Online petition against OTAs gains traction

An online petition calling for online travel agencies (OTA’s) to be prevented from dominating hotel searches in Google is gaining signatures.

The petition states that powerful OTA’s have a huge advantage over hotels because they advertise heavily and search engines favour them.

This means that searches for hotels bring up OTAs instead of the actual hotel websites – which are very often several pages back in the search. The result is that bookings through online travel agencies have exploded. Meanwhile, direct bookings with hotels have fallen significantly.

The petition, which now has over 1000 signatures, calls for search engines to help prevent this ‘hijacking’ of potential hotel guests and the hotel industry in general.

Direct bookings falling

The hotel industry has suffered massively because OTA’s have huge advertising budgets and can easily poach searches and potential customers. Indeed, such is their presence that they force hotels to rely on their reach, to keep bookings at a respectable level.

Unfortunately, OTA’s also damage the industry through charging hotels high commission rates for placements, and for withholding data of the guests they book. As a result, hotels struggle to maintain a reasonable level of bookings – and direct bookings through hotel websites have fallen significantly.

OTA’s have also been accused of creating a false sense of value when it comes to the cost of hotel rooms. Potential customers now expect unrealistically low prices (touted by OTAs) which are forcing some hotels out of business.

Online searches favour OTA’s

As quoted in The Caterer.com,  Frank McCready – who initiated the petition, states that as a small business owner of a B&B, he has no opportunity to compete with the online travel agency booking engines. He cannot afford the massive advertising costs to match their rankings, and he cannot afford to book through them. Commission fees are too high and room rates would be too low to be sustainable for his business.

He says online travel agencies ‘hijack’ searches of possible direct bookings because searchers are diverted to the OTA’s rather than the hotel websites – consistently. He also argues that the high commissions damage the hotels financially, and also hit the customer too because hidden booking fees are used to cover the high commission rates paid for by the hotels to be featured on OTAs.

The CMA has recently investigated the six largest OTA sites and demanded that they amend their strategies regarding hidden commissions. But many issues that threaten the very foundation of the hotel industry and it’s increasing co-dependency on OTAs are yet to be addressed.

Hidden clauses

McCready adds that a ‘hidden clause’ used in the small print of OTA bookings allows the booking engines to use the hotel names. Because of the size of the sites and massive budgets behind them, they search engines consistently favour the OTA booking engines, as opposed to the hotel websites.

To add your name to the petition, go here

Once the petition reaches 10,000 signatures, the UK government is duty-bound to respond to the questions raised. Currently, the petition has been signed by more than 1,300 people – and it will be live for six months.

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