The UK Competitions & Markets Authority has launched an investigation into hotel booking sites.
There are concerns consumers are being misled by them.
The organisation raised particular concerns over the clarity, accuracy, and presentation of information on such sites, which could mislead people, stop them finding the best deal and potentially break consumer law.
Its investigation will examine several practices, including search results, for example examining to what extent search results are influenced by other factors that may be less relevant to the customer’s requirements, such as the amount of commission a hotel pays the site.
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the Competitions & Markets Authority, said: “Around 70 per cent of people who shopped around for hotels last year used these sites and they should all be confident they have chosen the best accommodation for their needs and are getting a good deal.
“In today’s increasingly busy world, sites like this offer real potential to help holiday-makers save time and money searching for their ideal get-away.
“To do this, sites need to give their customers information that is clear, accurate and presented in a way that enables people to choose the best deal for them.
“But we are concerned that this is not happening and that the information on sites may in fact be making it difficult for people to make the right choice.
“That’s why we have started our investigation into this sector – to get to the bottom of these issues, see whether sites are breaking consumer law and make sure they help, not hinder, people searching for their next hotel room.”
The Competitions & Markets Authority will also examine pressure selling, looking at whether claims about how many people are looking at the same room, how many rooms may be left, or how long a price is available, create a false impression of room availability or rush customers into making a booking decision.
The CMA has today written to companies across the whole sector requiring information to understand more about their practices.
The CMA also wants to understand the impact that these practices have on sites’ customers so is calling on people that use them, and hotels that advertise with them, to share experiences which could be relevant to the investigation.
Discount claims will also come under the microscope, looking at whether the discount claims made on sites offer a fair comparison for customers – for example, the claim could be based on a higher price that was only available for a brief period, or not relevant to the customer’s search criteria.
Today’s announcement follows the CMA’s year-long market study of online comparison tools, which emphasised the importance of complying with consumer law by setting out clear ground rules.
ABTA commented: “ABTA welcomes the Competition & Marketing Authority’s investigation into accommodation booking sites.
“ABTA has always advocated price transparency and the provision of accurate information for consumers so that they can make a properly informed choice when booking their travel arrangements.
“The law requires companies to include all non-optional charges in their headline price so that customers are not hit with unexpected charges.
“Our code of conduct reflects this and it is important that the same rules apply across the industry to ensure a fair and level playing field for all travel companies.”