Serious concerns continue over Online Travel Agents. Consumers urged to look more closely at ‘deals’

Regulators and consumer organisations have already exposed significant problems with Online Travel Agents (OTAs) – and one small business has already successfully claimed compensation for losses caused by  Booking.com

Online Travel Agents or OTAs as they are often better known dominate accommodation booking. Hotels and other accommodation providers cannot compete with their massive online presence – which is made more dominant still by the partnerships many have with TripAdvisor.

Whilst using such businesses to find the ideal place to stay may seem like a great idea, with the ability to search quickly and compare prices, there are issues that indicate that there has been serious detriment for both consumers and businesses for some considerable time.

Over the years, a number of regulators in different countries have investigated, sanctioned and made orders regarding the business practices of OTAs. The concerns have included the effects of very restrictive contracts forced on hoteliers, failures to include taxes in displayed prices and misleading advertising.  Now the UK consumer organisation Which? has recently released details of an investigation that has again highlighted the issues – and concluded that the practices and commissions that OTAs charge are pushing prices up – and that consumers can very often negotiate much better deals with hotels directly. Which? also drew attention to complaints by some hoteliers over misleading information published by OTAs regarding availability and prices that can cause serious financial damage to businesses – particularly affecting smaller ones that do not want to advertise their properties on the OTA websites.

KwikChex assists small business in winning thousands of pounds in compensation from Booking.com

KwikChex helped in fighting a successful battle on behalf of one small Greek business after online adverts by Booking.com repeatedly used the name of their property even though they did not subscribe to Booking.com. When consumers clicked on the links, they were guided instead to competitors.  The information that Booking.com was providing to TripAdvisor also falsely indicated that Booking.com were an agent for the property and this resulted in a ‘Sold Out’ notice being displayed on the TripAdvisor site.

This behaviour went on for some years and caused substantial losses to the business. It resulted in a legal battle that was itself distressing for such a small business, with an additional serious effect on the owners’ health.  Eventually, after denying responsibility for the multiple abuses that had taken place, KwikChex received an offer from Booking.com of settlement of several thousand Euros which was accepted – but the toll on the owners during the battle really took its toll.

KwikChex found that this was not an isolated incident  – that it was repeated by Booking.com where other properties were not selling their accommodation through the business – and that the problem occurred with other OTAs too.

What can consumers do?

Which? recommends the following

  • Find a hotel on Booking.com (or similar)
  • Google the name of the property and scroll down to find the official site
  • Email or call the hotel direct
  • Quote Booking.com’s rate. Can they better it?
  • Calculate 15% to 25% of the rate. This is the potential saving for the hotelier, and a good indicator of wiggle room

This may seem like unfair advice with the OTAs spending a great deal of money on advertising and the technology they have to maintain – but it is understandable when the ‘bullying’, misleading practices and high commission rates are taken into account.

You can read the details of the Which? report here – https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/03/why-youre-paying-too-much-for-your-hotel/

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