https://competitionandmarkets.blog.gov.uk/2019/02/26/accommodation-booking-sites-how-to-comply-with-consumer-law/

Accommodation booking sites: how to comply with consumer law

Hand pointing to accommodation options on a tablet

I find it tricky to book a hotel room, a B&B, or a holiday apartment.  There’s so much to decide.  What’s the best location? Do I need a swimming pool? Does it have parking? Is the place clean, comfortable and (occasionally) luxurious? And how much will it all cost me?

Like many customers seeking a great holiday deal, I rely on the internet to answer my questions.  That includes the myriad of accommodation booking platforms – online travel agents, holiday lettings sites, peer-to-peer accommodation sites and meta-search engines (that search everyone else’s sites).

There are (apparently) always lots of people looking at the rooms I’m interested in, and it seems as though that last perfect room will disappear if I don’t book right away. When it comes to securing a dream getaway, the pressure is on.

I’m not alone in my quest to find a good room and a good deal. And I’m not the only one with a fear of missing out.   It is important businesses don’t take advantage of this or unduly add to customer pressure.  This is why, at the Competition and Markets Authority, we are telling all online hotel booking sites to treat their customers fairly.

Today, we’re publishing a set of principles. Based on the findings of our recent investigation into online hotel booking sites.  In that investigation, we got commitments from some of the biggest hotel booking sites to avoid practices which could be misleading to customers.

Now we’re calling on all online accommodation booking sites, including search engines, big hotel groups and short-stay apartment rentals, to ensure they’re complying with consumer protection law when it comes to sales tactics and promotions.

So, what does this mean in practice for you as a business?

Here are some do’s and don’ts to guide you:

Do

  • be transparent about rankings and ‘premium’ listings - if the money the business earns affects the search results make it clear for the customer to see
  • show customers the total price up front so they are clear on the cost of the purchase and aren’t stung by hidden charges
  • be honest and tell the whole story if using availability or popularity messaging (for example, “Only 2 rooms left at this price to book on this site”, “15 people looking at this hotel for a range of different dates”)

Don’t

  • use misleading strike-through prices and discount claims; discounts must be genuine and compare the same types of rooms for the same stay dates.
  • hide unavoidable charges, like city taxes and resort fees, until late in the booking process

Looking ahead

We are giving everyone in the online hotel booking industry until 1st September 2019 to have made the necessary changes.  We’ll be engaging actively with key players to make sure they’re doing the right thing by their customers and we’re serious about taking further action if we find businesses aren’t. Businesses who don’t comply with consumer law risk enforcement action through the courts.

Read our principles to get a more detailed steer on what you can and can’t do when it comes to selling travel deals online, and if you are in any doubt about whether your business practices could be breaking consumer law rules, seek independent legal advice.

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2 comments

  1. Comment by David Cameron posted on

    Couldn’t agree more. Many sites have started showing this “10 people viewing” or “Only 2 rooms left”, and it only makes me wonder if this is their business trick. If such principles are being followed, then we’d be at peace.

    Reply
  2. Comment by Sally Burdis posted on

    6 sites are today advertising a property that isn't even available as it has been rented out on a annual basis to students. They are incredibly hard to speak to and if you do they pass the buck, they are not interested in the fact that they are advertising a property 'only two rooms left' '25 people looking at this property' - where in fact there are no rooms and haven't been for over two months when the property changed hands! When I ring and tell them their call centres are far afield and their staff simply cannot grasp what I am saying. I have been told by one it is a very rare technical problem and they are working on it and by another I have to tell someone else as they do not have authority to remove listings! And another just cut me off. Until they get fined for their misleading websites, they will continue to mislead and confuse, and people who have turned up at a student house expecting a room for the night will continue to stand outside in the dark with 'no room at the inn'.

    Reply

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