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Call for Competition & Markets Authority to investigate OTAs' actions

26 March 2020 by
Call for Competition & Markets Authority to investigate OTAs' actions

The Bed and Breakfast Association has said it would like the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) to look into changes online travel agents (OTAs) have made to their terms and conditions since the coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this week hoteliers accused OTAs of "behaving appallingly" by changing terms and conditions so bookings – including those that were non-refundable – are reimbursed without cancellation charges.

At a time when hoteliers are fighting for the survival of their businesses, both Expedia and Booking.com have given greater flexibility to consumers with measures including abolishing cancellation charges and introducing a blanket refunding of pre-payments.

David Weston, chairman of the Bed and Breakfast Association, told The Caterer his organisation had written to both OTAs, arguing the changes were "unfair and damaging to small businesses".

He added: "We would like the CMA to look into it to see if changing contracts like that is fair."

Hoteliers have said they cannot afford to take on the changes put in place by OTAs, explaining that after paying bank charges on cancelled and reimbursed bookings they are making a loss.

Weston said the changes showed "a total lack of support for our members and added: "The OTAs want to leave them with negative income while protecting their own income at all costs."

Earlier this week an Expedia group spokesperson said: "We have not taken this decision lightly. However, we believe it is the right thing to do for our industry, for travellers and, overall, for our partners, thousands of whom have already opted-in over the past few days because they see the benefit of simplifying the cancellation process."

The group said it was receiving an "unprecedented number of calls from travellers" anxious about travelling or unable to take trips due to government-imposed restrictions. It added that travellers, like its hotel partners, are facing financial uncertainty. It also argues that the measures could reduce administrative tasks for hoteliers.

It added: "We cannot stand by and do nothing when we are able to help make things easier. It's important that we're able to respond to cancellation requests as quickly and simply as we can to relieve this anxiety as much as possible for both partners and travellers."

Booking.com has told members to refund any prepayment, which hoteliers have pointed out could be the full room cost, as well as waiving any cancellation fees, where bookings have been cancelled as a result of force majeure.

A spokesperson said: "Ultimately, at Booking.com, our utmost concern is for the safety and security of our customers, partners and colleagues. We all feel the impact that the current uncertainty around travel brings, and we believe that working with our partners to make it relatively easy for our mutual guests to change their plans is both the right thing to do and means they will be faster to return to travel when the situation improves, which in turn protects the future of our industry.

"Forced circumstances are put in place by Booking.com only in rare moments of extenuating circumstances, such as when governments declare travel restrictions to protect public health and safety. This is all in accordance with applicable law and our general delivery terms, to which all of our partners agree when listing on our platform.

"In such times, when a customer may not be physically able to reach the property, we support them by offering free cancellation or to modify the dates of their stay, when possible. In light of these government-imposed restrictions, if a property refunds a customer what they have already paid, Booking.com of course also does not ask for any commission."

Picture: Shutterstock

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