Booking.com threatens legal action over price-comparison tool

Netherlands-based Booking.com, one of the world's largest online travel agencies, threatened legal action on hotel groups using a widget to display rate comparisons on their websites.

The Price Check widget, provided by web developer Triptease, allows hotels to compare the rates of OTAs side-by-side, including the rates of Booking.com. Hotels use the widget to push for direct bookings, with Triptease claiming it can increase direct bookings by as much as 35 percent.

According to Tnooz, Hotels using Price Check received a letter from Booking.com threatening legal action if the widget is not removed by Nov. 27, therefore obscuring Booking.com's rates and branding. The Priceline Group, owners of Booking.com, claim Triptease is guilty of "unlawfully accessing" data to populate information on Price Check, and also claimed the data Price Check displays is "often misleading, inaccurate and misrepresents the prices and availability being for rooms at your hotel on Booking.com."

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If proven true, hotels could be liable for breaching advertising regulations in the European Union and elsewhere. Booking.com's lawyers will be taking legal action against Triptease and each of the hoteliers served with the letter if they are found in breach of their contracts with Booking.com.

Included below is the letter in full as it was sent from Booking.com.

Dear Partner,

At Booking.com we pride ourselves in conducting our business in an ethical matter. This business conduct is throughout our business including the respect we take in our accommodation partnership agreements through to the display of all types of information towards our growing new and existing customer base.

It is our belief that we should achieve the right results the right way.

We understand that you are currently making use of a TripTease ‘Price Check Widget’ on your website.

We believe that TripTease is unlawfully accessing Booking.com’s data in order to collate the Booking.com information shown by the widget. Moreover, we wanted to make you aware that the Booking.com price and availability information shown by the widget is often misleading, inaccurate and misrepresents the prices and availability being offered for rooms at your hotel on Booking.com.

As you will know, misleading comparative advertising is a breach of European law in the European Union and in many other jurisdictions around the world.

We have instructed our external lawyers to pursue this matter with TripTease. We are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to protect Booking.com, our reputation and our data. For the avoidance of doubt, this includes taking legal action against our Partners to the extent they are in breach of their contracts with us – although we hope that will not be necessary.

In some cases, the TripTease widget suggests that the price of booking a room direct is cheaper than the price offered through Booking.com. As you know, pursuant to your contract with us, you are required to provide Booking.com with parity in respect of the prices for your rooms. If you are not currently providing Booking.com with the correct prices in accordance with your contract, we ask that you do so immediately.

If you are providing us with the correct prices, it may be that the widget is simply not capable of making the correct price comparison and is therefore failing to show an accurate price for the comparable reservation with Booking.com. Nevertheless, by displaying any such inaccurate prices on your website, you are engaging in the misleading comparative advertising practices referred to above.

As such, we require you, as our Partner, to remove the Booking.com brand and rates from the widget on your website prior to Friday 27 November 2015. If you are unable to do this, we ask that you remove the TripTease widget from your website entirely. Please confirm by immediate return letter or email to your local account manager that you will, and will continue to, comply with our request.

To the extent that you do not reply or fail to comply with our reasonable requests in this regard, Booking.com’s rights are reserved – including to take such legal action as we deem necessary.

We also wish to take the opportunity to reiterate that you are an important Partner to Booking.com and we value our relationship with you. Indeed, we look forward to it continuing into the future.

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