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Australian Authorities Confirm Renewed Interest in Parity Provisions
("Online Booking Clauses Still Cause for Concern for Australian Competition Authority," MLex, April 11, 2018) (subscription required)
Speaking at the ABA’s Antitrust Law 2018 Spring Meeting in Washington D.C. last week, commissioner Roger Featherstone of Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) confirmed that the regulator is re-examining the previously adopted “narrow” approach to parity in Australia.   Featherstone’s comments come only weeks after we first reported that the ACCC was re-considering its previously announced position. 

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending April 6, 2018 is below.  A variety of stories are featured in this week’s Update, including an interesting follow up story on Red Lion’s somewhat unique (and hard to understand) approach to loyalty.  I hope you enjoy. 

Price-Fixing Fines Imposed Against FlightCentre
("Flight Centre’s $9 million fine renews Australian tensions over court-set antitrust penalties," MLex, April 4, 2018) (subscription required)
Some time ago we featured a series of stories about the somewhat unprecedented approach by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to rate parity commitments found in contracts between several international airlines and their distributor, FlightCentre.  You might recall that the commitments were found by the ACCC to violate Australian anti-trust laws because the parties were determined to be “competitors” and not principals / agents as argued by the airlines and FlightCentre.  This past week, the Australian Federal Court finally concluded the matter by imposing fines of $9.25 million against FlightCentre

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending March 30, 2018 is below.  This week’s Update features a heavy dose of OTA updates. 

Brazilian Anti-trust Authorities Adopt Narrow Approach to Rate Parity
("Booking Sites Agree To Nix Hotel Pricing Limits In Brazil," Law360 - Technology, March 29, 2018) (subscription required)
Just as we reported last week that Australian competition authorities were re-thinking the previously adopted “narrow” approach to parity, another country signs on to the same approach.  Last week, the Brazilian Administrative Council for Economic Defense (CADE) announced that it had reached agreement with Booking.com and Expedia to limit their use of so-called broad rate parity and instead impose only narrow rate parity.  According to announcement, the settlement agreement is expected to increase competition in the online travel sector benefitting both hotels and consumer.  Someone might want to share with the CADE authorities the results of the investigation conducted last year by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (which concluded, among other things, that hoteliers were generally unaware of (or afraid to use) the pricing opportunities afforded under narrow parity) or the basis of the Australian authorities’ conclusion that narrow parity was ineffective in trying to improve competition.  

Our weekly OTA & Travel Distribution Update is below.  This week’s Update features a number of familiar stories. 

Australian Competition Authorities Re-Think “Narrow” Parity
("Narrow and wide parity clauses have same effects, ACCC chief says, amid renewed probe of online travel agents," Add source, March 23, 2018)
In comments at a recent anti-trust conference, Rod Sims, Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), noted that the widely-accepted “narrow” parity commitments offered by Booking.com and Expedia to resolve the ACCC’s earlier grievances were having the same effect on hoteliers as their broader predecessors.  Sims’ comments come as Australian authorities continue their re-examination of the distributors’ practices, which began following the Australian Supreme Court’s ruling that airlines and distributors were competitors (and not principals and agents as claimed).  According to Sims, the ACCC was disappointed to learn that hoteliers did not want to take advantage of the offline pricing opportunities afforded hoteliers under the narrow parity compromise. 

This week’s abbreviated OTA & Travel Distribution Update is below and features stories on the biggest distribution players – Ctrip, Booking.com, and yes, Airbnb.  Enjoy.

Ctrip’s Earnings Slip Following Regulatory Intervention (and that certain daycare video)
("China's Ctrip Blames Scandal, Business Curbs for Sales Shortfall," Bloomberg News, March 15, 2018)
Shares in Ctrip.com International Ltd. fell last week following release of the company’s forecast of 9-11% sales growth instead of the 16% forecasted by analysts.  Ctrip’s reported fourth quarter revenues also declined.  According to Ctrip, the declines were the result of both (a) regulators banning Ctrip’s automatic (and possibly misleading) bundling of air tickets and travel insurance (something we’ve written about previously) and (b) the now viral video showing daycare workers at a Ctrip employee daycare center abusing the children by, among other things, feeding the children wasabi. 

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update is below and is full of interesting stories.  Enjoy.

