Last week, I spoke to a dejected Dick Smith about his protest video and its failure to take off.
Seven days and 2.5 million hits later, the campaigning entrepreneur is on top of the world.
The video, an eight-minute expose of the practices of giant US-based online travel agents (OTAs), has struck a chord with ordinary Australians and created unprecedented interest in an issue which has long plagued the industry.
Asked if he was surprised by the public reaction, he said: “I can’t believe it. I’ve never done anything like it and I’m absolutely delighted because it means I can now start bypassing the normal media in this country.“I had absolutely no idea it was going to be this big. It’s completely beyond my imagination and its just colossal because I can’t even walk down the street or to the local shopping centre without people stopping me. It’s never happened before.
“The standard expression is ‘Dick, we had no idea that this was happening and we’re never going to book through one of these organisations again’.
“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, and it makes me feel good about Australia that people are saying to me, ‘Dick, we don’t even mind if we pay more if it’s going to go to the country town and the small business owner. We’re a country of mateship, of passing around the hat and we just love what you’re doing’.”
In the video, Smith explains in layman’s terms how motels and hotels are charged commissions of up to 30 percent for bookings made through the agencies but are contractually prevented from advertising their own rates cheaper online if they list with the bookings giants.
He believes it will help achieve the rate parity ban industry bodies have been working to achieve through a law change by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC). The move would allow accommodation businesses to set their online rates independent of the OTAs.
“Rod Sims from the ACCC immediately came out and said they were going to work on changing the Act,” said Smith.
“I’m quite sure there would have been the most horrendous lobbying from the best-paid lobbyists in the world to stop the family motels from advertising on the web cheaper.
“They would have come up with all this spin about how it wouldn’t work and all these lies. I think what I’ve allowed Rod Sims to do is what he probably wanted to do.”
The success of the video has allowed Smith to believe he can take on the world through social media – literally.
The German supermarket giant ALDI, which he accuses of “obsessive secrecy” and “extreme greed”, is next in his line of fire.
But not before he posts another video thanking the public for their support on OTAs – and asking them to pay a fair price for family-run Australian accommodation.
“Many people are coming to me and saying, ‘Dick we ring these motels and they’re not allowed to give you a better price’.
“Now they are, but they don’t know this and so I think I’ll probably do another video, first of all thanking the two-and-a-half million Australians who’ve seen the video and then I’ll say to the small family businesses, ‘Look, stand up to these people. You can take a booking direct’.
“And I’ll ask people not to push the family motels down.
“When you go into the hairdresser, you don’t say, ‘How much is a haircut? 30 dollars? OK I’ll pay 20’.
“You pay what’s the reasonable price and I think If you’re an Australian and you’re ringing up a small family motel, it’s worth paying ten dollars more because you know that it’s helping a small business in our country.
“My next video will be to say to people, ‘Don’t push everyone down to a level and be proud to pay a bit more if you’re booking direct because you know it’s going to stay in our country’.
“And this is the leadership we should be having from our politicians, by the way.”
Asked if he is considering a tilt at politics, Smith gives a suspiciously politician-like reply.
“No, not at the moment,” he laughs, joking that he’d be labelled a Dick-tator.