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A LEADING Ballarat accommodation provider wants clarity on how overseas-based online travel agents can withhold information from properties given thousands of dollars of fines could be placed on businesses if they let people from locked down areas stay. Gavin James, who runs Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments, is calling for more protection for businesses which can be fined up to $10,000 if the wrong person visits their property. He said most of the major online booking agencies such as booking.com were based in the Netherlands which meant they are often unwilling to give up what they see as their intellectual property to accommodation businesses. READ MORE: Mr James said his business does not have a front desk, and asked for people’s mobile number in order to text them entry codes. But in the past had not requested addresses, something that now needs to be a focus before anyone can stay. Rules surrounding lockdowns mean that anyone travelling from Melbourne to regional areas must have a valid working permit. Businesses can be fined thousands if caught allowing metropolitan-based travellers to stay. These rules are in place despite Ballarat going nearly six weeks since any known local COVID-19 cases. “When people book with these OTAs they never give up the guest details, even for us,” Mr James said. “For starters, if you go with booking.com, 15 per cent of the fee goes to the Netherlands. “In COVID times we still get a notification, but all they tell us is a very minimum, they don’t give us an email with all the details. At least we say in the booking they need to give us their number so we can text the code.” Mr James said he continued to be shocked at the amount of people who attempt to book regional accommodation for sinister purposes, such as drugs. “Some people hide behind booking.com and Expedia because they know the place won’t get all the details, often we’ll contact them for their details, and you’ll never hear back,” he said. “Most people are legitimate but if it turns out they are from stage 4 lockdown, we can be fined for $10,000 for not following the rules.” Ballarat Regional Tourism chair Iain Gunn said necessary changes to international booking conditions was something that should have been thought of in the earlier stages of the pandemic and he sympathised with local providers. “It’s a bit late now, it’s something perhaps that should have been thought of six to 12 months ago,” Mr Gunn said. “Multinational booking sites, they are what they are, and at the end of the day it’s got to be venue responsibility on check-in. “It’s certainly uncomfortable if you refuse someone after the ID process, but it’s more uncomfortable if you’re caught flouting the rules. “I’ve been on the front desk and I understand the pressure, Mr and Mrs Smith from Melbourne thought they were doing the right thing, it’s a tough conversation to have.” Mr James said he advocated for a Victorian only, or even Ballarat only, accommodation site where commissions could be made locally, but Mr Gunn said while the idea was great, it would be difficult to change booking habits. “It’s very hard to change consumer bahaviour and if a person does not know the area, they will go a website that gives them all the information they need, we’ve all done that,” he said. “The trick is to promote…and when a person stays, tell them they can get a better deal booking direct with the hotel and that is how you can get that return business. “When you are travelling in an area you don’t know, these sites certainly offer a level of confidence.”

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