Hotel booking sites are being forced to end misleading sales following a ruling by the Competitions and Market Authority.

BACKGROUND

The Competition and Markets Authority (‘CMA’) began investigating Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com, ebookers and Trivago in June 2018 over high-pressure selling tactics and misleading discount claims which has now been concluded.

The CMA’s focus was primarily on these online hotel booking websites making room availability appear to be more popular than they actually were and have decided to clamp down on it.

The CMA have also requested information from the industry to see if commissions affected the results.

FINDINGS

The CMA has stated that the industry has now agreed to adhere to the following remit;

  • To make it clearer how hotels are graded, including whether hotels have paid to have a higher ranking than others.
  • To not give a false impression of a hotel’s popularity to rush customers into making a booking.  For example, when saying that other customers are looking at the same hotel as you, it should be made clear it they are searching for different dates.  Some sites were also placing sold-out hotels within search results to put pressure on people to book more quickly.
  • To be clear about discounts and only promoting deals that are actually available at that time.  The CMA found sites comparing a higher weekend room rate with a weekday rate or comparing the price of a luxury suite with a standard room.
  • To show charges such as taxes, booking or resort fees in the price.

Whilst the regulator didn’t find all of the companies under investigation guilty of all of these bad practices, it was clear that there was a common theme with consumers being misled by unfair practices.

The CMA has stated that they will be watching this closely and have given the industry until 1 September 2019 to comply with the agreed standards or face Court action.

UNLAWFUL PRACTICES

I believe that the CMA will find that commission payments to these online hotel booking websites have been influenced by these unlawful practices. It has influenced my booking decisions in the past, not knowing that they were misleading and untruthful.

Consumers expect price comparison websites to be transparent and it is becoming clear now that this isn’t the case. Some of these websites have also been in cahoots with providers paying to be ranked higher than their competitors.

Consumers don’t realise that it is actually cheaper booking direct that using price comparison websites.

Customers expect much better than this and if we cannot trust price comparison websites, what chance do we have? Trust is everything and is embedded in the culture of an organisation including an expectation of great customer service.

These sharp practices fall short of what consumers expect. It’s reassuring to see watchdogs having some bite and taking action in favour of consumers, and it is up to us as consumers to be proactive and report any unfair practices to the relevant authorities to raise the bar and standards to the level we expect.

What are your thoughts on this?

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