Looking for a holiday through Booking.com? Expect to be conned
by Jackie A
A month ago
Never used them - though I'd quite like to be on that balcony right now
According to an investigation by consumer watchdog Which?, Booking.com, which trades 1.5 million rooms like the above every day, continues to hoodwink customers despite a recent UK government crackdown ordering booking sites to clean up their acts by September 1st. Booking.com ignored the warning, as Which? discovered.
So what have they been caught doing?
Fibbing. According to the consumer watchdog, five out of 10 of Booking.com's "only 1 room left on our site" were untrue, a bid to get you to book quickly. Take the Banjo B&B in Liverpool (I know, but one day you may need it) which showed "1 room left" on a "budget double room". In reality four identical "budget double rooms" for the same price of £49 were available. Over at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London, there was apparently 'Only 1 room left on our site'. Not true. There were 34, ten of which were almost identical and cheaper than the 'only room left'. Above the claim was a yellow badge saying "Great Deal". Not.
So many internet 'deals' are all smoke and mirrors and lies - is this just another example?
Booking sites have a history of telling big little lies. (You should really click through, it's funny). Let us count the ways. By not been transparent about how search rankings are tied to how much commission a hotel pays the site, or how many people are looking at the same room, or how many rooms are left, or the cherry picked reviews or even how long a price is available, or whether a weekday rate is being compared to a previous weekend rate or all the hidden extra charges. Basically everything you need to know to make an informed choice. And yet a staggering 70% of people who shop around for accommodation use hotel booking sites.
How big is Booking.com?
XXL. Between 400 to 600 million people visit the website every single month. Owned by the American company Booking Holdings and headquartered in Amsterdam, Booking.com offers more than 28 million listings in 148,470 destinations in 228 countries and territories worldwide. Its stablemates include Priceline.com, Agoda.com, Kayak.com and Rentalcars.com while its biggest competition is Expedia which now owns Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Hotwire, trivago, CheapTickets and eBookers, among others.
I hear Greek hoteliers have recently fallen out of love with it
That's because it charges between 15 - 25 percent of the total room rate including tax. "Unacceptable and unfair" said the Hellenic Federation of Hoteliers (POX) this month, calling on Greece's tourism and economy ministries to request Booking.com calculate commission on net room rates only. (Apparently booking platforms now end up collecting 3 - 5 percent of total hotel business profits without ever changing a sheet. Clever algorithm.)
Caribbean hoteliers are hopping mad too as Booking.com wants a cut of their staff tips
Hotels in the Caribbean are considering boycotting it over its new policy to include commissions levied on staff tips. And you know how big those can be across the Atlantic. (How technology turbo-charged tipping is for another day). In July, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) said the policy aimed to generate more revenue for the online giant at the expense of consumers, hotels and employees. No kidding!
Who is behind this business?
It was started in Amsterdam way back in 1996 by computer whiz-kid Geert-Jan Bruinsma who wanted to launch online hotel reservations. By 2005 the company had been bought by The Priceline Group for $133 million - which changed its name in 2018 to Booking Holdings and took $14.527 billion in revenue last year. Bruinsma must be kicking himself. BTW this April it mysteriously kicked its CEO Gillian Tans upstairs and by June she was gone. (The 49 year old Dutch businesswoman's net worth is $42m, so save your tears.)
What does Hotels.com have to say about its practices?
They say they're working hard to offer "transparency, choice and value". Obviously not hard enough, but why should they care? They are doing stupendously well and jumped to second place in Kantar’s ranking of the most talked about travel and tourism brands in the first half of 2019. It's outperforming others in the aggregator category, which saw Trivago, TripAdvisor and Travel Republic all suffer declines in conversation numbers. It's investing in TV and online video ads as part of a long-term brand-building strategy.
But we only care about one thing - are third party travel sites really cheaper?
Perhaps in the past but nowadays you can often get the same deal, if not a better one, booking directly with an airline or hotel. And maybe better service. There's a great anecdote online about a journalist checking into a hotel. "A friendly hotel clerk joked, 'Oh you booked on HotelTonight? We’re going to give you the worst room.' I asked, 'Do hotels really do that?' He said, 'We prefer when you book directly through us. Some places will give you better service.'
Bye bye Booking.com and your "only 1 room left" dishonesty.
We're all so bored of being lied to.