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UK Government takes aim at holiday websites over search results, discounts and hidden charges

The CMA has cited a range of concerns including whether commissions are influencing internal search results and 'pressure selling.'
by on 30th June 2018

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a non-ministerial department of the UK Government, has announced it’s launching “enforcement action” against hotel aggregation websites that it believes may be breaking consumer protection law.

In a press release published on its website, the CMA cited a range of concerns over the business practices of hotel aggregators, including how hotels are ranked on internal search platforms, the legitimacy of claims about the number of rooms advertised as available and unexpected fees like taxes or booking fees.

In relation to search results, the CMA appears particularly concerned about whether results are influenced by the size of the commission offered by the hotel or other factors that “may not be relevant to the customer’s requirements.”

The CMA also states it’s concerned by what it refers to as “pressure selling.”

It lists particular examples, including hotel websites displaying information on how many people are viewing a particular room or how many rooms remain available to book, and questions whether such measures create a false impression around availability or pressure consumers into purchasing.

It also questions whether discount claims from hotel aggregators are based on pricing that was only available for a brief period of time.

If it finds hotel websites are breaking consumer protection law, it will take one of two approaches, namely demanding the website signs a legally binding commitment to revise its business practices or settling the matter in court.

It also states it has referred a number of hotel websites to the Advertising Standards Authority over price guarantees and allegedly misleading customers.

Commenting on the enforcement action Andrea Coscelli, the Chief Executive of the CMA, stated:

“…Holidaymakers must feel sure they’re getting the deal they expected, whether that’s securing the discount promised or receiving reliable information about availability of rooms. It’s also important that no one feels pressured by misleading statements into making a booking.

“…Our next step is to take any necessary action – including through the courts if needed – to ensure people get a fair deal.”

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