It's not the first time I've written about this, and no doubt won't be the last.
The Government have instructed the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) to look into on line booking websites (such as Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, Laterooms, Trivago). There are various concerns with the way that they market and display information to you as consumers and the unfair way they treat hoteliers like me.
Many members of the general public don't realise they are even booking on an "OTA" (online travel agent) and think they are on the hotel's actual website. Many are driven to panic buy as they see several other people are supposedly looking at the same room at the same time, and there is only the one left.
This is one of the things that most annoys us and affects our guests' experience. As you know, we only have six rooms - all of which are very different and individual. Each are named after a different local beach. Therefore, if you look at any of our six rooms on these sites you will be told to book quickly as it's the "last room available" - of course even if we are empty, it's still the last room available of that name as we only had one of each to start with!
This directly affects our guests. If I had a pound for every guest who said they booked that room because it was the "last one available" I wouldn't need to be renting out our rooms to make a living. Guests would invariably have booked a larger room, one with a bath, perhaps one with a separate living room and so on if they had known there were other options available at the time of booking rather than going with the cheapest one available, beleiving it to be the only one available.
It also ironically affects the OTA's business. Recently we had a lovely guest who was staying here on her own, with the rest of her family booked in elsewhere. When questioned why they didn't all stay here together, it was because they were told it was the last room available so they weren't able to book all three rooms they required. As it was, we still had two rooms left on check in, and as their other accommodation was so dire, they chose to stay with us anyway.
Most guests don't realise that these third party booking sites take a large commission from us. They may advertise that the booking has no booking fees to the guests but this is not the case for the hotelier. That's why we always offer a better deal on price if you come directly to us via our own website, saving you on average at least 10% on your booking, plus you get a complimentary minibar is you stay for two nights or more. We split the commission so you get a better deal, and we save some money too.
Have you seen the statements "free cancellation" and "best price guarantee". Yes, it may be free to cancel your booking up to 30 days before, but after that time, you loose your deposit. They don't make that clear enough. And by seeing "best price guarantee" you presume it's the best price you'll find, when it's cheaper to book direct. All they mean is if you find it cheaper at a later date, they may refund the difference to you - and why wouldn't they - it all comes out of the commission we've just paid them so they don't care anyway.
Have you ever used a price comparison site like Trivago? Bizarely, you'll more often than not see that all the prices are the same across all websites. This is because the OTAs penalise us if we offer a different price to one and not the other. For instance, if we wanted to offer one website a slightly lower price to encourage more bookings on that wesbite, another website would threaten to drop our ranking on their website unless we put the price back up - thus losing us business. We therefore keep prices the same across all OTAs. This is surely price fixing by the OTAs?
I could go on all day about the pros and cons of using these websites. Unfortunately, they are a necessary evil as they do bring us guests who would never have found us otherwise, and the days of booking via the local tourist office are long gone so we do rely on them somewhat. We realise we have to pay for this service, but the amount they charge is excessive.
However, as discussed, the way they sell to you and the way they choose to display what accommodation is available in the area you are searching is questionable.
We would very much appreciate you taking the time to fill in the CMA's survey - the more responses they get, the more they can see what the issues are and how to tackle them and ultimately you as consumers get a better deal.
Here's the link: