Pamela Whitby analyses an interesting development in the hotel distribution landscape
Poor taste or not, the letter sent by Booking.com to hotel partners last week shows that the hackles of the world’s biggest online travel agent have risen.
Indeed, the threat of legal action to prevent hotels using TripTease’s Price Check widget shows how seriously Booking.com is taking the situation. The message is clear: play by our rules or don’t play at all.
Price Check, said to be live on 8,000 brand sites, allows hotels to display the rates of three OTAs, alongside the hotel’s own rate on the brand homepage. It pops up when the guest has already found the hotel providing one last push down the booking funnel. This, says TripTease, leads to as much as a 35% increase in direct conversions.
…the threat of legal action to prevent hotels using TripTease’s Price Check widget shows how seriously Booking.com is taking the situation
If it sounds too good to be true, it is. First published on HotelSpeak, the letter from Booking.com to its hotel partners did not mince words.
“For avoidance of doubt,” wrote the world’s biggest online travel agency, we want our hotel partners to know that they could face legal action if they “are in breach of their contracts”.
If hotels were displaying the wrong rates it required “you, as our Partner, to remove the Booking.com brand and rates from the [TripTease Price Check] widget”.
The deadline for this action was last Friday.
Whether TripTease or any of booking.com hotel partners are in breach of contract remains to be seen but the run in raises some interesting questions.
Given the power and influence that the world’s biggest online travel agent wields in the market place, the first must be whether the letter sent to hotel partners is a bullying step too far.
The second: what does a level playing field and transparency for the consumer really mean in a digital age?
At first glance, it looks very much like booking.com as the big bully. The news certainly poses a threat to TripTease’s business model because if hotels can’t display booking.com’s data, then the product undoubtedly loses appeal. Hotels also are less likely to want to sign up for something that has legal action hanging over it.
Given the uneasy, sometimes hostile, relationship between hotels and OTAs in the past, it’s perfectly believable that support for TripTease has, as chief executive Charlie Osmond puts it, been “overwhelming”. Behind the scenes, many hotels have even called for the return of booking.com rates to the widget because they felt the “threats were in poor taste,” he says.
According to Osmond, feedback from its customer success team has been that hotels are saying: ‘I don’t want someone else controlling what I show on my website’.
However, also unsurprisingly, hotels don’t appear to want to come out in support of TripTease publicly.
In conversation with EyeforTravel, a senior executive at one mid-sized European chain, which is testing TripTease’s Price Check product in a number of properties, admitted that they were “a bit shocked by the tone of the letter,” which reveals the “true colours of a dominant player in the marketplace”.
Preferring to remain off the record, the executive said the issue should have been resolved between TripTease and booking.com, and the threatening letter to hotel partners was entirely unnecessary. If parity agreements are in place, and the TripTease Price Check widget is displaying accurate rates, then there should be no issue with hotels using this technology, she said.
After all, most well-known hotel booking engines – for example Synxsis (which is working with TripTease), Guestline and iHotelier – are developing their own tools to allow consumers to access rates directly with no need to visit any of the OTAs sites.