Trivago’s Strikethrough Pricing Subject to AU Scrutiny [METASEARCH]
("Trivago flags Australian regulatory concerns over ‘strike-through’ pricing," MLex, March 7, 2018) (subscription required)
Trivago’s most recent SEC filing included an interesting note regarding its strikethrough pricing practices.  According to the filing, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has requested documentation from Trivago regarding its practices.  Although Trivago’s filing provides little detail about the investigation (and the ACCC has refused to comment), the ACCC’s actions raise some interesting questions about the widely used practice – one that has been subject to industry concern in the past.  Whether the ACCC limits its investigation to Trivago or expands it to include other price comparison websites or distribution platforms will be interesting to watch. 

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending March 2, 2018 is below.  Nothing too remarkable in this week’s Oscar-shortened Update.

SwayPaySwayPay Seeks to Simplify Payment Processing (and Reduce Fraud in the Process) 
("How SwayPay Aims To Revolutionize Online Checkout," Forbes News, March 2, 2018)
A lot of attention has been paid these past few months to the many problems with online payment systems.  Add SwayPay to the list of vendors purporting to solve these challenges.  According to SwayPay, use of its application can reduce checkout time to 12 seconds (compared to 2-3 minutes for most other systems).  Use of the application will also soon provide consumers instant discounts and cash paybacks.  As for fraud, something the founders of SwayPay experienced personally during their time at online travel companies, payments are authorized through the use of biometric verification (fingerprint, iris and facial). 

This week’s OTA & Distribution Update for the week ending February 23, 2018 is below.  Other than Airbnb’s much publicized rollout of its 53 new product lines (an exaggeration, but not by much), last week was a relatively slow week in the world of distribution.  Enjoy.

Airbnb Continues Its Evolution [SHORT-TERM RENTALS / OTA / LOYALTY]
("Airbnb adds loyalty program, site inspections as new rules restrict core business," USA Today - Technology News, February 22, 2018)
Anyone who follows the travel and lodging industries was inundated last Thursday with widespread reports of Airbnb’s many announcements at its recent host meeting.  For those of you who didn’t bother to dig into the details, suffice it to say that Airbnb is steadily continuing its evolution into a traditional lodging company and/or distributor.  Highlights of CEO Brian Chesky’s many announcements are below.

  • Introduction of four new property categories – existing listings will be divided into vacation homes, unique spaces, bed and breakfast and boutiques (which should work well with its recently announced partnership with Siteminder);
  • Introduction of two new service tiers - Airbnb Plus (subject to prior Airbnb inspection) and Beyond by Airbnb (luxury homes);
  • Introduction of new special “Collections” listings - Airbnb for Family and Airbnb for Work, initially, and new collections to come for social, weddings, honeymoons, group and dinner parties; and
  • Introduction of a new (and entirely undefined) membership loyalty program. 

Not surprisingly, Airbnb’s announcement garnered the attention of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), which identified both Airbnb Plus and the new boutique product type as further evidence of Airbnb’s traditional lodging company DNA.  If it walks and talks like a duck...

Our weekly OTA & Travel Distribution Update for the week ending February 16, 2018 is below.  Loyalty and direct booking make an appearance again in this week’s Update after an extended absence.

Better Late Than Never:  Wyndham Joins the Loyalty Discount Program Bandwagon [LOYALTY/DIRECT BOOKING]
("Wyndham begins offering loyalty discounts", TopHotel News, February 15, 2018)
Wyndham finally announced plans this past week to offer discounted rates to members of its loyalty program, Wyndham Rewards.  According to Wyndham, the planned discount of 10% will be one of the largest among Wyndham’s competitors.  According to Geoff Ballotti, CEO of Wyndham, the delay in rolling out the discount program was attributable to many factors, including challenges with Wyndham’s technology platform, website and OTA contracts.  Time will tell whether the planned discounts ultimately drive the direct booking volume necessary to outweigh their costs.   

This week’s OTA & Travel Distribution Update is below and features a variety of stories – EU regulation, AI-powered chatbots, direct booking, connectivity and taxes. 

German Coalition Plans for Increased Scrutiny of Online Platforms [EU REGULATION]
("Online platforms under scrutiny as German coalition eyes antitrust overhaul," MLex, February 7, 2018) (subscription is required)
Although the recent announcement made no mention of the many global or European online travel platforms operating in Germany, it is hard to see how online travel platforms will escape the scrutiny of the planned “Antitrust 4.0”commission.  What this new commission means practically is hard to predict as Germany is already one of the few EU member states to find certain distributor’s rate parity provisions outright unlawful. 

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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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