The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) watchdog is investigating business practices in the hotel comparison website industry, to see if consumers are getting shafted with high-pressure sales tactics and deceptive deals.
The investigation follows a year-long study of the hotel booking market, and examines four main areas of concern. The CMA wants to see if discount deals and search results are accurate, and aren’t influenced by previously higher prices, or by how much commission the hotel pays, respectively.
Another focus is the presence of “high-pressure tactics:” are hotel booking sites misleading consumers about demand or availability, in order to coerce a quick sale? Finally, are sites upfront with any additional fees, showing them as early as possible in the pricing?
The CMA has written to companies across the sector, although it hasn’t disclosed what sites it’s contacted. If the CMA finds anything untoward, it may take action, which could see sites taken to court, and potentially slapped with heavy fines.
In a statement, the CMA’s Andrea Coscelli 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 that this is not happening and that the information on sites may in fact be making it difficult for people to make the right choice,” he added.
Hotel booking sites don’t always represent the best value. There are some exceptions, but by and large, they’re not as good as booking directly. For starters, most hotels are happy to price match with online sites. And by booking directly, you get perks you wouldn’t otherwise — like free Wi-Fi or breakfast, loyalty points, and eventually status. It also helps that they don’t have to fork over 30 percent in commission.