The national competition watchdog stands accused of double standards over its failure to stop online travel agencies dictating accommodation prices.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has failed to stop online giants Expedia and Booking.com demanding price parity from accommodation providers, according to the industry’s peak representative body.
The Accommodation Association of Australia (AAA) says the practice continues across hundreds of accommodation businesses, yet the ACCC took legal action to prevent Flight Centre enforcing a similar policy with airlines.
Expedia (responsible for Expedia, Wotif, Hotels.com and Trivago) and the Priceline group (Booking.com), together command almost 85 percent of online accommodation bookings in Australia and have a pricing parity requirement built into contracts with accommodation businesses.
AAA CEO Richard Munro said: “The accommodation industry continues to scratch its collective head about the actions of the ACCC.
“It has expended a huge amount of public time and resources in pursuing Flight Centre over parity pricing all the way to the highest court in the land.
“Yet parity pricing requirements by two giant offshore online travel agencies have been allowed to run rampant for several years, creating havoc in the accommodation industry and costing local jobs.
“What’s more, in one of his most recent statements on this issue, the ACCC’s chairman said the existing regime for the accommodation industry allows consumers to shop around to get the best deal.
“How can Australian consumers get the best deal when the likes of Expedia, Wotif, Hotels.com and Booking.com are preventing operators of accommodation businesses from advertising lower room-rates on their own websites than those displayed for the same room on Expedia, Wotif, Hotels.com and Booking.com?
“And for any accommodation operator who doesn’t comply with this, they are threatened with being ‘darkened’ on the websites of these online giants.
“Or if operators choose to sever ties with these online giants, many operators find the online giants have used their deep pockets and internet expertise to buy out the names of their accommodation business on major search engines.”
The AAA has called for the ACCC to pursue an active ban on parity pricing in the accommodation industry.
“What makes these dubious practices even harder to comprehend is they are being undertaken by companies which keep jacking up commissions paid by accommodation operators, employ very few Australians and pay very little, if any, tax in Australia,” said Mr Munro.
“This is in stark contrast to, for example, a ‘mum-and-dad’ motel in regional Australia which supports its local community by employing local people, pays taxes and council rates to governments and enthusiastically welcomes visitors from around Australia and all over the world.”