Thursday 5 March 2020

Which? criticises online travel agencies - and rightly so

Booking a hotel falls right in between booking a restaurant and finding a reliable doctor in most people's priorities (the restaurant being 'low priority/risk' and the medical practitioner being 'critical'), but it's amazing how little time and effort some people are prepared to put in when there are thousands of pounds and their comfort and happiness are at stake.

Why is this the case? There would appear to be one reason that rises above all others when we mine down: people believe the online travel agencies' marketing. The example above is a particularly egregious example: there is no way the same room - for the same date - would show anything like that price variation across differing OTAs (online travel agencies). In our extensive experience consumers are far more likely to get a result like this:

Shocking, isn't it? No wonder Which? and the CMA are interested (we think the ASA ought to be as well).

For Times subscribers, here's a link to the full article.

The Times of 3 March scratched the surface, on the back of a Which? survey, but Mary Wakefield at the Spectator had a much firmer grasp of just how sinister the OTAs are:

You can read the full Spectator article here (no paywall)

Some of you will by now be wondering 'what has this to do with reviews?' The answer is simple: many - most even - people go to these sites in the first instance because they host guest reviews.

We wrote this article back in February of last year:

And it's not the first time we've been critical of OTAs. But we rely on the CMA to take action to protect consumers, so when these businesses are providing absolutely no added value - bar the reviews - we implore them to take swift action.

  • Does booking through an OTA save you money? NO - and the Which? survey proves that.
  • Does booking through an OTA get you any other benefits? NO, none that cannot be obtained by booking direct with the hotel
  • Do OTAs boost hotels in their search results as a result of payment by those hotels? YES, many do
  • Do hotels use OTAs to sell their substandard/less popular rooms? YES, the best rooms go to regular guests (who book direct) and those that book direct with the hotel
  • Why are the booking sites (OTAs) allowed to impose a 'no discounting below the rates offered on our site' rule on hotels? We don't know, and it's illegal in Germany and Australia

Here's a comment on the Times article that neatly sums up our position:

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