If you have ever been to one of the big hotel and flight booking portals on the Internet, you may have noticed sentences like "Only 1 room like this left on our site", "other persons showed interest in this hotel in the last 24 hours", "the room is popular", or "time limited offer".
Hotel and flight booking portals like Booking.com use these to convey a sense of urgency to people interested in finding a hotel or flight in order for them to make rash decisions.
According to a Reuters report, Booking.com will stop using manipulative sales practices in the European Union from June 16, 2020 onward.
The European Commission said on Friday that Booking.com had committed to end “manipulative techniques” on its travel site, such as time-limits for making bookings and misrepresentation of discounts.
One of the main issues that the European Commission had was that some of the information that Booking.com displayed on its site would not provide any context. The "only x rooms" message for example meant only that Booking.com could not provide any more rooms to interested users but it did not necessarily mean that the hotel itself or competing services would not have any rooms either anymore.
The European Commission noticed other practices that it considered anti-consumer. Booking.com used sales and promotions to advertise certain hotel room offers but when these ran out, it was often the case that the price would not change at all.
Changes that Booking.com will implement by June 2020 include making it clearer that the number of rooms available only reflect rooms available through Booking.com and not necessarily other portals or the hotel directly.
Other changes include stopping the practice of highlighting offers as time limit if the same price applies after the time limit expires, that discounts "represented genuine savings", that the total price is displayed in a "clear way", and to indicate whether an accommodation is offered by a private host or professional.
The Competition and Markets Authority in the UK managed to get formal commitments from six online hotel booking sites after it launched an investigation in sales practices in late 2017. The six sites, among them Booking.com, Expedia, and Trivago, "provided formal commitments to change practices on their websites which the CMA considers may be misleading consumers".
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