By Conall Ó FáthartaIrish Examiner Reporter
Hotels here will be able to offer cheaper room rates after the consumer watchdog forced Booking.com to change its policies.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) confirmed it took action against Europe’s largest online travel agent platform to address concerns that aspects of the arrangements Booking.com had with Irish hotels, restricted price competition and risked infringing both Irish and EU competition law.
This specifically related to Booking.com’s ‘best price guarantee’ whereby it guarantees to match lower rates for the same room found elsewhere.
While this appears to be a great deal for consumers, the CCPC pointed out that this guarantee was based on a ‘price parity clause’ which required hotels to guarantee that they would make their best rates available to Booking.com, and that cheaper rates could not be found elsewhere.
Where a consumer found a cheaper rate elsewhere than on Booking.com, the hotel was obliged to fund the cost of the best price guarantee (the difference between the cheaper rate and the Booking.com rate).
The CCPC, along with a number of other European investigations, argued that this clause restricted competition by dissuading market entry by new, low-cost online travel agents (OTAs), by preventing hotels from discounting rooms which would otherwise lie empty and by dampening price competition between OTAs.
Following the CCPC intervention, hotels in Ireland are now free to enter into alternative pricing arrangements with different OTAs, thereby facilitating price competition.
Hotels will also be able to offer cheaper prices through other marketing channels, for example loyalty clubs and through direct contact with consumers who call, email or drop in.
The commission’s action has occurred alongside a number of investigations across Europe by other authorities. Ireland joins France, Sweden, and Italy in securing commitments from Booking.com.
CCPC chairwoman Isolde Goggin said the five-year commitment from Booking.com will ensure increased competition in the market and, ultimately, better value for the consumer.
“The commitments secured from Booking.com will enable increased competition among businesses operating in this sector, benefitting the businesses concerned and also consumers,” she said. “The commission’s mission is to make markets work better for both consumers and businesses and removing barriers to competition is an important part of this work.”
Ms Goggin advised consumers that trying a range of different platforms is the best way to ensure that you get the best available price.
“Consumers may believe that using one travel website will guarantee them the cheapest rate but this is not always the case,” she said. “As well as checking the cost of accommodation on a travel site, it is also worthwhile contacting the hotel directly to see if you can secure a better deal.”
Meanwhile, a survey of American travellers by Expedia has listed the top 10 most annoying habits of other hotel guests. Topping the list was inattentive parents — cited by 67% — who let their children run wild.
It was followed by people who make too much noise in elevators, complainers, people who party in their room, and couples who bicker loudly.
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