The Hungarian Competition Office imposed a fine of 2.5 billion HUF on booking.com for unfair trade practices
The decision of the Hungarian Competition Office (HCO) declared that the Dutch Booking.com B.V., the operator of the online accommodation booking portal, booking.com, has pursued unfair trade practices by misleading its consumers through the advertisements of certain accommodations as well as by exerting aggressive psychological pressure on them.
The HCOP has declared booking.com’s trade practices infringing in the following three aspects:
- Although in its advertisements displayed in the television and on the Internet the company has put particular emphasis on the option of ‘free cancellation’, in reality, the ‘free cancellation’ option was available for consumers in a limited time period only and for a higher price; namely, the company has built in the price of the free cancellation option in the room price of the concerned place of accommodation.
- During the steps of searching and booking accommodation, booking.com has operated with awareness-raising, urging messages (like ‘32 other peoples are watching this ad right now!’, ‘Right now somebody is considering to book a room here’, ‘Very popular! 17 bookings in the last 24 hours!’) to give the impression to its consumers that the place of accommodation they are looking for is very popular and the availability thereof is limited. This practice has exerted psychological pressure on the consumers, disrupting them in the decision-making process and giving rise to a fear that they may lose the opportunity to book a specific accommodation if they fail to act fast.
- Concerning the Hungarian accommodation offers, the display of the possibility to use ‘Széchenyi Pihenőkártya’ for payment wasn’t appropriate (uniform) on the website that could have suitable to distort the consumers’ decision.
The HCO set the amount of the fine (2.5 billion HUF) with regard to the income of the booking.com from the commission fees received after the Hungarian bookings. In addition to imposing the fine, the HCO has ordered the company to refrain from the infringing trade practices described in Point 1 and 2 in the future.
As a result of the enforcement measures taken by the European Committee and the EU’s consumer protection cooperation (CPC), Booking.com B.V. undertook already in last December to amend its trade practices to comply with the respective EU rules by 6 June 2020.