is that the properties have increased their rates by 10-20%. At the end of the day the consumer is footing the bill to pay off booking.com.

Booking.com has very onerous booking mechanisms that place a lot of strain on the operations of a property. Their payment and cancellation policies are onerous and cost property owners a bundle. For example, the property owner cannot cancel a booking because a client did not pay a deposit. They have to wait until the arrival date and only if the client was a no-show are they allowed to “request” a cancellation. This fee is then recovered from the client but only after booking.com has taken their commission or part thereof.

The vast majority of property owners that I have spoken to acknowledged that they would drop their rates if booking.com was not in the equation.

Consumers have very little recourse with booking.com

One of the big gripes with booking.com is the fact that their so-called “free cancellation” bookings are in many cases not free at all. You make a booking and it says you will not pay anything to cancel the booking before a certain date. What booking.com does not tell you is that they send your credit card details to the property even if it’s a “free cancellation” booking. In many cases the property then charges the card when the booking is made and when you cancel you have to try and recover your money from the property owner. Booking.com just shrug their shoulders and refuse to accept any responsibility.

The rating and property descriptions are in many cases one fat lie.

We all know that booking.com ratings are a sham. Properties have multiple ways of boosting their ratings. You can even buy reviews online. The images and property descriptions are a sham.

I have stayed at properties that look totally different from what is displayed on the website. Do not believe what you see. “Beachfront” in many cases means 200m from the beach behind a 30-floor apartment. “Sea views” in many cases mean you need to stand on a chair and twist your next at a 45-degree angle out of the toilet window to see the ocean.

So how should you book?

Use a travel agent. Yes, a traditional travel agent that knows your destination. They can tell you everything you need to know and they know how to find the perfect property that meets your needs. Travel agents are still the most effective way to ensure that you have a hassle free holiday.

You also have recourse if you use a reputable travel agency. The notion that you save money by booking online through services such as booking.com is absolute nonsense. In fact you are paying more. Up to 20% more. This is the lie perpetuated by these online booking agencies. If you use a travel agency the commission is never more than 10% and included in the rack rates of the property.

Use other sites to do your research. Tripadvisor.com is a great resource to find accommodation. Do you research and then Google the property. Call them directly or email them. Insist on a discount because you are booking directly.

Many properties only make a certain number of beds or rooms available to booking.com. So, when you see that the property does not have availability, if you call them directly you would most likely find that they have availability for your dates.

The Law and Photography of people

The Law and Photography of people

After an exhaustive debate on social media today I decided to write an article to clear up the issue of  what you may or may not photograph. There are many opinions out there, but the law is not that ambiguous. If there is a law prohibiting you to do something then you may not do it. If there is no law specifically prohibiting you to do something then you may do it. Laws typically don’t dictate what you can do, but dictate what you cannot do.

In South Africa photographing people in public is legal (1). Reproducing and selling photographs of people is legal for editorial and limited fair use commercial purposes. There exists no case law to define what the limits on commercial use are. Civil law requires the consent of any identifiable persons for advertorial and promotional purposes. Property, including animals, do not enjoy any special consideration.

During the media coverage of the Nkandla controversy it emerged that there exists a law, the National Key Points Act, 1980, prohibiting the photographing of any “national key points.” National key points are buildings or structures that serve a strategic or military purpose. Though it wasn’t revealed what these are as part of state secrecy it was claimed that the presidential residence is one of them and should thus not be shown in media. Subsequent court action resulted in it being ruled that a list of all key points be made public. 

There are two very important distinctions that you need to keep in mind. 

  1. Photographing for non commercial (2) purposes. i.e. where the photograph is not used to generate revenue or advertise something that is a commercial venture. If you are paid to take a photograph but the photograph will be used by a non-profit organisation then the photograph is for non-commercial purposes. Just because you are paid to take a photograph does not make the photo commercial.
  2. Photographing for commercial purposes. i.e. where the photograph is sold online or is used in an advertising campaign for a commercial venture. 

If you are photographing someone who can been seen from public property or from your own private property and you are going to use the photograph for non-commercial purposes, editorial or limited fair use commercial purposes, then you are allowed to photograph that person without their consent.

If you are going to be using the photograph for an advertising billboard and the person is recognizable then you must have the consent of the person you are photographing. This consent is typically in the form of a model release form (3). A model release should ideally be in writing because verbal agreements can be disputed in a court of law.

