Travel Agents

OTAs are unreliable and misleading: study

Hannah Edensor

It turns out booking hotels and flights online can land you with a growing number of problems, a study has found. Funny that…

The European Commission has released its findings that show OTAs in the EU are among the “most frequent consumer complaints”, according to the European Consumer Centres.

The European Commission and EU consumer protection authorities launched a coordinated screening of 352 price comparison and travel booking websites across the EU in October 2016.

In their research, they found prices on 235 websites were in fact unreliable – that’s two thirds of the sites checked.

The study claims “additional price elements were added at a late stage of the booking process without clearly informing the consumer or promotional prices did not correspond to any available service”.

Per the report, authorities have since asked the websites concerned to bring their practices in line with EU consumer legislation, which requires them to be fully transparent about prices, and present their offers in a clear way, at an early stage of the booking process.

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said, “The Internet provides consumers with plenty of information to prepare, compare and book their holidays.

“However, if the reviews on comparison websites are biased or prices are not transparent, these websites are misleading consumers.

The companies concerned need to respect the European consumer rules, just like a travel agent would. Consumer authorities will now require the websites to solve these issues. Consumers deserve the same protection online as offline.

So what else did they find?

  • In one third of the cases, the price first shown was not the same as the final price, and in one fifth of the cases, promotional offers were not really available.
  • In almost one third of the cases the total price or the way it was calculated was not clear.
  • In one in four cases, websites did not specify if statements about scarcity (e.g. “only 2 left”, “only available today”) applied strictly to their own website.

Other irregularities

Other irregularities identified by the CPC authorities were related to:

  • the identity of the provider of the comparison tool: 22.7 per cent only gave limited information (e.g. name, address of establishment), while four per cent did not provide any information at all;
  • the user review process: 21.3 per cent of the websites presented consumer reviews in an unclear or un-transparent way (and/or included elements that could question their truthfulness);
  • the coverage of the comparison: 10.5 per cent of the websites did not provide material information that was important for the comparison

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