After spending hours searching for the perfect accommodation package, a soon-to-be traveler finally settles on a suite with an ocean view. Anxious to nail down her trip details, she hastily clicks “Pay Now.” But when she arrives at the hotel, the guest discovers that because she didn’t book directly with the hotel, she’s in a two-bed, standard room overlooking the street.
In the United States, 2.5 million bookings per year go similarly awry due to third-party booking websites, according to AH&LA. Rogue third-party booking sites, unlike more established players like Expedia and Booking.com, often lack a direct link to actual hotel booking pages. These rogue websites have contributed to more than $220 million yearly to bad bookings.
Mark Carrier, president of B.F. Saul Company Hospitality Group, says his properties are impacted on a regular basis. “I guarantee you something happened today at one of our hotels where somebody came in and asked for a particular type of accommodation that we may or may not even offer,” he says. “The bottom line is that our branded and proprietary reservation systems are set up to convey that information to us. The challenge with third-party sites is that they’re not set up to do that, and cannot possibly convey that same information effectively.”
Sometimes, guests may not even realize they are booking with a third party. A site may seem legitimate, using misleading web addresses and displaying familiar hotel logos. Maryam Cope, vice president of government affairs at AH&LA, recalls hearing of a business traveler who booked with a third party multiple times before realizing the error. “He mentioned something offhand to the front desk. He said, ‘Oh, I think I’m getting my reward points.’ And they said, ‘No, you booked through a third party.’” When the guest showed the front desk his website printout, he realized he did book with a third party, even though it closely matched printouts from the legitimate booking site.
A mix up may be as minimal as not receiving reward points or being in a room without a view. However, consequences can also be severe, like a hotel being unable able to provide a handicap accessible room or, during a busy season, not being able to provide a room at all. “We try to do the best we can, as always the case, but the guest reaction is often confusion and disappointment, which then translates into dissatisfaction with the hotel because, as far as they know, they made the reservation with us. They assume that the information is being conveyed from the third party to us,” Carrier explains.
While the initial damage is done with only the click of a mouse, the hotel staff may suffer enormously while trying to clean up the mess, says Carrier. “It places the burden on our management team to try to satisfy individuals who, maybe rightfully in their own mind, had made a very particular type of request known in advance and may have been told, ‘Oh yeah, it’s all covered,’ when in fact, it cannot possibly be.”
All hotels can do, according to Carrier, is encourage guests to shop smart and keep an eye out for rogue booking sites. “The best thing the industry can do is to encourage consumers to shop across the internet, but when they book, book directly with the hotel,” he says. “That way, you can be guaranteed your specific accommodations and requirements.”