A crackdown on hotel booking websites has been launched amid concerns that consumers are being pressured into making bookings by misleading statements.
Enforcement action has been taken by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) against a number of as of yet unnamed hotel booking sites. It first opened an investigation into the market in October 2017.
The watchdog’s “widespread concerns” include:
- To what extent search engine results are influenced by factors that may not be relevant to the customer’s requirements, such as the amount of commission a hotel pays the site.
- Whether claims about how many people are looking at the same room, how many rooms may be left, or how long a price is available, create a false impression of room availability or rush customers into making a booking decision.
- Whether the discount claims made on sites offer a fair comparison for customers. For example, the claim could be based on a higher price that was only available for a brief period or not relevant to the customer’s search criteria, such as comparing a higher weekend room rate with the weekday rate for which the customer has searched.
- The extent to which sites include all costs in the price they first show customers or whether people are later faced with unexpected fees, such as taxes or booking fees.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, says: “Booking sites can make it so much easier to choose your holiday, but only if people are able to trust them. Holidaymakers must feel sure they’re getting the deal they expected, whether that’s securing the discount promised or receiving reliable information about availability of rooms. It’s also important that no one feels pressured by misleading statements into making a booking.
“That’s why we’re now demanding that sites think again about how they’re presenting information to their customers and make sure they’re complying with the law. Our next step is to take any necessary action – including through the courts if needed – to ensure people get a fair deal.”
In addition, the CMA has referred a number of concerns around online hotel booking sites’ price guarantees and other price promises to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The CMA has asked the ASA to consider whether statements such as ‘best price guarantee’ or ‘lowest price’ mislead customers and what conditions must be met for companies to make such claims.