Budapest: Online travel agency Booking.com has been fined 2.5 billion forints [£6.1 million] by the national competition watchdog in Hungary, the GVH, for “misleading advertisements” and “aggressive” sales tactics, designed to exert “psychological pressure” on consumers.
A probe was launched on the Amsterdam-based company’s platform as far back as 2018 when its income in fees drew suspicions in Hungary.
The GVH said in a statement: “Booking.com B.V. has led unfair business practices by misleading advertisements claiming free cancellation for some accommodation as well as by exerting aggressive psychological pressure to facilitate faster bookings.”
In response, a Booking.com representative told Reuters that the company was “disappointed by this decision by the Hungarian Competition Authority”.
“Customer data and feedback shows that the information on our platform is extremely helpful for travellers,” they said.
They added: “Everything on our website, including how we display prices and payment policies as well as the availability and popularity of specific properties, among other features relevant to the customer booking experience, is intended to help customers.”
The watchdog in Hungary said free cancellation options for some listings were only available with certain conditions and over a limited period. Customers were also reported to have been charged a premium for those options as Booking.com had built them into accommodation prices, leading the body to label the tactic “misleading”.
A couple of weeks ago, Booking.com chief executive Glenn Fogel told employees in an internal memo that layoffs from the company were “probable”, a matter of days after the Financial Times newspaper reported that it had received a $4 billion loans in bonds from investors to survive the fallout of the coronavirus.
That correlated with the World Travel and Tourism Council’s estimations that Covid-19 could lead to up to 75 million job losses in the travel sector worldwide, in light of lockdowns and restrictions on mobility and air travel.
The company has also announced it is halting all rentals within the United Kingdom until at least 9 May [Saturday] while the nationwide lockdown remains in place.