Booking complete?

You’ve booked your city break away to Manchester. You’ve decided to treat yourself to a luxurious hotel experience and have booked “one of the newest 5-star hotels” in the area, which boasts itself as “paradise here on planet earth!” The only problem is that the hotel does not actually exist. You’ve been scammed and before you know it, you are regretting not using one of the mainstream booking agents’ websites. Should you have known? Surely it is easy to spot a scam website? For travellers attempting to book at the Grand Pearl Hotel in Manchester, this situation is unfortunately a reality.

The 5-star Grand Pearl Hotel in Manchester, with its 235 luxurious rooms and suites and Olympic sized swimming pool, is merely a mirage which only exists on its website. In fact, its listed address at 26 Peter Street, Manchester City Centre, M60 2DS does not even exist. The Midland Hotel at 16 Peter Street occupies the entire block with the next business along Peter Street being a Caffe Nero at number 58. Surely, people would have spotted this? The unfortunate truth is that the website for the Grand Pearl Hotel has been live since 16 April 2018, and how many travellers have attempted to book there is unknown. Therefore, what can travellers do to ensure that they are not the next victims when booking on hotel sites directly?

While the website itself doesn’t scream 5-star luxury, it certainly isn’t the worst website out there. At first glance, the website includes what you would typically expect from a hotel. There are sections focusing on the background of the hotel, rooms & amenities, restaurants & bars, testimonials, and a contact and booking page. As a rule of thumb, looking for glaring spelling and grammar errors is usually a big indicator that all might not be what it seems; however, this website does not have these problems. There are, however, indicators that something strange is at work. On closer inspection of the Rooms & Amenities section, all of the photos are from different hotels and homes around the world – the first image on the carousel shows a Bangkok skyline and is in fact the St Regis Bangkok hotel; another is from a Tata Homes catalogue; the hotel lobby is the EB Hotel in Miami; and the lovely Manchester city view with a palm tree in the window is actually The Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu. Failing this, the restaurants, bars and spa listed on the facilities page are all imaginary so booking a reservation as Angela Bunett from Madrid recommends you do so on the Testimonial page is impossible.

A scenic room view in Manchester CREDIT: GRAND PEARL HOTEL

On a slightly more technical level, the website does not have a security certificate. The address for the site begins “http:” lacking the important ‘s’ found in “https”. Without HTTPS, any data entered on to the site (such as your name, username, password, credit card or bank details, or any other form submission data, etc.) will be sent plaintext and therefore is susceptible to interception or eavesdropping. For this reason, you should always check that a site is using HTTPS before you enter any information. Given the tide of data breaches related to hotels that have been announced over the past year, you should absolutely avoid booking any hotel if their website does not have a security certificate. Trying to book by phone also proves impossible, given that the number continually rings out with no answer. Nevertheless, the fax number appears to work; although I’m yet to receive a response to my booking request unsurprisingly.

Booking elsewhere is also impossible. Even though the hotel claims to be part of The Leading Hotels of the World Group, the only true Mancunian hotel in the group is The Lowry Hotel. The hotel additionally has no reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor or Google and the hotel itself is not listed on any other platform than its own domain. A domain which is registered by the website designer, Zolusion Graphics, in Nigeria.

The lack of online footprint is a significant indicator when booking a hotel and while reading reviews and conducting your own research may appear to be a time consuming and overwhelming task, it can often provide insights far beyond the hotel website itself. Another great indicator regarding the legitimacy of a website is an approved seal of recognition – for example a GSA mark; or an ABTA membership seal; amongst others. As scams continue to gain greater sophistication, it is of ever-increasing importance to question information available online. So, as you start to make those holiday plans for this summer, it might be wise to hover over that confirm button a little longer and ask yourself whether or not you’re sure about the site you are using.

You can report fraud or cybercrime to Action Fraud any time of the day or night using their online reporting tool. Reporting online is quick and easy. The tool will guide you through simple questions to identify what has happened and the Action Fruad advisors are available twenty-four hours to give provide help and advice if you need it.