Hostel rip-offs probe

Written By miftah nugraha on Minggu, 27 Januari 2013 | 19.55

TASMANIA'S consumer watchdog is set to investigate the conduct of several backpackers' hostels after complaints of alleged rip-offs.

Backpackers have warned Tasmania that scams being run by a few operators could harm the state's reputation as a destination for budget travellers.

Overseas visitors have told the Sunday Tasmanian of ripoffs by operators who are targeting backpackers seeking seasonal work picking fruit including being forced to pay accommodation bonds and being charged up to $170 a week for a patch of dirt to pitch a tent on.

British tourist Chris Smith, 22, said he and a friend had each been charged a $200 bond for a week's accommodation in a small room near Hobart.

They were then slugged a $60 fee for being found a $45-a-day job at a local strawberry farm that lasted for two days.

"We were charged $170 a week for a crappy room with no heating or $110 a week to sleep in a campervan. They gave us one blanket each to sleep in this caravan. It felt like it was about zero degrees.

"It was a complete scam, a pretty bad experience, the worst we've had by a long run," he said.

He said things became worse when the pair tried to leave.

"When we said we want to leave the hostel, they said that if you leave we'll take your $200 off you.

"They're just ripping loads of people off. As my first experience in Tasmania it really gives the place a bad name."

Dutch tourist Lou Benders is taking legal action to recover a bond she was charged.

"[They] conned us and kept our bond only because we wanted to leave early," she said.

Director of Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Chris Batt said compliance officers from his office would look into the complaints.

Steve Old from the Tasmanian Hospitality Association said he had not heard of complaints from backpackers.

"If it is something that's not right then obviously we have to step on it. We only need one bad message to get out there and it can really hurt the industry," he said.

Tourism Australia figures reveal the nation hosted more than 1.5 million youth travellers last year, who spent an average of more than $7000 each during their stay.

Backpacker Operator Network founder Rod Parish, who runs the highly-regarded The Pickled Frog in Hobart, said the backpacker market was incredibly important to Tasmania and more needed to be done to promote the state.

"We've got an industry that brings in $60 million a year and Tourism Tasmania spends $6000 a year on us," Mr Parish said.

"All we hear from Tourism Tasmania is about how bad everything is."

"We've got everything that the market wants, you can do everything you ever wanted to do when you were young and yet we don't get 10 per cent of the market."

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