Today the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board published an op-ed accusing Google and major hotel chains of undercutting competition to the detriment of consumers seeking to book a hotel room online. It is laudable and kind for the WSJ to care about the millions of Americans travelling during these holidays. However, it is unfortunate that the op-ed lacks rigor and fails to identify one of the real challenges that travelling consumers face when booking a hotel room online: misleading practices by online travel agencies (OTAs).
The WSJ aptly notes that “more than 100 million Americans are expected to travel during the holidays, and many will search for lodging online.” And the truth is that the Internet has brought about extraordinary benefits to travelers. Consumers can now search for hotel rooms online, and benefit from fierce competition online, currently led by Priceline and Travelocity (not Google, as the WSJ seems to imply).
But what the WSJ fails to explain to its readers is that as part of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s efforts to ensure that consumers can make informed choices when booking online, the FTC filed a complaint against several companies for misleading consumers attempting to book a hotel room through their websites. According to this U.S. consumer protection agency, online reservation counters allegedly led travelers to believe that they were dealing directly with hotels, when in fact they were not.
What is even more surprising is that the well-reputed WSJ’s op-ed ignores that on December 22, just when many Americans were probably beginning to travel to meet with their families and receive Santa’s presents, the defendants in the FTC case decided to settle. MORE »