If you are doing a shoot for a client on the property of the client, then the copyright of the photo’s will vest with the client and the client will need to get the consent from the people in the photographs, if the shoot is going to be used for commercial purposes. 

The above applies to adults and children.

Some frequently asked questions:

  1. I am being paid to do a shoot at a venue. The venue is my client. The photo’s will be used on a outdoor billboard. The people will be recognizable in the photo. Do I need their consent?

    Yes.

  2. I am walking down the street and take a few photos of children playing in a park. May I do that without asking permission?

    Yes, but they may not understand the law and necklace you in the street. Better to get permission first.

  3. I am standing in the street and there is a person on their balcony. May I photograph that person without their permission?

    Yes.

  4. I am taking a photo of someone with their back turned to me in a public area. May I take the picture and sell it on a stock image website?

    Yes.

  5. I am in a shopping center. May I take pictures of the people walking around?

    Find out if the shopping center specifically prohibits you from doing it. If they don’t, then you may. 

Obviously the above answers are subject to the commercial vs. non-commercial points I made above.

References

  1. Burchell, Jonathan (2009). “The Legal Protection of Privacy in South Africa: A Transplantable Hybrid” (PDF). Electronic Journal of Comparative Law.
  2.  Defining Noncommercial report published”, Creative Commons.
  3. http://asmp.org/tutorials/frequently-asked-questions-about-privacy-and-libel.html.
Trophy Hunters are Serial Killers

Trophy Hunters are Serial Killers

How can any normal person "enjoy" this?
How can any normal person “enjoy” this?

I eat meat, just like most people. In fact, being an Afrikaner, I probably eat more meat than most. I have absolutely no problem in eating meat. We were made to eat meat and it’s the natural order of things. We were also made to hunt the animals that we eat. Our entire evolution is dictated by our craving for food and our need to outsmart our food.

But something strange happened to some of us during our evolution. Some of us started enjoying killing. The purpose of the kill changed from hunting to sport, from necessity to fun. Thinking about it, I wondered what the similarities were between serial killers and trophy hunters. Could it be that trophy hunters are psychopathic serial killers?

Similarities between Trophy Hunters & Serial Killers:

  • Compelled to keep a trophy or souvenir from their victims
  • The killing is addictive and leads to more killings
  • They seek fame, attention, and notoriety
  • The kills are premeditated
  • The killing gives a surge of adrenalin (“thrill kill”)
  • Stalking the victim gives a feeling of excitement
  • Killing becomes a compulsion or addiction
  • The killing is seen as a “sport” or “game”
  • There’s a down time (“cooling off” period) between killings
  • Gives the killer a feeling of power, dominance, and control over their victim
  • Many document their kills via photos and/or videos to gratify themselves later – as seen on Facebook by some of these monsters.

Quite compelling, don’t you think? Personally I find trophy hunting disturbing, revolting and completely socially unacceptable, very much like serial killing…

We need to clip the wings of the airline industry.

We need to clip the wings of the airline industry.

While the airline industry is scurrying to justify the actions of United Airlines after they forcefully evicted a passenger from one of their flights, they all seem to miss the point completely.

The point that they are missing is that passengers have had enough of airline industry arrogance. Airlines truly believe they are special. So special in fact, that they think they can do whatever they like. They routinely inconvenience passengers, overcharge, overbook, have really bad attitudes, lose your luggage, refuse refunds and a whole host of other behavioral abnormalities that would see any other business have to close its doors within a month.

They believe they are so special that they don’t need proper training or systems. And all the while they hide behind their ‘small print’ as if that justifies their malpractice. What’s worse is that the airline industry colludes in their uncompetitive and immoral behavior and get away with it. For years their practices have evaded racketeering laws. It’s time for it to stop.

Airlines are not special. No more special than any other passenger transport. Their excuses for their morally reprehensible practices are weak and transparent. It’s time for it to stop.

Overbooking is nothing more than a money making scam and don’t let anyone tell you different. If you pay and don’t show up then the airline wants to sell your seat twice or even three times. That is why they overbook, because they know that some passengers won’t show up. So they exploit the situation and the industry created these ‘rules’ that make it acceptable for them to overbook. Imagine going to a restaurant and while you are having your meal you are forcefully removed from the restaurant because it was overbooked.

