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Study: Hotel booking websites cheat travelers over billions – Central Florida News

If you use travel booking sites, beware. Photo: FUM

If you use travel booking sites, beware.

New research from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) finds that guests are scammed nearly $ 6 billion annually by online reservation scams from fraudulent or deceptive travel websites.

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

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

AHLA warns that some fraudulent practices include imitating hotel and call center websites, appearing on top search engine listings. Deceptive sites also offer bogus discounts and instill a false sense of urgency by saying that there are a limited number of rooms available.

“There is a small percentage (of websites) that come out on their own and these are just, frankly, deceptive websites, they set up with names that look like a hotel … but they’re not. actually the hotel. Said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA.

Rogers is hoping that at some point legislation might 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 do is say, if someone is booking through a third-party site… the third-party site cannot create this environment where people think they are booking through the third-party site. hotel without letting them know, ”Rogers said. . “It’s just a simple disclosure, it lets the consumer know from whom he or she is booking, we think that is common sense.” At present, the bill is in the early stages of the legislative process, its next stage must be considered in committee.

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

The AHLA survey found that over 40% of consumers were upset to learn that when they compare products, most resources belong to only two companies.

“When you book through a third-party site… the two biggest players, Expedia Group and Booking Holdings, control about 95% of online booking and reservation 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 it’s just really two companies, it’s a duopoly, so the best plan is to The action is to go directly to the hotel website, ”Rogers added.

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

They say it’s “intended to help travelers avoid lost bookings, additional fees, and potentially ruined vacations.” The transparency campaign encourages consumers to book smart by booking directly with hotels or trusted travel agents.

Expedia Group and Booking Holdings’ requests for comment had not been returned at the time of this posting.

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

Expedia Group communications manager Josh deBerge sent a statement to WUSF 89.7 News:

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