The angry mob is closing in on TripAdvisor

How long can TripAdvisor continue to close their ears to the cries of angry hoteliers fed up with fake and untrue reviews about their businesses on the TripAdvisor website.

Now KwikChex.com is gearing up to bring a possible “group defamation action” against the web giant TripAdvisor. KwikChex plans to initially present sample cases to TripAdvisor in the hope that they will reconsider their position. Presumably if this fails they will move forward with the action. This may be one of the first group actions against TripAdvisor but unless TripAdvisor changes their stance we predict it won’t be the last.

TripAdvisor must understand their responsibility to the industry. Sure, if someone had a genuine issue with their accommodation then in today’s world of the web why shouldn’t they warn others. On the other hand with it being so easy to post a comment their seems to have been a shift towards vicious retaliatory commenting. All very well but the comment should at least be traceable and the business should at least have the right to defend themselves.  With the economy looking shaky in many parts of the world, the last thing hoteliers need is unfair and damaging reviews to add to their woes.

Come on TripAdvisor – do the right thing!

More on this story at telegraph.co.uk

Published on September 14th, 2010  | 2 Comments

OFT to investigate Booking.com for alleged price-fixing

Booking.com, with their typical corporate bullishness, probably view the FairerFees campaign as little more than a local irritation. What they fail to see though is that the campaign captures the mood of many accommodation providers who are fed up with the way they are being taken for granted by the corporate giants. But now it seems The Office of Fair Trading is also taking notice of their sharp practices.

The OFT is investigating a price fixing practice called “resale price maintenance’. In English this means agreeing not to sell rooms at lower prices than advertised on the Booking.com site. If you list rooms on Booking.com you’re more likely to know this as “rate parity”. The general consequence is inflated prices, as if they aren’t already inflated with 15% commission charges to cope with. Rate parity is all very well for the booking agent but not good for competition. Indeed, if proven, this activity could be seen as controlling the final retail price and as such is anti-competitive.

Of course Booking.com are putting a brave face on the allegation. Chris Haslem of the Sunday Times contacted Rutger Prakke of Booking.com for his article, (Sunday 5th Sep) and was informed, “We are not aware of infringing any law and we have not been advised by any regulatory authority that rate parity constitutes anticompetitive behaviour”. Microsoft took a similar stance on their European anticompetitive charge… And lost! Good luck Booking.com, we’re watching with interest.

Published on September 6th, 2010  | 4 Comments

Google about to upset the OTA industry

It’s no surprise given the number of people searching for air travel and accomodation information that Google has figured it’s an interesting area to get in to. So much so in fact that it has just splashed out $700m (cash) for American flight information firm, ITA Software.

And what does Google plan to do with their latest purchase? Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said, “What we’re going to do is build new flight search tools that focus on end users.” This is an interesting moment for the fully fledged online travel agents as many of them rely on ITA’s software to power their own sites and so they’re understandably concerned what might happen when their licences come up for renewal.

How does this fit into the FairerFees story? Google has also confirmed it is working on a project to enable users to search for hotels and see them listed on a map. Like many other Google projects this is unlikely to result in a dedicated rich and broad website but if it catches on it will certainly provide an alternative way for travellers to browse for accommodation and presumably be just one click away from booking direct. This will be a great opportunity for accommodation providers to cut out the greedy OTAs. All-in-all the OTAs could be in for challenging times.

Our partner organisation LetsBookRooms welcomes this development. Selling direct to the traveller should always be the preference over going via an OTA and so anything that helps the traveller realise the possible benefits of going direct is great.

By simply charging a fair annual fee to accommodation providers LetsBookRooms will provide new ways of connecting accommodation providers directly to their customers without ever charging a penny commission to anyone.

Published on July 7th, 2010  | No Comments

Revealed: why comparison sites can cost you more

An article in The Sunday Times (20th June 2010) about insurance comparison sites is an interesting parallel to the online travel agent sites.

The article revealed how the consumer is often being misled by insurance comparison sites that claim to offer the best deals. It found that cheaper deals could be had by going direct to the insurer. An example cited was of a 49 year old man who saved £120 by going direct to Tesco rather than buying via Confused. Direct Line and Aviva are nowhere to be found on the comparison sites but as with the Tesco example, consumers can often find better products for less money with these companies.

A familiar theme also highlighted in the article is the emerging trend among comparison sites to raise their commission charges to the insurers. As with the online travel agents, this is no doubt to fund their ever increasing marketing costs as the comparison sites strive to out compete one another. Comparing prices is in theory great for the consumer but if the insurers succumb to the new charges, price rises will follow down the line.

