Holidaymakers will now hopefully have a clearer idea of what constitutes a good deal on a hotel booking site, thanks to enforcement action from the competition regulator.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced the agreement of six major hotel and holiday booking sites to co-operate and make changes to the way in which the firms promote deals and explain charges.
The firms subject to the action are Agoda, booking.com, ebookers, Expedia, Hotels.com and trivago.
The CMA says it was forced to take action on the firms because of concerning practices such as giving a false impression of a room’s popularity, not displaying the full cost of a room upfront, and even potential breaches of consumer protection law.
The firms have all agreed to the following measures:
Discount claims: more clarity on discounts and only promoting discounts that are actually available at the time the holidaymaker wants to purchase. The regulator found examples of discount claims that were being compared with other products that were not like for like, such as comparing a weekend room rate to a weekday room rate, or a luxury room rate to a standard room.
Hidden charges: all compulsory charges such as taxes, booking or resort fees must be included in the headline price. While the firms can still break the price down to explain the cost, the full price the buyer will pay must be shown upfront.
Pressure selling: firms will be stopped from misleading customers as to the availability or popularity of a hotel or rushing them into a decision to book. The CMA found examples of sites putting sold-out hotels into search results to put pressure on customers, making them think availability was diminished.
Search results: more clarity on the ranking of hotels, for instance by publishing when hotels have been pushed up rankings through commission paid to the site.
Andrew Tyrie, CMA chairman, says: “The CMA has taken enforcement action to bring to an end misleading sales tactics, hidden charges and other practices in the online hotel booking market. These have been wholly unacceptable.
“Six websites have already given firm undertakings not to engage in these practices. They are some of the largest hotel booking sites. The CMA will now do whatever it can to ensure that the rest of the sector meets the same standards.”
However, the CMA notes that not all of the firms will engage in all of the unfair practices outlined. All, though, have agreed to abide by the new code of conduct.
The regulator has set a final implementation date of 1 September 2019 but notes sites have begun to make improvements already.
The CMA intends to contact other booking sites and travel agents in due course to encourage similar implementation of better practices by 1 September, and will take further action if it finds any in breach of consumer protection laws.