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Study: Hotel booking websites are fooling travelers by the billions

If you use travel booking sites, beware.

A new study from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) reveals that nearly $6 billion a year is defrauded of customers by online booking scams from fraudulent or deceptive travel websites.

Updated October 9, 3:50 p.m. with a statement from Expedia Group

According to the AHLA, nearly one in four guests experience some sort of problem when booking a hotel reservation through a source outside of the hotel’s direct booking system.

“23% of consumers say they have been misled by third-party traveler resellers over the phone or online,” according to a statement from the industry trade group that represents hotel chains, independent hotels and bed and breakfasts. “(It) amounted to $5.7 billion in fraudulent and deceptive hotel reservation transactions in 2018 alone.”

The AHLA warns that some fraudulent practices include impersonating hotel websites and call centers, appearing on top search engine listings. Misleading sites also offer fake discounts and push a false sense of urgency by saying there are a limited number of rooms available.

“There is a small percentage (of websites) that are independent and they are, frankly, just deceptive websites, they set up shop with names that sound like a hotel…but it’s not really the hotel. .” says Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA.

Rogers hopes that at some point legislation may come into play to help customers.

In July, the “Stop Online Booking Scams” ​​law was introduced with bipartisan support from Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, Gus Bilirakis, R-FL, and Lois Frankel, D-FL.

“All we’re asking Congress to say is, if someone books through a third-party site…the third-party site can’t create this environment where people think they’re booking through the hotel site without let them know,” Rogers said. . “It’s just a simple disclosure, it lets the consumer know who they’re booking through, we think that’s common sense.”

At present, the bill is in the early stages of the legislative process, its next step is to be considered in committee.

Rogers also advises users to be skeptical of what it calls the false sense of competition between travel booking sites.

The AHLA survey found that more than 40% of consumers were upset to learn that when comparing prices, most resources are owned by only two companies.

“When you book through a third-party site…the two major players, Expedia Group and Booking Holdings, control about 95% of online booking and booking sites,” Rogers said.

For example, Expedia owns companies like Hotels.com, Trivago, and Hotwire; Priceline, Kayak and Booking.com are owned by Booking Holdings.

“So when you think you’re going to get a good price because there’s all this competition, the reality is that there are frankly only two companies, it’s a duopoly, so the best thing to do is to go directly to the hotel’s website.” Rogers added.

Credit COURTESY AMERICAN HOTEL & LODGING ASSOCIATION

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COURTESY OF AMERICAN HOTEL AND LODGING ASSOCIATION

A chart showing which popular travel websites are owned by two companies, Expedia and Booking Holdings.

For this reason, AHLA is launching a new campaign called “Search Smarter”.

They say it “aims to help travelers avoid lost bookings, extra charges and potentially ruined vacations. The transparency campaign encourages consumers to book smarter by booking directly with trusted hotels or travel agents. »

Expedia Group Communications Manager Josh deBerge sent a statement:

The Expedia Group and all of our travel websites have long been trusted brands, powering millions of trips around the world and providing people with trips that match their needs. More than three-quarters of American travelers prefer to book their trip in one place. That’s why we allow consumers to purchase a wide range of hosting options at different prices and with different amenities. We provide localized content and 24/7 local language customer support to create a seamless experience, and our loyalty programs provide added value no matter where you stay. Our websites allow our accommodation partners to become visible and bookable to additional global consumers, while providing transparency in the hotel marketplace. And trust in Expedia Group extends beyond consumers. Expedia Group works with the vast majority of AH&LA members who provide their content directly to us, demonstrating that even their members agree that we are a trustworthy channel for consumers.

In Florida, hotel guest spending is $49 billion with 3,745 hotels in the state, supporting more than 747,700 jobs, according to the AHLA.