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This week’s Update features a variety of stories, including an additional story on last week’s announcement by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority regarding its recent commenced enforcement efforts against several unnamed OTAs operating in the UK.  Our attempts to obtain a list of the OTAs targeted by the CMA were rebuffed last week, so we will just have to wait to see which distributors are in the CMA’s crosshairs.  Enjoy.

accessible ramp at resortGood News for Disabled Travelers and the Hoteliers That Serve Them
("Online Travel Players Boost Accessibility for Travelers With Disabilities," Skift Travel News, July 6, 2018)
Skift featured a story last week that detailed efforts being made by both existing and newly established travel websites to accommodate the many challenges experienced by disabled travelers (e.g. inaccessible websites, little or no description of accessible accommodations, etc.).  Not only is this good news for disabled travelers, but also the many hoteliers that diligently seek to serve them.  For years now, we’ve advised clients that the ADA’s booking requirements impose responsibility for satisfying those requirements solely on hoteliers – irrespective of whether those bookings are made directly with the hoteliers or indirectly through a third party channel.  With these latest efforts by third party distributors, hoteliers may have one less concern keeping them awake at night.

This week’s Update features a number of “legal” updates to stories we have been following for some time.  Enjoy.

CMA Initiates Enforcement Action Against Booking Sites
("Hotel booking sites could be forced to stop claiming ‘one room left’," Law360 - Hospitality, June 25, 2018) 
Following its nearly 8-month (re)investigation of online booking sites operating in the UK, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced last week that it was commencing enforcement actions against several unnamed “booking sites” over their alleged anti-competitive practices.  According to the CMA, these questionable practices include (1) hotel rankings based on factors unrelated to a consumer’s requirements (e.g., commission levels), (2) pressure tactics that give consumers a false sense of availability, (3) misleading discount claims and (4) hidden charges.  The CMA will now seek binding commitments from the offending sites or, in the absence of such commitments, pursue claims in UK courts.  As part of its enforcement efforts, the CMA is also referring a number of its concerns to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to examine whether the sites’ frequent claims of offering a “best rate guarantee” or the “lowest price” are misleading.  It will be interesting to watch (a) how this enforcement effort unfolds and whether other European jurisdictions will soon follow suit – recall that the many anti-trust investigations that led to Booking.com’s and Expedia’s “narrow parity” compromise began with the efforts of CMA’s predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading, and (b) whether this effort results in any changes to global booking sites’ worldwide programs (e.g., Expedia’s Accelerator Program or Booking.com’s Preferred Hotel Programme). The official CMA news release is also available. 

This blog post was originally published as a Legal Alert on GSB's website on July 3, 2018. The post was also authored by Victoria Redman, GSB’s 2018 Summer Associate, located in the Seattle office. 

On Thursday, June 28, 2018, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (the Act) passed with resounding support from both Republicans and Democrats, who voted in favor of the bill 73-0-7 in the Assembly and 38-0-3 in the Senate.  The Act, which takes effect on January 1, 2020, imposes requirements on the processing and protection of personal data similar to, and in some cases, more extensive than the requirements under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect on May 25, 2018.   

Our weekly OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending June 22, 2018 is below.  This week’s Update features not one, but two stories (offering perspectives from both the hospitality and technology industries) on Amazon’s recent announcement regarding Alexa for Hospitality.  Amazon’s announcement is further evidence of the power of voice and its potential impact on travel and lodging in particular (something I’ve been presenting and blogging about for the past two years). 

Alexa’s Move into Hospitality Becomes Official
("Amazon launches an Alexa system for hotels," TechCrunch, June 19, 2018; "Amazon Wades Into Travel as Hotels Turn to Alexa in Rooms," Skift Travel News, June 19, 2018)
On Tuesday, Amazon announced the creation of a division within Amazon (Alexa for Hospitality) dedicated to placing Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices in the variety of accommodations offered in today’s lodging industry.  Amazon’s announcement was buoyed by Marriott’s simultaneous announcement of its decision to run a 10 property (multi-brand) pilot with the newly created division to place Alexa-enabled Echo products in Marriott hotel rooms later this summer.  According to Jennifer Hsieh, Vice President of Customer Experience Innovation at Marriott, “voice-first experiences have become an increasingly important channel for our guests, and we [Marriott] think Amazon is leading the market in this technology.”  (Bad news for Apple’s Siri, which was being tested by Marriott together with Alexa prior to the announcement).  Initially, the voice-activated devices will be set up to allow guests to request hotel-specific information (e.g. spa hours), to connect to hotel services (e.g. in-room dining) and, working with a hotel’s back-of-house systems, to order and reserve services (e.g. spa appointments).  Additional features may include control of in-room systems, in-room phone access and music play.  Let’s hope that pilot programs like Marriott’s (or others planned by rental management companies and other lodging companies) give suppliers at least a fighting chance against their well-capitalized distribution competitors that will inevitably pursue their own voice-activated strategies.  