This nonsense story that they had crew that had to get to another airport is a blatant lie. The airport in question was only a few hours away by car. This was bad planning and a management failure. It’s just too easy for bad managers in the airline industry to hide behind aviation regulations. United have now resorted to blaming the unions. Apparently the airline crew are so special that they aren’t allowed to be driven somewhere. What a load of bullshit.

The so-called fare rules are another example of exploitation and extortion. If the global financial industry can accurately move billions of dollars each minute, across the globe, in thousands of currencies, then the airline industry can more effectively manage their fares. But it’s not convenient and it’s costly. It’s way easier to just make the customer pay for your incompetence, and make some extra bucks in the process.

Something as silly as the mobile phone rules on flights are a great example of how the industry hides behind its ‘special’ status. Never mind the fact that there is no logic or science behind their mobile phone rules, they continue to ban the use of mobile phone. Andy Plews a spokesman for UAL’s United Airlines was quoted as saying “We don’t believe it’s a good safety issue”…”We’d like people to use the air phones. 

Their incompetence and arrogance is astounding. On a number of occasions I have been in the situation where my seat has been double booked. Now how does that happen? How is it possible that an airline cannot manage a mere 250 seats? How is it possible that a seat can be sold twice? Do these people not have a simple database to mange seat allocations? I mean, a simple Access Database can do that? It’s a little more complicated than that, because of the policy of airlines to purposefully overbook. It’s not an accident. It’s on purpose.

Let’s face it. Airlines suck. Airlines are the epitome of bad service. Airlines collude and they have their own enforcer called IATA (International Air Transport Association). This organization makes these rules so that the industry can get away with price fixing, abusing passengers and exploiting customers.

It’s time that the industry is taken to task for its behavior. Airlines are not above the law.

Takealot.com Data Leak

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Cloudflare, which provides services to millions of websites, has revealed that a bug has caused website passwords, cookies, and authentication tokens to be temporarily available in plain text. The list of 4.2 million domains possibly affected includes some of the internet’s most popular websites.

The Internet infrastructure company Cloudflare, which provides a variety of performance and security services to millions of websites, revealed late Thursday that a bug had caused it to randomly leak potentially sensitive customer data across the internet.

The flaw was first uncovered by Google vulnerability researcher Tavis Ormandy on February 17, but could have been leaking data since as long ago as September 22. In certain conditions, Cloudflare’s platform inserted random data from any of its six million customers—including big names like Fitbit, Uber, and OKCupid—onto the website of a smaller subset of customers. In practice, it meant that a snippet of information about an Uber ride you took, or even your Uber password, could have ended up hidden away in the code of another site.

South African e-commerce website, takealot.com compromised.

One of these websites is Takealot.com, the popular online shopping site in South Africa. I have not searched the entire list of 4.2 million sites but I am quite sure that there are a few thousand South African websites affected by this data leak.

What is disturbing is that Takealot.com undoubtedly know about this leak but have not notified any of their customers about the leak and that their personal information could be compromised.

You can search the list here: http://cloudflarelistcheck.abal.moe/

Or you can download the list of 4.2 million sites here: https://github.com/PIRATE/SITES-USING-CLOUDFLARE

It is possible that your passwords and personal information from affected websites may be at risk. I strongly recommend that you immediately change the passwords for accounts that are most critical to you to be strong, unique and not used for any other account. When reused passwords are stolen, it will impact your other accounts. This was true before Cloudbleed and is even truer today.

Notable sites compromised

Facebook and the Law

Facebook and the Law

I manage a few Facebook Groups and a number of Facebook pages and I am constantly confronted with the issue of defamation on social media. As social media becomes more popular and ubiquitous the issue around defamation has received quite a bit of public attention. Unfortunately many people still don’t understand how social media works, jurisdiction and how South African law views posts and comments on Facebook.

I have been involved in social media and online marketing for many years and have studied the laws pertaining to privacy and social media in detail as it affects my work on an almost daily basis. What follows is an attempt to demystify the concept of social media defamation. I am not going to deal with privacy issues and will leave that for another article.

The innocuous looking case of H v W which was handed down in the South Gauteng High Court on 30 January 2013 is the best and most recent case we have to determine how South African courts interpret cases of social media defamation. Judge Willis’ 30 page judgment recognises the harm a Facebook post can do to a person’s reputation and throws the weight of the Court behind the person defamed (and who can afford the legal fees). In this particular case the defamation was clear and the applicant won the case.

