Today, a major investigation was launched regarding whether hotel booking websites are taking advantage of millions of holidaymakers by ripping them off.
The inquiry will investigate on how hotels are ranked in online searches, including whether the results are influenced by the amount of commission that a destination pays to the website.
It will also examine “pressure selling” and whether booking websites can build a false impression of the number of rooms that are available or rush customers into reaching a decision with warnings such as “last booked three hours ago” and “six other people looking at this now”.
The competition watchdog also wishes to establish if discounts that are advertised for a hotel are correct, or are comparing a higher weekend room rate with the weekday rate for which the customer has searched.
The inquiry will also attempt to uncover whether charges such as booking fees or taxes are not disclosed and may not be included in the price that was advertised.
About 70% of people who shopped around for hotels in 2017 used hotel booking websites such as Trivago, Booking.com, laterooms.com, Expedia, or lastminute.com.
There is no evidence that any of them are involved in bad practices. However, the CMA wants to make that consumers are not being ripped off.
“They should all be confident they have chosen the best accommodation for their needs and are getting a good deal,” stated Andrea Coscellli, the chief executive. “In today’s increasingly busy world, sites like this offer real potential to help holiday-makers save time and money.
“To do this, sites need to give their customers information that is clear, accurate and presented in a way that enables people to choose the best deal for them.
“But we are concerned that this is not happening and that the information on sites may in fact be making it difficult for people to make the right choice.”
The CMA has reached out to firms across the sector requiring them to give details regarding their activities.
Association of British Travel Agents’ Victoria Bacon, stated: “We have all experienced it when you go onto a hotel booking site, and it says there are six rooms available at that price … that’s OK as long as it’s true.
“If it is not true, or if it is misleading then it’s against the law.”
Bacon added that the hotel website booking sector “lacked scrutiny.”
“Travel agents, tour operators, ABTA members come under ABTA’s code of conduct, so they are scrutinised for these sort of things. Airlines come under the scrutiny of the CAA.
“This is a sector of the market, these hotel booking sites, which does not have that same level of scrutiny.”