WASHINGTON, D.C.–Innovation and e-commerce leaders from hotels across the country, led by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), will convene on Capitol Hill today to educate lawmakers about innovation in the hotel and lodging industry and how to best protect consumers against online hotel booking scams.
The hotel industry has been a leader in the evolving digital landscape for decades and were among the first to move products to the online space. Indeed, hotel businesses now make up 15 percent of all U.S. e-commerce, with 500 online bookings happening every minute.
“I am proud of the digital innovations in our industry, which make booking vacations and business trips easier than ever,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA. “Our companies–big and small–are focused on providing guests with an exceptional experience, from the moment they begin their booking process to well after they leave the hotel. And we continue to make exciting advancements as part of our commitment to continuously improve the guest experience.”
These advances include investments in new tools and technologies to meet consumer demands, from more efficient and transparent booking processes to mobile apps that allow you to choose and even unlock your room. But steady growth of online hotel bookings has also led to an increase in deceptive websites that mislead and defraud consumers.
“Unfortunately, with new technology and innovation come deceptive and misleading practices. That’s why we are working with Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to help protect consumers and make it harder for fraudulent booking sites to exist,” said Lugar.
Every day, millions of consumers are misled into making reservations through fraudulent websites that give the appearance of being connected to a hotel, when in fact they have no relation. These deceptive practices cost consumers $3.9 billion in unexpected or hidden fees, lost or cancelled reservations, and lost refunds, according to AHLA.
Consolidation of online travel sites is also confusing consumers. A study commissioned by AHLA earlier this year found that 74 percent of consumers are unaware that when they comparison shop among online travel websites such as Trivago, Kayak, and Hotels.com, they are actually comparing just two companies: Expedia and Priceline. Together, these two companies control 95 percent of the online travel market.
The hotel industry is also urging Members of Congress to support the Stop Online Booking Scams Act (SOBSA) of 2017 (S.1164/H.R.2495), a bill that would protect consumers by increasing the transparency and security of the online booking process.
The SOBSA Act would require third-party booking sites to have continuous, prominent notification that they are not the hotel’s website before a consumer’s credit card is charged. AHLA said that the legislation would empower state attorneys general to pursue restitution on behalf of consumers who have been scammed and are seeking financial compensation. The bill was introduced by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Peter Welch (D-VT). There are currently more than 30 bipartisan cosponsors: Senate sponsors and House sponsors.
“Booking scams and misleading marketing practices are a huge burden for consumers. We’re asking more Members of Congress to join in co-sponsoring this bill, to help protect consumers from scams and ensure the best possible travel experience,” said Lugar.