And time for an update on
the various antitrust investigations into price fixing in the hotel online
In the UK, the antitrust
investigation was sparked by complaints from at least one online agent (Skoosh.com). It complained that some hotel bookers and
hotel groups were conspiring to raise prices to consumers and that they sought
to enforce the conspiracy via hotel groups threatening not to sell their rooms
via the Skoosh website.
Following a three year
investigation, Booking.com, Expedia and Intercontinental were found by the UK
authorities to have entered into unlawful agreements whereby the online agents
would not offer discounts on sales of rooms supplied by Intercontinental. On 31 January this year, the UK authorities
accepted commitments from the parties to terminate the agreements and to allow
online agents to offer discounts.
The investigations in the
UK have been followed by similar investigations in other EU states:
- in Germany, the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) banned a 'most
favoured customer' provision which meant that hotels had to agree to offer
their lowest rate via the online agent Robert Ragge. The FCO took the view that the clause
prevented hotels from offering better prices or conditions to consumers who
were willing to shop around;
in Italy, the competition authority has recently initiated
proceedings against Booking.com and Expedia;
- in France, the hotel employee union has complained that
Booking.com and Expedia are breaching the antitrust rules by barring hotels
from offering lower rates via other agents; and
- in Switzerland, the Competition Commission has opened an
investigation into 'most favoured customer' provisions used by online agents.
All of which suggests that
empowered consumers shopping around online for the best holiday deal may not,
ultimately, have had that much effective choice.