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The annual HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference was held in New York, NY on February 17, 2016. 

For those of you who attended, or did not attend the conference, my presentation, “Distribution Parity: Where Do We Go From Here?”, is available below. It features an update on recent worldwide parity developments (through December 2015) as well as some practical distribution contracting recommendations.

Distribution Parity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free to contact me if you have any questions.

This year's HSMAI Lodging Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable was held on December 8, 2015 at Washington, D.C.

For those of you who attended, or did not attend the Roundtable, my presentation, "Distribution Parity: Where Do We Go From Here?", is available below. It features an overview of recent worldwide parity developments in the online distribution world.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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The United Kingdom's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) issued a Statement of Objections this Tuesday alleging that industry giants Booking.com B.V., Expedia, Inc. and InterContinental Hotels Group violated the UK’s Competition Act of 1998. The Statement of Objections will not be made public, but from OFT’s comments, it’s rate parity and best rate guarantees that are causing the trouble.

Requiring on-line travel agents (OTAs) to honor a hotel supplier’s best rate guarantee (at retail) and requiring hoteliers to provide inventory to distributors at the same price across all distribution channels are as close to universal practice in this industry as I have seen. And now, OFT appears to consider them by a less salubrious name: price-fixing.   However, the Statement of Objections is not “the final word." It is a sort of pre-trial opinion in which OFT provides official notice of a “proposed infringement [of the Competition Act 1998] decision” and the parties to the dispute may make written and oral arguments to be considered before final decision is rendered. 

OFT’s statement was issued at the end of an investigation begun in 2010 after a complaint was made by Skoosh, a small British OTA. Skoosh contacted OFT after Skoosh’s own hotel suppliers demanded that Skoosh raise its retail rates to a certain figure (among other allegations). The hoteliers, of course, were apparently acting to meet pressure applied by Booking and Expedia not to violate what was almost certainly a contractually required rate parity obligation of some sort. In effect, Skoosh raised concerns with OFT that rate parity and best rate guarantees operate together to artificially fix prices in the marketplace and therefore act as a barrier to competition, particularly for new or smaller players, like Skoosh, who might be willing to undersell the larger OTAs to grow its business.

If OFT formally issues a finding of an infringement, despite its jurisdiction being limited to the UK, the finding will cause--at a minimum--a shift in the way a significant majority of the hospitality industry conducts its distribution business, as well as the amount of competition in the marketplace. The Internet, after all, is international. So please stay tuned!

Room Key, a brand new player in the on-line hospitality market, launched in beta on January 11, 2012 to some excitement and some hard questions. Room Key is a joint venture among six U.S.-based hotel chains—Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels*, InterContinental Hotels, Marriott International* and Wyndham Hotel Group—that allows users to search for available rooms at almost all of the chains’ global properties, or about 23,000 rooms total. More Kayak than Expedia, users search the Room Key site for inventory and are then redirected to the individual property (or chain’s) home site to complete booking. The idea is to drive traffic to the hotel websites and away from on-line travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity. And, of course, to provide a customized, personable hotel booking experience to the user--and who better to do that then a group of hoteliers--says CEO John Davis.

Missouri governor Jay Nixon signed HB 4211 into law on July 8, adding another point in the travel agent column in the contest with hoteliers, cities, counties and states over hotel/motel occupancy tax issues. The Missouri law codifies the current practice of all municipalities that assess occupancy taxes, namely, the hotels pay tax on the income they receive for their rooms and the travel agents (primarily on-line travel agents or OTAs) pay nothing. No occupancy tax, that is. Normal corporate income tax applies.

This is the latest in a series of disputes at all levels of play on occupancy taxes, including municipal lawsuits against large OTAs for back taxes owed as a result of the wholesale or “merchant” model used by those OTAs, to federal legislation proposed by the Interactive Travel Services Association and opposed by the AH&LA (but supported by, for example, the California Lodging Industry Association), to these types of state efforts to unify the taxation practices of their municipalities.

Tags: hotel, OTA, tax

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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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