Hotel booking sites like Trivago, Expedia, and Booking.com are being forced to change the way they operate after a UK watchdog found they were engaging in misleading sales strategies.
Anyone who has booked a holiday through one of these sites will be familiar with the tactics used: notifications telling you how many people are looking at the same room, as well as hidden costs at the end of the transaction.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have deemed this “pressure selling”, as sellers were giving a false impression of the hotel’s popularity or affordability, leading people to buy instantly and not shop around. Some websites even strategically placed sold-out hotels within search results to put pressure on people to book more quickly
“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,” said CMA chairman, Andrew Tyrie. “These have been wholly unacceptable.”
Not only did CMA raise concerns about pressure selling, but the watchdog also raised the issue of misleading discount claims and hotels concealing commissions to list highly on search rankings.
Not all of the firms listed above engaged in all of the practices cited, but Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com, Ebookers and Trivago have all agreed to make changes to their websites.
From 1 September at the latest, the websites will have to make changes in four areas: search results, pressure selling, discount claims and hidden charges.
They have been asked to addres the following:
Search results: Making it clearer how hotels are ranked after a customer has entered their search requirements, for example telling people when search results have been affected by the amount of commission a hotel pays the site.
Pressure selling: Not giving a false impression of the availability or popularity of a hotel or rushing customers into making a booking decision based on incomplete information. For example, highlighting that although other customers are looking at the same hotel as you, it might be for different dates.
Discount claims: Being clearer about discounts and only promoting deals that are actually available at that time. Examples of misleading discount claims may include comparisons with a higher price that was not relevant to the customer’s search criteria.
Hidden charges: Displaying all compulsory charges such as taxes, booking or resort fees in the headline price. Sites can still break that price down, but the total amount the customer has to pay should always be shown upfront.
The CMA said it will also write to other hotel booking sites including online travel agents, metasearch engines and hotel chains setting out clear expectations for how they should be complying with consumer protection law.