If you’re a hotelier have you put your prices up to counter the increasing commission charges or are you simply making less money? Either way you could do the same as the insurers and welcome customers that come direct with the reward of cheaper prices. See our tips here and get listed on www.letsbookrooms.com the zero commission direct booking accommodation portal.

Published on June 23rd, 2010  | No Comments

The direct booking experiment

Fairefees has conducted an experiment. We made enquiries about booking 10 rooms nights at different hotels across Scotland. Each hotel is listed on either Booking.com or Laterooms.com

Our line was:
“We are looking for a double room and found a price on laterooms/booking.com of £xxx.00. Can you give us a better price if we book direct price please”

8 out for 10 hotels offered a better rate (2 couldn’t as the receptionists said they were not allowed to negotiate). The best saving was £15.00 on a £139.00 room and the total saving was £90.00 over 8 rooms. An average of just over £11.00 or 8% per room per night.

This is exactly what www.letsbookrooms.com is about:

  • It connects the buyer and the seller directly online.
  • It delivers the best deal without the need for the buyer to call or check other sites.
  • No commission for someone getting greedy in the middle!
  • No commission means more for the seller even after discounting prices.

Published on June 14th, 2010  | No Comments

Who made travel so popular?

The internet is a great place to find a bargain. Who hasn’t saved £100 on a flat screen TV straight from a warehouse.

So is travel and accommodation the same? Online travel agents want the public to believe so. And they need accommodation providers to believe they’re behind the growth in tourism. It’s important for them to believe this, because without available accommodation the online travel agents have little to sell.  Maintaining this illusion is funded through 15% commission fees.

Who really popularised travel?  In the 70’s, Freddie Laker launched his no frills transatlantic carrier ‘Skytrain’. In 1982 Skytrain went spectacularly bankrupt. Competitors had conspired to compete on price to put Skytrain out of business which resulted in the largest aviation anti-trust case in history. The big boys settled out of court and they briefly got back to business as usual but soon the likes of Virgin Atlantic and later EasyJet came along and changed the air industry for ever.

Now we have the internet and not only is travel cheap it’s also just a click away. What’s more the earlier we book the better the price.  Therein lies the answer to our question – getting there is cheap. How do they do it? In the main they’re plain efficient, right down to  how the customer books. They work on a direct booking model. And when the customer books through an agent – the airline sure doesn’t pay 15% commission.

There’s no doubt that the online travel agents have played their part in facilitating the growth of tourism but the combination of high levels of disposable income and cheap travel is by far the vital catalyst. What the travel agents have used to their advantage is the way we shop online. Be on page 1 of a Google search and the sales follow, OTA’s exploit this by getting between the customer and the hotel to get their 15%.

What can accommodation providers do? BE BIG, just like an airline. Get together as one under a new model. LetsBookRooms is a new model, a global portal with no commission, it provides THE BIG. Pay a flat annual fee and take as many bookings as you want through your own online booking engine.

To finish here’s some food for thought to back up our argument. (Source Wikipedia, Tourism)

  • The developments in technology and transport infrastructure, such as jumbo jets, low-cost airlines and more accessible airports have made many types of tourism more affordable. WHO estimates that up to 500,000 people are on planes at any time –
  • The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts that international tourism will continue growing at the average annual rate of 4 %. With the advent of e-commerce, tourism products have become one of the most traded items on the internet. Tourism products and services have been made available through intermediaries, although tourism providers (hotels, airlines, etc.) can sell their services directly. This has put pressure on intermediaries from both on-line and traditional shops.

In short – More people are travelling, getting there is cheap and tourism providers are realising they can sell direct. Join the revolution, www.letsbookrooms.com.

Published on May 30th, 2010  | No Comments

Unsavoury finger in the fees pie

Recently we received a comment about a Mr Daniel Kirchhof who sneakily registers domain names containing hotel names. People searching for a hotel might happen across one of Kirchhof’s links and assume it is a direct link to a hotel. Clicking on the link takes the user to a page that looks genuine and contains a room availability that if booked is done so through HotelReservation.com who in turn are using Booking.com’s affiliate programme!

Kirchhof’s practice is no idle hobby. Inter-Continental Hotels Corporation and Six Continents Hotels, Inc. requested the transfer of no less than 1,542 domain names in a single UDRP (Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy) complaint brought against respondent Daniel Kirchhof. They alleged infringement of their HOLIDAY INN, HOLIDAY EXPRESS, INTERCONTINTAL, CROWNE PLAZA, STAYBRIDGE SUITES, HOTEL INDIGO, and CANDLEWOOD SUITES brands. The defendant had registered numerous – now that’s an understatement – domain names with the pattern “BRAND-PLACE NAME”; e.g. “holiday-inn-london-stansted.com”.