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending June 15, 2018 is below.  Hometown favorite, Amazon, features heavily in this week’s Update. 

Skift Reports Key Takeaways from Inaugural Technology Forum
("4 Key Insights on Travel Tech Advances, Personalization, Voice and Amazon," Skift Travel News, June 14, 2018)

Skift held its inaugural Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley this past week.  If any of you attended the Forum and found it valuable, please let me know.  Following the Forum, Skift’s editors provided their thoughts on the Forum’s key takeaways:

  • The divide between the technology “haves” (e.g. Expedia and Alibaba) and “have nots” (travel suppliers) is only growing larger. 
  • Personalization remains an often repeated industry buzzword, though industry members recommend proceeding with caution.
  • Voice search continues to show great promise, particularly in the 2-5 year horizon. 
  • Technology platforms – such as Google and Amazon – with their vast amounts of user data loom large in travel distribution. 

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending June 8, 2018 is below.  This week’s Update is a lengthy one and includes our sixth and final installment of our series in anti-trust challenges to hoteliers’ keyword practices.  I hope you enjoy. 

Competitors’ Agreement to Restrict Keywords – Bad / Hoteliers’ Organization of Distribution Chains – Good
(Keyword Restrictions - Part VI: Hotels and OTAs – Where Do We Go From Here?," GSB Client Update, June 8, 2018)
Don completes his review of recent anti-trust allegations made against hoteliers in his sixth and final installment and touches briefly on Google’s role in all of this. 

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update features a variety of stories, including renewed federal efforts to legislate third-party booking engines’ disclosure requirements.  Enjoy.

Reservation Re-Sales in the News Again
("The Rise of Reservation Re-Sale (and Why Airbnb Is Involved)," Hotel Online, May 30, 2018)
With the recent changes in major hoteliers’ cancellation policies (most now requiring 48 hours advance notice), reservation re-sellers – like Roomer and Cancelon - are again making headlines.  While the services these sites offer can present a challenge for hoteliers seeking to manage their rates and inventory, their relative obscurity has limited their effect.  Now enter Airbnb...

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending May 25 is below.  This week’s Update features a variety of stories, including one of our first (of many more likely to come) on the changing world of airline distribution.  Enjoy.

Keyword Restrictions – Part V:  Why All the Griping?
("Keyword Restrictions - Part V: Restrictions on Using Trademarks as Keyword Search Terms: Why All The Griping?," GSB Client Alert, May 25, 2018)
Today’s Update features the fifth installment of our six-part series critiquing recent articles (and litigation) challenging hoteliers’ keyword practices.  Having identified in last week’s installment the many pro-competitive / pro-consumer effects of allowing hoteliers to limit OTAs’ use of hoteliers’ trademarks, Don now questions the reasons behind the many “gripes” (his word, not mine) about these practices.         

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending May 18, 2018, is below.  This week’s Update features our fourth installment in our 6-part series on alleged anti-trust abuses by hoteliers arising from their keyword practices and a variety of other stories covering nearly all of our usual areas of focus.  I hope you enjoy.

Keyword Restrictions – Part IV: The Consumer Benefits of Keyword Restrictions
("Keyword Restrictions - Part IV: The Benefits of Restrictions on Use of Hotel Trademarks, GSB Client Alert, May 18, 2018)
In the fourth installment of our six-part series critiquing recent articles (and litigation) questioning hoteliers’ keyword practices, Don examines the effect of hoteliers’ keyword practices on inter-brand competition – a key factor in evaluating the plaintiffs’ class action claims.  According to Don, allowing OTAs free reign to use (abuse) hoteliers’ trademarks undermines hoteliers’ goals of product differentiation and cost containment – both of which are of critical importance to consumers.      

Our weekly client OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending May 11, 2018 is below.  This week’s Update features a variety of stories, including the third installment in our six-part series dissecting recent anti-trust allegations against hoteliers arising out of their keyword activities. I hope you enjoy. 

Keyword Restrictions – Part III:  Vertical vs. Horizontal Restraints on Trade
("Keyword Restrictions - Part III: Vertical vs. Horizontal," GSB Client Update, May 11, 2018)
In the third installment of our six-part series critiquing recent articles (and litigation) questioning hoteliers’ keyword practices, my colleague, Don Scaramastra, next examines the critical difference between alleged agreements among hotel companies regarding their use of keywords (horizontal) versus agreements between hotel companies and their various downstream distribution channels (vertical).  

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Greg Duff, Editor
Greg Duff founded and chairs GSB’s national Hospitality, Travel & Tourism group. His practice largely focuses on operations-oriented matters faced by hospitality industry members, including sales and marketing, distribution and e-commerce, procurement and technology. Greg also serves as counsel and legal advisor to many of the hospitality industry’s associations and trade groups, including AH&LA, HFTP and HSMAI.

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