Hotel booking sites will be forced to make major changes after Britain’s competition watchdog found they routinely engage in pressure selling, mislead consumers over prices and give more prominence to hotels that pay the most commission.
The Competition and Markets Authority is clamping down on websites including Expedia, Booking.com and Hotels.com over practices that give a false impression of a hotel’s popularity, with claims such as “one room left at this price” and “booked four times in the last 24 hours”.
The CMA said the pressure tactics used by six firms – which also include Trivago, ebookers and Agoda – could prevent customers finding the best deals in practices that could amount to breaches of consumer law.
Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the regulator, said: “The CMA has taken enforcement action to bring to an end misleading sales tactics, hidden charges and other practices in the online hotel booking market. These have been wholly unacceptable.
“Six websites have already given firm undertakings not to engage in these practices. They are some of the largest hotel booking sites. The CMA will now do whatever it can to ensure that the rest of the sector meets the same standards.”
The websites have a deadline of 1 September to make the changes or face further action. Not all firms engaged in all of the dubious practices but all have agreed to abide by all the principles set out by the CMA.
The CMA launched the investigation in October 2017, saying that with 70% of people researching hotels using booking sites, consumers needed to be confident they were getting the best deal.
Rory Boland, the travel editor at the consumer group Which?, said: “We have repeatedly exposed sites like these for using dodgy tactics like pressure selling, sneaky charges, dodgy deals and discount claims, so it’s absolutely right that the CMA is taking strong action.
“These changes must now be swiftly implemented to stop these misleading practices, so customers can trust the deals they’re presented with are really deals and are told the total cost of their room upfront when booking a hotel online.”