This article is part two of a three-part series on fake booking sites. Part one can be found here.
The greatest dangers to guests booking through these sources are if a rate is quoted that the hotel doesn’t offer, a room is “booked” that isn’t available or additional fees are charged that are unnecessary or ancillary. And even if the site is legitimate enough to actually perform a booking as a fake third-party site, problems still arise from the site’s lack of a link to the hotel it’s impersonating. In these cases, a hotel won’t have any way of altering or canceling a reservation if the need arises. Many guests also have special requests that often won’t be relayed from scam websites to hotels, such as accessibility needs or promotional purchases.
“These sites won’t have all the information a guest or hotel needs, so the details of a booking become confused,” Cope said. “This is frustrating because guests are expressly looking for hotel deals, they want to look, and that is why they are trying to book directly.”
By spreading awareness of these scam sites, hotels can take power away from them. “As with any scam, there is a lot of exposure on the guest side,” Cope said. “These sites thrive on confusion.”
And confusion is powerful. Cope said the AH&LA ran tests with consumers to see if they could tell the difference between fake and legitimate booking sites, and in some areas of the country the number of scam sites that appeared in search engines were so plentiful that it was difficult to tell what was real. While hotels under big brands were often safe, being found toward the top of search engine results, smaller hotels were very vulnerable to being impersonated and sometimes were even mimicked in their website address.
Carreras said that Best Western is taking an offensive approach by actively looking for domain names engineered to cause confusion with guests during the booking process, registering them in advance and redirecting them to www.bestwestern.com.
“We also take a strong defensive position in paid search, where we strive to purchase our branded terms,” Carreras said. “This helps ensures that when guests search for us online, they land on an official page. These efforts, in addition to brand marketing efforts and offline advertising, help reinforce that the brand’s official site is most frequently the best place to book online.”