IndustryNews In Brief

A fine mess for Booking.com

A country motel operator has accused online travel agent Booking.com of trying to intimidate him into ignoring the risk of a $10,000 fine during Victoria’s COVID lockdown.

Tim Stocks, who has operated the Coorrabin Motor Inn at Stawell, 240km west of Melbourne for the last four years, said a Booking.com representative then threatened to bill him after he refused to accommodate travellers from Melbourne during the height of the pandemic.

“It was back in July and I had people arrive from Melbourne,” Mr Stocks related. “I said I couldn’t accommodate them because of the Melbourne lockdown rules and I rang the police to make sure of the law while the people were standing right next to me.

“The visitors left and the next minute I got a phone call from Booking.com asking me what was going on.

“I said I would be fined $10,000 if I put the people into my accommodation but then I got an email giving me 30 minutes to either accommodate them or find somewhere of equal value in the area and that Booking.com would invoice me the difference.

“I was amazed.

“Why would I pass on the risk of a $10,000 fine to someone else in the industry?”.

 The email from I. Zhang of the Booking.com Customer Service Team said:

 “Dear partner,

“We’ve been informed that you cannot accommodate the guest (name and booking ID removed), on 2020-10-17.

“We understand the guest can not (sic) be allowed to stay at your accommodation due to government law. Considering there are no notifications on the website which show people come from Melbourne  can not be allowed to check-in. Hence, the guest did not know there is a restriction before they book.

“If you can help with the relocation, please take care of the new reservation and eventual costs. In this case, kindly inform us:

“• The name, address and phone number of the alternative accommodation
• The new room type 
• If there are any fees the guest is expected to pay on arrival

“The alternative accommodation should be in the same area and have equal or better standards.

“If we don’t receive your response with an alternative accommodation within 30 minutes, Booking.com will find a similar alternative for the guest. Any additional costs resulting from this relocation may be invoiced to your property.”

And in a final note that Mr Stocks found less than reassuring, the email concluded with

“If you have any other questions, we are here for you.”

Mr Stocks did not hear from the travellers or Booking.com over the matter again.

Chris Fozard, the Operations Manager for Budget Motels and one of the prime movers behind the “book direct” campaign in opposition to the OTA commissions, said Booking.com had not changed its policies for Australian motel owners despite the impact of COVID.

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7 Comments

  1. I had the same experience, however, I cancelled the guests upon booking, not arrival. Guests from Melbourne booked (during a time when regional people could travel to regional areas, so we were open and trading, but could not accept Melbourne tourists). Booking.com said if I could not accommodate them, then I had to find them another local property of equal or better standard and pay the difference. I flatly refused and ended up in an argument with Booking because it was the guest who could not travel, not us who could not accommodate them, I refused to find alternate accommodation for them and insisted they be refused because as per the law, they could not travel out of their local area. Booking.com said they would deal with it and the following day I received an email saying the guests had been accommodated elsewhere. I honestly hope, they were stopped and turned back at the “ring of steel” border.

  2. We have had many instances with them where we have refused a booking because that guest was blacklisted for some reason and they threatened to relocate and charge us. I always stood up and said we decide who stays at our property not you and if you invoice it will NEVER be paid. They really don’t care about the small operator but thankfully since then they have put in misconduct reporting where you can blacklist on their system. I also use the “card not valid” to cancel bookings if it is someone blacklisted. The staff at Booking.com siumply cut and paste prepared emails (threats) so very hard to explain anything. They also love the “respond within 5 days” threat, which I now use on them when they want something done. Wish we could shut them down, especially now when they are no use for international advertising.

    1. Absolutely….after 15 years with Booking.com, they have now become aloof, and almost threatening when a booking does not run smoothly. Many years ago when they started out, they actually had partner managers here in NZ who you were able to phone and talk to. Now, it has become impossible to have a conversation with any one who understands your business…and a contact through their web site is extremely difficult to say the least.

  3. This is interesting reading in which the OTAs attempt to bully the little operators. I operate a small resort on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland and recently had a situation although different rules applied I received threats from them the OTAs it goes like this ” If you dont find alternate accommodation for our guests we will BILL you ETC ETC “. I had a very agressive conversation and told them what my intention was. I have now removed the particular OTA from offering my venue. If we all take a stand and remove the bullies this will not happen. The effort must be 1 In all IN. I am prepared to take the fight but I will need your support its about time we give it back instead of receiving threats please remember we own the venues not them so we make the rules. If anyone would like to contact me please do as I am very interested in pushing forward to create a CO-Op style of booking

    1. As Brad has mentioned, in isolation it is impossible to make a stand against the OTA’s as they have multi-million dollar advertising campaigns that they use to brand hijack and push operator websites further down in the search rankings making it far too difficult for a potential guest to find you amongst the listings. A strategy is needed to push back and re-educate consumers into booking direct, and this starts with educating front of house personnel to convert these bookings into direct bookings. Only then can we educate guests on the benefits of booking direct with properties. In doing so we can up-sell our properties and convert them into loyal repeat guests. Many simply do not know they have booked through a third party and those that do don’t understand that their special requests aren’t always able to be met as we reserve our best apartments for those that book direct. One of the members for ARAMA developed some simple strategies that can be implemented to tackle these issues head-on, so if you aren’t a member I would definately encourage you to consider the benefits of becoming one as these issues are important. ARAMA work hard to protect the interests of all operators and has recently taken these OTA’s to task so I have no hesitation in drawing on the organisations strength and experience to safeguard our business. Like everyone else we are always looking at ways in which we can better control our businesses from external disrupters but at the same time we are all time poor and spend more time in reactive mode protecting our livelihoods. I agree we need a cohesive approach and endorse any action which gives us leverage to better combat these challenges. Life is tough enough right now without this!

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