Travel websites have become one of the most high-risk merchants that are dealt with on a day-to-day basis. When attempting to book flights and hotels, it is easy to be overwhelmed by all of the information being presented to you. Websites like booking.com and expedia.com simplify this process by presenting all of the information you need into one place. Because of the reliability and all-encompassing methods of these websites, they have a huge monopoly over the industry. You can select your price range, type of hotel, location, and the likes. Users would hope that they are receiving accurate information about prices and desirability, but unfortunately, that has not been the case.
In 2019, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) of the United Kingdom took action against a few travel websites. According to the UK times, “CMA is clamping down on practices including routinely misleading travelers and using methods that could break consumer laws. These include giving a false impression of a room’s popularity by saying other customers are searching for the same hotel even if they are looking at different dates, and not displaying the full cost up front.” These websites have been utilizing false sales tactics in order to mislead the desirability of a specific hotel. They have also been known to deduct certain hidden fees from the prices.
This was notable in a recent situation in Israel. Israel has a Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods and services in the country. Booking.com did not include the price of VAT to their website prices. Thousands of people complained when they realized that their accommodation prices were far higher when they received the bill at the end of their stay than previously stated on the booking.com website. Israel’s Consumer Protection and Fair Trade Authority fined booking.com 3 million shekels (approximately $837,000) in reparations for the lack of transparency on behalf of their customers.
These two instances are not unique of their kind. Worldwide, countries have begun to take note of these shady tactics that are utilized by travel websites. Because of their necessity, they’ve had free reign to do whatever they want in terms of deceit and limited information. Travel websites have become extremely high-risk. The only solution for this unfortunate situation is for governments to begin to set regulations against it. Both of these situations above demonstrate forms of regulations that countries can begin to take. If more and more countries apply fines and penalties against travel website’s poor business tactics, it will become common practice and promote fairness.
In recent years, the online casino industry was in a similar situation that the travel websites are facing today. Like online casino websites, travel websites serve as a digital third party. Both industries have millions of worldwide users who expect that the third party involved will be upstanding and trustworthy, as large sums money is involved. Unfortunately, we see in both cases that things aren’t always as they seem and these third-party merchants have taken advantage of their customers. According to regulations regarding the online casino industry, they attempt to achieve three main goals in regulation. The first is to ensure that websites operate lawfully. In the case of travel websites, individual governments or a global coalition must come together to develop a set of laws that are in the best interest of the customers. Travel websites will need to adhere to these laws. Secondly, websites must be operated ethically. As in the first example, a set of ethical principles must be developed that do not allow travel websites to promote false or misleading advertisements. Also, all ‘hidden fees’ must be included in the total price of what customers are expected to pay. Finally, users must be safe and treated fairly. This goes without saying.
Even today, the online gambling market has struggled to find a productive way to set regulations. Because most of the regulations are on a state-by-state basis, companies flee to set up headquarters in a country that is more liberal to their particular industry. It would be beneficial to set up a global commission to determine these rules and regulations. Technology and the advancement of access to knowledge has so much to benefit the world. Unfortunately, monopolies develop and they begin to take advantage of their customers. As we begin to see the corruption within the travel website industry, governments and industry leaders would be wise to turn to past situations that hold similarities, and begin to set rules and regulations in place, in order to level the playing field and guarantee customers a fair and honest service.