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Competition watchdog to investigate online booking sites

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Competition watchdog to investigate online booking sites

Online hotel booking sites are to be investigated as a result of concerns that they may be misleading consumers and potentially breaking consumer law.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it will investigate several practices, including:

• Search results: how hotels are ranked after a customer has entered their search requirements. For example, to discover to what extent search results are influenced by other factors that may be less relevant to the customer, 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 may be left, or how long a price is available, create a false impression of room availability or rush customers into making a booking decision.

• Discount claims: whether the discount claims made on sites offer a fair comparison for customers – the claim could be based on a higher price that was only available for a brief period, or not relevant to the customer’s search criteria. For example, a higher weekend room rate could be compared with the weekday rate for which the customer has searched.

• Hidden charges: the extent to which sites include all costs in the price they first show customers or whether people are later faced with unexpected fees, such as taxes or booking fees.

If the CMA finds that sites’ practices or claims are false or misleading and are breaking consumer law, the CMA could take enforcement action.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Consumers should be confident they have chosen the best accommodation for their needs and are getting a good deal.

“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.

“That’s why we have started our investigation into this sector – to get to the bottom of these issues, to 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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