The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says it has secured sweeping changes to how online hotel booking websites display information, but demands by the regulator have left some major chains scrambling to restructure their front-end applications.
The move follows enforcement action in February by the competition watchdog against Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com, ebookers and trivago, over misleading practices that gave customers false impressions of discount or room popularity.
The move forces hotel booking sites to acknowledge when they are being paid by hotels to rank rooms/destinations higher in their listings. They must now note the extent to which this rank is affected by the commission paid by advertisers.
The move requires a number of UX changes: as the CMA emphasises: “For the avoidance of doubt, it is insufficient to require consumers to take action in order to view this information, for example by presenting it in hover over text or via a link.”
Website operators will also no longer be allowed to engage in pressure selling, a tactic where a website gives the false impression about how popular or available a hotel room is: previously if other users were viewing a hotel, popular booking sites would inform visitors that others are eyeing up the same room. Under the new rules websites must make clear that those users may be searching for different booking dates.
So far 25 online hotel and accommodation booking platforms including Google, Lastminute and AirBnB have agreed to institute the CMA’s consumer protection law principles. CMA CEO Andrea Coscelli commented in a release that: “People booking hotels online can now do so with more confidence thanks to the CMA’s action.
“Major websites and big hotel chains have agreed to clean up their act if they’ve been using misleading sales tactics, and have signed up to sector-wide consumer law principles on how to display important information to customers.”
Yet a number of Hotel groups and websites have requested more time from the CMA, as developers scramble to adjust functionalities built into entrenched infrastructure, with chains particularly affected.
Accor, IHG, Hilton, Marriott, Radisson Hotel Group, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts all have requested time from the CMA to bring their sites up to data.
The CMA says they will be closely monitoring these groups over the coming months to ensure they implement the necessary changes.
CMA CEO Andrea Coscelli warned that: “The CMA will now be watching to make sure that these major brands, used by millions of people in the UK every year, stay true to their word. We will take action if we find evidence that firms are breaking consumer law.”