Kirchhof’s domain names pointed to the booking engine www.hotelreservation.com, and he collected affiliate fees for referrals. It was noted by the hearing panel, “When arriving at the Respondent’s websites, Internet users were likely to believe that they had arrived at the official website for one of the Complainant’s hotels, as that is the clear impression given by the website content. As the websites provide a mechanism for booking at the hotel (albeit through another provider), the Complainant is likely to suffer commercial loss when an Internet user books through the Respondent’s website when compared with a booking directly on one of the Complainant’s websites.” Unsurprisingly, Inter-Continental Hotels Corporation and Six Continents Hotels, Inc were successful in their request.

We’re not suggesting that the major online travel agents condone Kirchhof’s underhand approach but it does serve to highlight that Kirchhof sets out to do exactly the same as the big players. He aims to get between the hotel and their customers in the hope that the customer follows his link.

Finally, why go to such lengths? Well that’s what we pay 15% commission for; so that the majors can afford to give some away to their affiliates and inturn for them to afford to pay their affiliates. Even a minute percentange is worth a punt if you know what you’re doing, isn’t that right Mr Kirchhof.

Published on May 24th, 2010  | No Comments

TripAdvisor show how much they care with an off-the-shelf response

Some of our campaigners have been busy sending out emails to TripAdvisor requesting them to include contact details for their hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses etc. Of course we all hoped TripAdvisors response would be, – “Ooh sorry, yes of course we’ll get that fixed straight away” but of course that would be complete fantasy.

Instead TripAdvisor went to the trouble of penning a reply to our correspondents. It went something like this; “Thank you for contacting trip advisor and your interest in our Business Listings product. etc etc etc.” No need to carry on because in fact the replies so far have been an off-the-shelf generic response which does nothing to address the issues.

TripAdvisor, we’re waiting for a response.

Published on May 20th, 2010  | No Comments

Helping you fill spare rooms or fishing for all your bookings?

Hoteliers have engaged with the major booking engines and are always told that 15% is necessary. They started off charging much less but over time the fees have increased to the 15% we commonly see today. At Fairer Fees we don’t believe the online agent’s business model is about selling rooms that hotels can’t fill, it’s actually about getting between the customer and the hotel so that customers book through agents rather than direct with the hotel.

To maintain this model the online agents have to spend-spend-spend with the likes of Google on paid for links so that whenever anyone searches for your hotel or to stay in your local area, the first thing they see is a paid for link and not what they were specifically searching for.

Think about it this way – You’re actually paying a slice of that 15% to help keep customers away from your website. These sites may sell the odd additional room but on most occasions the customer was coming anyway.

Published on May 15th, 2010  | 1 Comment

Laterooms responds to hotelier’s enquiries about unfair business practices

Thanks to those of you that have contacted Laterooms enquiring about their high commission rates and unfair practices. To keep our followers up to date, find below extracts of responses from Laterooms to one Perth hotelier’s inital requests for reduced commission and stopping PPC adverts followed by our interpretations.

Laterooms says:

“LateRooms works with over 1500 affiliate partners, most of which we commission share with at a rate above 5%, and as such a commission rate as low as 5% would make bookings via these channels commercially unviable.”

How fairer fees translates this:

At Laterooms we occasionally have to give 5% to affiliates but most of the time bookings come directly via Laterooms.com and we pocket all 15% which is great for us.

Laterooms says:

“LateRooms spends on your behalf a great deal of money promoting on the search engines and is very successful at doing this. Indeed we are the top placed in the natural search listings for Perth and the ability to reach such a premium spot on the search engine does come at a cost.”

How fairer fees translates this:

Laterooms spend money trying to get our listing of your hotel above your own so that people book via us and pay us 15%, we are top of the natural listings on Perth so we really clean up here when someone searches for hotels in Perth and it cost all you guys a fortune in commission making us happy.

Laterooms says:

“Finally we recently went live with a national advertising campaign at considerable cost including TV advertising, the result of which has been an exceptional upsurge in customers coming directly to our website

How fairer fees translates this:

We are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to try and get the public to book via us and make us yet more money, taking it away from the local communities. We know people are going to stay in Perth anyway we just try to get them to think of us when doing this so we can make more 15% commissions.

Published on May 11th, 2010  | 2 Comments