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Hotel booking sites probed by competition watchdog

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Online hotel booking sites are to be investigated by the competition watchdog to see if customers are really getting the best deal.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is concerned about the clarity, accuracy and presentation of information on sites which it said could mislead customers and stop them finding the best deal. It said sites may be breaking consumer law.

As part of the investigation into booking sites offering accommodation in hotels, B&Bs and hostels, the CMA will look at the following:

  • Search results: how hotels are ranked after a customer entered their search requirements. It wants to see to whether search results are influenced by any other factors, such as the amount of commission a hotel pays the site
  • Pressure selling: whether claims about how many people are looking at the same room, how many rooms are left, or how long a price is available for, create a false impression of room availability or rush customers into making a booking decision
  • Discount claims: whether they offer a fair comparison. For example, the claim could be based on a higher price that was only available for a short period, or whether it compares a higher weekend room rate with the weekday rate
  • Hidden charges: the extent to which sites include all costs in the price they first show customers or whether they’re later faced with unexpected fees, such as taxes or booking fees.

The CMA has written to companies across the sector asking them for more information on how they operate and the practices they use. It is also seeking views and experiences from users by 15 December to help with the investigation.

If the CMA finds any wrongdoing, it can take enforcement action. An update on the investigation is due in spring 2018.

‘Sites like these offer real potential to help holiday-makers’

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Around 70% of people who shopped around for hotels last year used these sites and they should all be confident they have chosen the best accommodation for their needs and are getting a good deal. In today’s increasingly busy world, sites like this offer real potential to help holiday-makers save time and money searching for their ideal get-away.

“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 this is not happening and that the information on sites may in fact be making it difficult for people to make the right choice.

“That’s why we have started our investigation into this sector – to get to the bottom of these issues, see whether sites are breaking consumer law and make sure they help, not hinder, people searching for their next hotel room.”

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