English Corner

After searching on Booking, it's worth taking a look at the hotel's website. Image: Adobe Stock / TN

Search on Booking, but book directly

Gregor Waser

Since the parity clauses were dropped, more and more European hotels are offering lower prices on their own websites than on the Booking platform, according to a price comparison by Travelnews. The king of the booking portals is coming under pressure.

Booking is running out of steam. The king of hotel booking platforms is finding that more and more travellers are booking their hotels directly.

Virtually all hotels catering to international guests use Booking to mark their global presence. However, many of them offer significantly lower prices on their own websites, as can be quickly seen from a price comparison.

Travelnews has compared the prices of hotels in Switzerland, Italy, Germany and France and found considerable price differences. The comparison of examples in Rome, Paris, Stuttgart and Lenzerheide (see picture above) shows that direct bookings are 6 to 16 per cent cheaper. Out of a total of ten hotels compared, the hotel websites offer lower rates in six cases. In four cases, the prices on Booking are identical to those on the hotel websites.

High user-friendliness

Booking's success story is remarkably steep. While several global hotel booking platforms were still going head-to-head for the lion's share of online bookings in the noughties, the Netherlands-based and US-owned Booking platform has clearly established itself, at least among European travellers, in the years since and now accounts for 70 to 80 percent of pure portal bookings.

The key factor here is user-friendliness. With just a few clicks, you can easily find and book the perfect hotel room worldwide, whether you're on your mobile phone while traveling or on your laptop. There is also helpful information such as a transparent hotel description, simple localisation using a map tool, informative guest reviews and generous cancellation conditions.

Do you ever ask your neighbour in the stairwell where he books his hotels? Yes, he does too. The spread of the platform is impressive and has established itself among travellers. Another reason for its success is that virtually every hotel striving to compete internationally can be found on the platform.

Since the immense spread of Booking among travellers, every hotel has to ask itself whether it wants to be on Booking or not. However, a booking via Booking has its price for a hotel, with commissions of 11 to sometimes over 20 per cent.

Gag contracts are a thing of the past

Until the 2010s, hotels were subject to so-called parity clauses, known in the hotel industry itself as "gagging contracts". Hoteliers had to sign a clause stating that they would not undercut the rates published on Booking in their own sales channels. However, in recent years, most parliaments and courts across Europe have put a stop to such parity clauses.

To make matters worse for Booking, last month it became the first European-based company to be designated an "online gatekeeper" under the EU's new Digital Marketplaces Act (DMA), which imposes additional burdens on the company, such as the obligation not to advertise its own services before those of its competitors.

Booking threatened

Booking itself is furious about the latest moves by EU regulators. At a recent Financial Times technology conference, Booking CEO Glenn Fogel threatened to pull the 135 billion euro company out of Europe. The background to this is the ever tougher stance that the EU wants to take against Apple, Google & Co. with the Digital Marketplaces Act. There is still a lot to come in the next few months.

Booking's anger is partly understandable: the portal offers individual hotels, including smaller ones, the simple opportunity to present themselves worldwide. How else is the Hotel Banana City in Winterthur going to attract Brazilian or Indonesian guests? From Booking's point of view, commissions and parity clauses are intended and legitimate as remuneration for the global showcase.

However, the giant now faces the threat of a significant drop in bookings if more and more hotels take the liberty of offering lower room rates on their own channels. For savvy hotel seekers and bookers, the following approach is currently proving its worth: search online at Booking, then consult the hotel website, compare and, if necessary, book directly.