The law the Court relied on

The lawyers involved in the matter conducted what appears to be fairly substantial research on the law on defamation online and with reference to Facebook. Judge Willis relied fairly heavily on two academic articles by –

Context

Resolving the tensions between every human being’s constitutionally enshrined rights both to freedom of expression and to dignitas is all about balance. In the case of Le Roux v Dey Freedom of Expression Institute and Another as amici curiae) the Constitutional Court emphasized the need to take into account the context in which a publication occurs.

Similarly, Grimmelmann has referenced the legal maxim de minimis non curat lex which Judge Willis translated as “the law is not concerned with trivia”.

Businesses and defamation

With respect to public figures and businesses, he pointed out that while they enjoy a right to privacy, “[t]here is legitimate public interest in the affairs of public figures” and this means that they may not enjoy the same degree of protection as citizens not in the public spotlight when it comes to defamation online. As Judge Willis put it –

Trenchant commentaries on the performances of politicians as politicians, entertainers as entertainers, musicians as musicians, artists as artists, writers as writers, poets as poets, sports stars as sports stars will generally pass legal muster, even if posted in the social media. When it comes to freedom of expression in South Africa, there are oceans in which to swim and upon which to sail as freely as the wind blows.

A customer of a business will always have the right to publish on Facebook an account of her experience at that businesses. As long as the experience passes the test of defamation then it is not defamation but a review. Reviews can either be positive or negative and negative reviews, if made by a customer, cannot be classified as defamation because it is in the public interest and to the public benefit.

If individuals can be sued for making a negative post about a business, of which they are/were a customer then Facebook, Google, Tripadvisor, Booking.com and many large websites will cease to exist. Reviews have become a de faco means of expressing one’s opinion about a product or service.

The test of defamation

The test for determining whether words published are defamatory is to ask whether a ‘reasonable person of ordinary intelligence might reasonably understand the words . . . to convey a meaning defamatory of the plaintiff. . . . The test is an objective one. In the absence of an innuendo, the reasonable person of ordinary intelligence is taken to understand the words alleged to be defamatory in their natural and ordinary meaning. In determining this natural and ordinary meaning the Court must take account not only of what the words expressly say, but also of what they imply’

Referencing one of the justifications for (or defences to) defamation, namely that the defamatory material be true and to the public benefit or in the public interest, Judge Willis drew an important distinction that is worth bearing in mind –

A distinction must always be kept between what ‘is interesting to the public’ as opposed to ‘what it is in the public interest to make known’. The courts do not pander to prurience.

Important points to consider when you feel that someone (not you) has posted something that could be defamatory.

  • South African law does not require a person to be the originator of the defamatory content to be held liable – merely repeating or “sharing” a defamatory post is sufficient to constitute defamation;
  • a person may be equally liable for another person’s posts where that person knows that they have been tagged in the other person’s post and allows their name to be used, and fails to take steps to disassociate themselves from the defamatory post;
  • a series of comments or posts published via social media may have a defamatory meaning when read together, despite each comment or post appearing individually harmless; and
  • an apology on the same social media where a defamatory statement has been made may assist in mitigating the damage to a person’s dignity and reputation.

The Truth is On Your Side

Ultimately, you have every right to leave a bad review or make a negative post about a business, as long as you act in good faith and don’t lie. The difference between a legal negative review and an illegal one comes down to libel in many cases: “While defamation laws can vary depending on the jurisdiction, libel is the defamation of a company or individual in written form,” explained TekRevue. “To prevail on a libel claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a published statement about the plaintiff that was false, injurious, and unprivileged.” 

 

Marthinus Strydom

 

References: 

www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZAGPJHC/2013/1.html
uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/7643/A_Roos_Inaugural_.pdf?sequence=1
dealnews.com/lw/artclick.html?2,1051185,10629690
webtechlaw.com/2013/02/04/johannesburg-high-court-rules-on-facebook-defamation-html/
chili.co.za/News/1939/When-leaving-a-negative-review-can-get-you-sued

Watch out Trump Thumpers!

Watch out Trump Thumpers!

trump-lead2I find all the Trump Thumpers hilarious. The indignation they have because of this obnoxious man that stole the presidency.

