Hotel rate parity campaigner backs away with final poke at regulators (and a cheeky website)

The travel executive who triggered the long-running investigation into alleged bullying by major online travel agencies over hotel pricing is giving up his fight.

Skoosh director Dorian Harris says he is removing himself from the ongoing consultation process so he can “return to my business and my life”, after almost seeing his company go bankrupt as a result of his very public campaigning.

The saga started four years ago when Harris complained to the UK’s business watchdog, The Office of Fair Trading, regarding what he claimed were breaches of competition law as a result of Booking.com and Expedia putting pressure on hotels to stop smaller online travel agencies from varying their prices.

Although some believed campaigners had earned victory of sorts in August this year when the OFT announced that both OTAs had pledged to adhere to new guidelines whereby other agencies would be allowed to offer reductions, Harris was left disillusioned by the process and what he claimed was “special treatment” for both Booking.com and Expedia.

As a result, four years on and with a number of similar investigations and lawsuits taking place around the world since he brought the issue to light, Harris is turning away from the issue.

In a final open letter to Clive Maxwell, executive director of the OFT, Harris writes:

Since you wrote I have been petitioned by lawyers, economists, and high ranking officials in the travel industry to respond to your team’s proposal to ensure that it doesn’t get through unchallenged. However, I can’t find it in myself to respond or even attend one final meeting.

I had no experience of competition bureaus when I started my campaign three and a half years ago but I was aware of the enormity of the challenge I was making to the hotel industry. For various commercial and personal reasons I felt that I had to take this one on.

The backlash against Skoosh was inevitable and it nearly bankrupted us a company. My colleagues all stood by and supported me even though they knew their jobs would be compromised. In 2011 I had to take the painful decision to make most of them redundant.

Along with many other travel agents and thousands of hotels we continue to be bullied by Expedia and Booking.com on a daily basis. I have no confidence any more that the OFT will resolve this issue but take comfort in the expectation that competition authorities across Europe and the U.S. will take decisive action against this abuse.

It is disappointing to see the OFT pandering to the specious concerns of the defendants. I see the OFT’s passive approach both as a direct cost to the consumer and, worse, a cost to society as it will give further confidence to big businesses looking to trample over their suppliers and competitors and even customers.

For all that I am now officially removing myself from the consultation process so I can return to my business and my life. I hope you can and will do whatever necessary to ensure the OFT’s case doesn’t undermine those of your European counterparts.

Typically, Harris is not going away without a final poke in the eye of the industry and regulators, having created a website to illustrate what he claims is the costing the traveller in lost discounts every day.

Not sure what the original FairSearch anti-Google lobbying group will say about it though…

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.

 

Comments

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  1. Dorian

    More coverage in today’s Sunday Times. Keching!

     
  2. Ashwin Kamlani

    Now if only traffic from lawyers and industry consultants translated into revenue…

     
  3. TimH

    I’m not being argumentative, I was simply offering a comment. I thought the comment section was intended for different points of view. As I mentioned in my comment above I believe the OFT decision was fair, and I believe Skoosh did benefit from the press. If you search on Alexa.com their traffic stats are all up YOY, and their number one driver of traffic to their site from search engines is their own brand name, “Skoosh.” A lot of web companies have spent a lot of money to achieve brand awareness like that, therefore there was benefit to the “free publicity.” With the right partnerships they will be able to turn the company around.

     
  4. Skoosh

    If you want some ‘free’ publicity, TimH, you could include your actual name and your company name in your posts. It would give some weight to your arguments.

     
  5. TimH

    Thank you Tnooz for covering the rate parity issue for the last 3 years. It has been a hot topic in the industry and I’m sure it will continue to be a topic for discussion in the future. My opinion as someone that sells 10,000 room nights a day and does not work for a major OTA is that rate parity benefits fair competition and helps suppliers and consumers the majority of the time. I think the OFT came to a very fair decision and further discounting will take place on both large and small sites, but without general rate parity rules in place it would be harder for suppliers to manage inventory and sales and ultimately make it less competitive for smaller sites to operate.
    My suggestion to Skoosh is to team up with a larger travel company for the majority of their inventory and concentrate on special sales with select partners to differentiate themselves, with the right creative thinking they can run a sale that is not in conflict with rate parity. Dorian has gotten a lot of free press for Skoosh, so now is the time to cash in on all the free brand equity he has built up.

     
    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @TimH – tha for your comment

      to be fair, not sure Harris’s so-called “free publicity” (we actually think it’s an interesting news story, thus why we’ve covered it extensively) has done him any good at all.

      As per Harris’s blog post noted above:

      “The backlash against Skoosh was inevitable and it nearly bankrupted us a company.”

       
  6. jill chalmers

    Good effort Dorian. Well done. Jill.

     
  7. Dorian

    A massive thanks once again to Tnooz for giving this issue the coverage it needed.

    Even though I’m not partaking in the OFT’s consultation process I suggest that anyone with strong evidence either way sends their comments to the OFT.

     
 
 

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