Booking.com proposes settling price parity antitrust cases across Europe

Hotels have been invited to comment on Booking.com's proposal to drop a clause in its contracts requiring them to offer it their best prices

Hotel reservation site Booking.com has offered to settle antitrust cases brought against it in Sweden, France and Italy, and on Monday antitrust authorities invited hotels to give their views on the settlement.

Antitrust authorities in those countries targeted Booking.com because its contracts oblige hotels to offer it the same or better room prices as the hotels offer other distribution channels, online or offline.

These so-called "parity clauses", or best price deals, harm competition in the sector and are in breach of national competition laws as well as European Union antitrust rules, the countries' antitrust authorities concluded in preliminary investigations. They are in particular concerned that the deals hamper competition between Booking.com and other online travel agents, while they also could make it hard for new companies to enter the market.

The European Commission is coordinating the national investigations but has not as yet opened its own investigation. It did however launch market tests on Monday to see if Booking.com's proposed antitrust remedies suffice.

Booking.com has proposed abandoning the best price requirement in respect of prices offered to other agents, which would result in hotels being free to sell rooms more cheaply on other sites. However, Booking.com will still require hotels to offer it the same room prices, or better, as they offer through their own online and offline booking channels.

Hotels and other affected parties can submit comments to the national competition authorities until Jan. 31.

Similar antitrust investigations are ongoing into best price deals demanded by other online travel agents. In Sweden for instance the competition authority is also investigating Expedia, which so far has not offered any antitrust remedies, spokesman Martin Mandorff said. The Swedish investigation started in January 2013.

The Italian antitrust authority is also investigating Expedia's pricing deals and conducting a separate investigation into TripAdvisor's efforts to eliminate fake reviews. In France, Expedia and hotel reservation service HRS are also under scrutiny from the competition authority, which said it will continue its investigations into those companies.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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Tags regulationinternetlegalantitrusteuropean commissionInternet-based applications and servicesExpediatripadvisorBooking.com

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