Watching CNN today and it’s all they can talk about. How unfit he is to be president and how he’s going to destroy the most powerful country in the world. He’s going to be Putin’s new best buddy and the rest of the world is going to be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust.

It’s hilarious.

I’m making a list of all the Trump Thumpers and when he turns out to be a great president I will be the first to mock them. I don’t particularly like the guy but that’s not important. Having a president that you “like” is not important. What is important that he gets things done. Period.

What’s important is that he manages to fix a catastrophic foreign policy that has seen the US engaged in countless wars over the past 50 years.

What’s important is that he creates employment and saves the economy from imminent disaster.

What’s important is that he extricates the US from all their international meddling. I don’t particularly care if he’s not a nice guy. The best leaders are seldom “nice” guys.

Frankly, the many negative aspects that everyone is focused on, are in my opinion, the very reasons why he will be a good president.

He’s not ideological.
He’s a pragmatist. That’s a good thing. Ideology is for dreamers and a president shouldn’t be a dreamer but a doer.

He’s a dealmaker.
Like him or loathe him, one thing is certain. He can do deals and that is what a president should do – every day.

He’s financially minded.
At least he can count, not like South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma. Actually, being a good businessman requires all the character traits needed to be a good president.

He’s not a politician.
Politicians are the pits. We all know this and we all hate them, so why are we so against a president that is not a politician? That’s a good thing, right?

The Trump Thumpers are in for a shock. I predict that he will be a great president (don’t confuse that with great guy).

He’s focused inward.
That’s a really good thing. The US has been sticking it’s nose into other people’s business for far too long. They can’t be the policeman of the world any longer. Trump is going to focus on the US.

He’s going to shake things up.
The US/Russia relationship has been a disaster since the second world war. He wants to fix that. Critics gasp in horror at the thought. Why? Because they need a boogeyman. Who’s going to be the boogeyman if Putin becomes “cuz Vlad”?

He doesn’t give a shit.
I like that. You need a fearless leader that forges ahead against all odds. One thing is certain. He’s not playing this game to lose.

The majority of the world underestimated him when he joined the presidential race. He won. The majority of the world think he’s going to be a lousy president. He’s going to prove everyone wrong again. He loves being the underdog and I like underdogs too.

Tripadvisor epitomises new age arrogance

New age arrogance is a really horrid thing. It’s a cancer that started about 10 years ago and it has been growing rapidly.

New age arrogance is when a company such as Tripadvisor resorts to complex forums and other techniques to avoid speaking to their customers. Customers that have problems with their property or business listing on Tripadvisor has no way of resolving their issues or problems and Tripadvisor has become so big that they don’t give a shit. They can lose thousands of customers and it won’t make the slightest difference.

Instead of providing proper customer service, they create support forums that are , you guessed it, managed by their clients! And the incredible thing is that the average customer is such an idiot that he does it gladly, spending hours answering support questions for the “community” for no reward.

Tripadvisor has not one email address listed. No way to contact anyone at the Tripadvisor Empire. It’s actually really pathetic. What makes it worse is that their systems are really poor. They are great at raking in the money by enticing customers to join due to their size, but when it comes to after sales support, they must be in the Top 10 worst customer service organisations on the planet. Google of course takes the number one spot for being über assholes.

Now, other companies are also following suit, the suits and pony tails doing the Macarena in the hallways because they managed to find a way to avoid employing decent support staff – milking their stupid customers for more, whilst actually doing less.

This model will backfire. The Tripadvisor’s and Google’s will perish one day to be replaced by companies that are truly customer centric and service orientated.

I don’t need their crap service and you don’t either. The less people support these parasitic organisations the sooner we will create the space for quality companies to thrive. Companies that appreciate their customers.

I think the Oval Office will be redecorated

I think the Oval Office will be redecorated

Take a peek inside the home of the new President of the United States. His primary residence, Trump’s penthouse was decorated by legendary designer Angelo Donghia in the early 1980s. The Trump family’s primary residence is the penthouse of Trump Tower in New York City, located at 725 Fifth Avenue.

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The apartment has a color scheme of warm neutrals, such as gold, beige, rose, and blush, throughout.

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The decor is rococo, the 18th century French style that preferred ornate details, curving furniture, and an abundance of gold.

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At 58 stories high, the Trump apartment has views including all of Central Park, the five boroughs of New York City, and neighboring New Jersey.

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Breakfast takes the form of fruits divided into golden bowls.