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Hotel booking sites agree to end deceptive tactics

Major travel websites including Trivago (TRVG), Expedia (EXPE)Agoda and Booking.com have agreed to change the way they do business after a UK investigation found some of them were misleading users about hotel room prices and search results.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority announced the results of its investigation on Wednesday, which looked into issues including pressure selling, misleading rebate claims and hidden charges.

The regulator said some buyers were warned that other users were looking at the same hotel, giving them a “false impression” of a room’s popularity. In other cases, the total cost of the room was not displayed.

Although not all platforms have engaged in each of the unfair practices, they have now agreed to follow a common set of guidelines.

The companies have pledged to display all fees, including taxes, and to refrain from selling under pressure. They will be clearer about discounts and only promote offers that are actually available at the time.

Changes must be made by September 1.

Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority, said in a statement that the regulator would now do “everything it can to ensure the rest of the industry meets the same standards”.

The reservation industry

Expedia Group, owner of Hotels.com and ebookers, said the regulator’s announcement “misrepresents the collaborative and good faith approach” it has taken to help set industry standards.

“We have given undertakings to the CMA on a voluntary basis and the CMA in turn has closed its investigation into Expedia Group without admission or finding of liability,” a spokesperson said.

“We continue to believe that our practices have not violated any consumer laws,” the spokesperson added.

Trivago said it viewed the guidelines’ “wide applicability to all UK online travel agencies as a positive development for us and the industry”, and said it would “follow them to the extent they are applicable”.

A representative of Booking.com said he was satisfied that the regulator did not find an “admission of violation”.

Changes may be applied selectively.

The new standards will only apply to Expedia sites registered in the UK, the company said. The other sites did not immediately respond to questions regarding the implementation of the changes worldwide.