Hotel booking sites investigated by consumer watchdog

The UK’s competition watchdog will investigate hotel booking websites to see whether they are misleading customers.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it was worried about the clarity, accuracy and presentation of information.

The CMA will ask if sites are using ‘pressure tactics’ to encourage consumers to book rooms. It will investigate whether certain hotels are being promoted over others based on the commission the sites receive, which could be a breach of consumer law.

The CMA will also investigate how sites tell customers how many rooms are left, how many people are looking at a hotel and the last time a room was booked. Search result rankings and the ways in which extra charges are displayed will be scrutinised.

The CMA has written to companies across the sector and will be speaking to customers about their experiences.

Nisha Arora, a senior director at the CMA, told BBC’s Today programme: “We are concerned about the clarity and accuracy of these sites. Rather than helping consumers they may actually be making it more difficult for them.”

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) welcomed the investigation, saying it had had “lengthy discussions” with the CMA about consumer transparency.

The Association also commented on the domination of Expedia and Priceline Group, which collectively have a European market share of 80%, saying it was “difficult for others to break the market”. Expedia owns hotels.com, Trivago and Travelocity, while Priceline Group owns Booking.com, Kayak and Agoga.

Ufi Ibrahim, the chief executive of the BHA, said: “Many of our members have been concerned about the vast power of online booking agencies often charging high rates of commission, use of misleading information, pressure selling, and a lack of transparency. In the process guests are paying more than they should for rooms.”

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