OTAs and their influence on B&B operations
by David Weston
Chief Executive of the
Bed & Breakfast Association
One of the hottest topics for B&B owners is the power of the big online travel agencies (OTAs), and the influence they now have over our businesses. When any two B&B owners meet, sooner or later the conversation gets around to Booking.com, Expedia, Laterooms and other giants, and the hold they have over B&Bs and hotels – a vice-like grip, it sometimes seems.
Besides guiding our members through the maze of regulations, and negotiating discounts, offers and deals for them, our third role is to represent our members – so we have recently been spending ever greater amounts of time fighting the corner for B&Bs with Governments and regulators, trying to halt the ever-increasing imbalance of power between these so-called “agents” and B&Bs, and the consequent abuse of that power to the detriment of B&B owners.
For this reason, we gave a lot of evidence to the House of Lords in its recent inquiry into “Online Platforms” – and we were delighted, now that they have released their Report, to see that it has taken on board many of the concerns we raised. “Peers warn of rip-off online travel agents” was how The Times reported it, continuing:
“Online travel agents are ripping off customers to such an extent that an urgent top-level inquiry is needed to police them, a Lords report warns.
“Rigged pricing, fake reviews, doctored search options and intimidation of hoteliers to stop them offering cheaper deals have been identified by the upper house’s EU committee as unfair practices deployed in the digital travel sector.
“Peers say that a rapid investigation by the Competition & Markets Authority [CMA] is needed to bring the industry into line.”
We (and the British Hospitality Association) have been calling for:
- an outright ban on “rate parity” clauses – which prevent hotels and B&Bs from offering lower rates than those on the OTA where they are listed. Rate parity clauses are already illegal in France and were found to be anti- competitive in cases brought against Booking.com and HRS in Germany;
- more effective and speedier methods for resolving competition and consumer protection issues and codes of practice for online platforms; and
- transparency for consumers in rankings, ratings, and reviews.
The Lords report echoes us in calling for an urgent CMA investigation into the practices of OTAs, a code of practice for OTAs, speedier dispute procedures, and more transparency around user “reviews”.
This is a good “win” for B&Bs – but is only one stage of many. Thank you to all our members for your support in enabling us to continue the fight in Westminster and in Brussels. Watch this space!
The Bed & Breakfast Association is the UK trade association for B&B and guest house owners, and exists to inform, support & represent owners. Membership costs £60 a year.