Thursday 3 March 2022

Sykes should have better control

 We've now left the Sykes Holiday Cottage family where they had been appointed by us to act as our agents for self-catering rental of our holiday cottage. I won't go into details of our reasons why we decided to drop them. We have informed Sykes as to the underlying issues and have completed the agreed notice period. Meanwhile we're launching our own website to advertise for rental as before. 

One of the exercises were having to undertake is to clean up the mess left on the internet by the Sykes advertising of our cottage for rental.  They promptly removed details of the cottage at our request when the contract was terminated by us. The problem is however, that it appears that Sykes has allowed a network of third party companies to copy from the Sykes web servers, their pictures and description of our cottage. This even extends to the third parties being able to take bookings, presumably for financial benefits, using the Sykes bookings and vacancy process. We not sure of the exact mechanisms/ permissions in place, but the impact is that there are many sites appearing to advertise our cottage for rental, or saying the cottage is no longer available for rental. This is in effect misrepresentation by the third parties. This is damaging for our business, and we're having to pursue the third party website owners to remove the false entries. 

If Sykes are permitting third-party organisations to advertise an owner's cottage for rental (via Sykes) they should have a mechanism in place to control access to the cottage and its booking details. Sykes should be able to restrict access to third-parties who no longer have permission to access those details.  There are easy technology solutions to provide this level of access control. For those without permission, Sykes has legal remedies to prevent unauthorised display.

Normally there's no incentive for a rental agency to stop the ghosting of retired property details. In fact it can be used to generate business for the agency, along the lines of: "You enquired about cottage xxx, but it is no longer available. You may wish to consider these alternatives." This is of course sharp practice, and if we detect Sykes doing this will complain.  Another tool in our armoury is that we have registered the cottage name as a trademark. People advertising the cottage without our permission can be accused of infringing the trademark and also passing off. Both of these can have legal consequences, including damages.

We'll be writing to Sykes to express our concerns about the internet traces left by their activities. Hopefully they'll take notice and change their procedures to avoid inadvertent ghosting of cottage owners. We tried to warn other cottage owners of this issue on the Facebook Sykes Cottage Owners forum, but the moderator blocked the story on the grounds that it might upset other group members.

Edit 6th Mar 2022

I came across a useful wording for others facing this situation:

You are reminded that by continuing to advertise a property you have no ability or authority to let, you are in breach of the ASA CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3. By advertising my property as 'unavailable to book' you are impeding my ability to receive bookings. Furthermore anyone googling my property name can be misdirected to your affiliates, whereupon potential guests may look no further and are mislead into thinking it could be booked for the next two years.

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