UK-based lawyers at OTAs – Expedia, Priceline and TripAdvisor – are rubbing their hands with glee at the possibility the UK government’s Competition Authority might launch an investigation into the entire online travel market.
The recommendation that “the Competition and Markets Authority urgently order a market investigation into the online travel agent sector” comes on the back of a year-long House of Lords call for contributions into the European Commission’s “Online Platforms and the Single Digital Market” proposals.
An 878-page PDF document has been released which aggregates the written and oral evidence submitted by interested parties, including Google, Airbnb and Skyscanner, among others.
The Lords have also interpreted the evidence to present a report to Parliament which will be used as the basis for a debate (assuming that the UK is still part of the European Union after the 23 June referendum).
Political machinations and processes aside, the actual contributions made by the OTAs reveal how they view the European Commission and, to a lesser extent, each other.
Google began with a fairly provocative “Google believes that there are flaws in the European Commission’s (EC) attempted definition of ‘online platforms’ and uses its definition of Netflix as an example of how out of touch the EC is.
However, the conciliatory line that “the ambition of the Digital Single Market Strategy is one that we support and share” is never far from the surface.
In its verbal evidence Google’s external relations manager EMEA Jon Steinberg gave this support some context:
“It is important to remember that part of the digital single market debate is about making opportunity for European businesses even better. The United States has more than 300 million consumers under one regulatory regime [and is] a very attractive market. Europe at the moment is a much less attractive market – 28 rule books, different regimes, some countries having more than one privacy regulator…”
Airbnb is also politely dismissive of the EC, suggesting that its assumptions around the collaborative economy are questionable and that, from its perspective, “this is an opportunity for the Committee to reflect on the extent to which existing legal and regulatory frameworks already apply to collaborative economy platforms.”