OFT Brings Malpractice Allegations against Booking.com, Expedia and Intercontinental Hotels Group

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), a UK government department, has alleged that three of UK’s biggest travel names, Booking.com, Expedia, and InterContinental Hotels Group, have infringed on competition law by restricting the online booking of hotel rooms.

The OFT has issued a Statement of Objections charging Booking.com and Expedia for breaking the law by entering into an agreement with IHG to offer discounted prices of room-only accommodation.

The agency, which had conducted an investigation in September 2010 following a complaint by a small online travel company, feels that such agreements are anti-competition, restrict the entry and expansion of smaller travel agents selling discounted accommodation to customers, and hence break the Competition Act of 1998.

The UK’s Competition Act of 1998 provides a guideline for the recognition and control of restrictive business practices, when utilised by a dominant market leader to control competition.

Clive Maxwell, the OFT chief executive officer, said, ‘We want people to benefit fully from being able to shop around online and get a better deal from discounters that are prepared to share their commission with customers.

The OFT’s provisional view is that Booking.com, Expedia and InterContinental Hotels Group have infringed competition law. However, these are the OFT’s provisional findings only. All parties will now have a full opportunity to respond to our Statement of Objections before we decide whether competition law has in fact been infringed.’

IHG owns around nine hotel brands in round 100 countries, including InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, as well as two new brands, EVEN Hotels and HUALUXE Hotels & Resorts.


TripAdvisor: How One Website is Revolutionising the Niche Travel Industry

It’s the world’s biggest travel website, and it’s revolutionising the industry for both industry leaders and independent attractions. The website is, of course, TripAdvisor, one of the most prominent and influential community-driven websites in the travel space. Since its slow rise to popularity in early 2001, the website has grown into a do-all travel portal, and it’s soon to grow even more.

Founder and CEO Stephen Kaufer has made it clear that TripAdvisor is his own creation. Despite a series of proposed sales and large offers from other travel industry leaders, the remains in Kaufer’s hands and is operated by his own team of employees. Now numbering almost six-hundred, steady growth has seen TripAdvisor’s workforce expand to include workers in every populated continent.

It’s growth that’s been fuelled by the company’s community-friendly approach to reviews and hotel information. TripAdvisor limits the amount of censorship and screening on its website, preferring a hands-off approach to the selected information often seen in travel magazines. Negative reviews are published in their entirety, with users encouraged to offer honest, useful travel advice.

Perhaps that’s why the website has grown so influential over the past decade. For decades, the most visible information on any destination was almost entirely positive – magazines refrained from any overtly negative content or lengthy criticism pieces due to partnerships and style. It’s TripAdvisor’s honest and balanced negativity that often sells (or anti-sells) a destination to readers.

For independent travellers, the website remains a hit. For independent travel businesses, it’s an even bigger success, generating thousands of leads monthly for those that feature in its database. With the boutique travel sector growing throughout the recent economic downturn, small hotels and tourism operators may have found their promotional winner in a prominent TripAdvisor listing.

Orbitz, Others Raise Questions Over Online Booking Industry’s Attention to Detail

Consumers have taken to online price shopping travel websites in mass numbers. With the industry leader Priceline reporting steady profits and an ever-expanding market cap, it appears that shopping for air tickets by price is a winner for both customers and companies. But one online travel tool has been attracting all the wrong attention, racking up hundreds of consumer complaints last year.

The website in question is Orbitz, a fairly popular online booking tool that’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange and advertised nationally. The website is considered a leader in the online tourism field, although a slew of recent complaints reveal that it could be moving down the ranks. From an unusual marketing policy to poorly planned flights, customers don’t seem happy with Orbitz.

Public complaints have listed the website as one of several that shares customers’ bank information with third parties, most offensively, subscription companies that engage in unethical marketing. An Orbitz customer may find themselves enrolled in another company’s monthly ‘tips’ club, paying fees of up to $15 monthly and often completely oblivious to the fact that they have been enrolled.

A second Orbitz tactic that’s raising controversy is the service’s pairing of flight connections that are simply impossible. Customers are routinely pushed to purchase connecting flights departing from a location over sixty miles from their landing point, with all travel to be completed in an impossibly swift thirty minutes.

The company has publicly responded to some of the criticisms, arguing that its algorithm is far from a perfect solution and suggesting guests double-check itineraries before purchasing. It’s a smart call, but for the thousands of dissatisfied Orbitz customers, it could be one that’s too late. Search ‘Orbitz’ on Google and you’ll run into hundreds of prominent unhappy customer reports on the company.