Regrettably, with all the great opportunities and conveniences of booking a hotel room online today also comes the mushrooming reality of increased scams. In fact, some 15 million online hotel booking scams occur every year.
With most consumers searching at least seven to 10 websites before booking a reservation, as well as elevated traffic on hotel and travel websites, it’s become more common for rogue third-party online booking sites to find ways to piggy-back on legitimate hotels. These rogue sites trick consumers by mirroring the look and feel of the actual hotel website, using copyrighted images, trademarked logos, and many times, even similar URLs, to take consumers for a ride.
Fortunately for consumers, members of Congress have taken notice—some of whom have even fallen victims of online booking scams themselves—and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders are taking action to ensure enhanced consumer protection when booking travel online. Last month, U.S. Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced the Stop Online Booking Scams Act, a bill that would effectively combat these deceptive practices and hold unscrupulous actors accountable.
The legislation, which was originally introduced in the House in February by Reps. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), would provide vital safeguards and take necessary corrective action to stop scammers from mimicking legitimate websites and exploiting unassuming consumers. Third-party booking sites would be required to have continuous, prominent notification that their websites are not associated with a specific hotel’s website before any consumer’s credit card is charged, making it crystal clear to consumers who they are doing business with online.
Over and above reinforcing consumer protections that were included in the House version, the Senate’s companion bill further protects consumers by fighting off “meeting pirates,” which are third-party companies that misrepresent themselves as the official lodging provider for a given conference, convention, or trade show. Preying on invitation lists and convention calendars, these rogue players use similar tactics to lure in unsuspecting customers and dupe them out of legitimate reservations, causing extreme frustration, lost or canceled reservations, and, sometimes, nowhere to go in often booked-up cities.
As the digital marketplace continues to grow and evolve, consumers deserve transparency, and every minute we wait to pass this commonsense legislation, more consumers and hotels’ future guests will fall victim to these deceptive practices. When travelers have to play detective to simply plan their vacations, it’s clear something needs to be done. Consumers should always have the utmost confidence in the online booking process from start to finish and they should feel safe and protected when booking travel online. This legislation sends a clear message that this kind of deceptive behavior will not be tolerated and provides commonsense safeguards to restore trust in the online booking process, allowing customers to once again rest easy when planning a vacation.
AH&LA and our member companies made this a key priority earlier this year during our Legislative Action Summit. At that time, we raised the issue—and the harm to consumers—posed by these deceptive practices with members of congress and urged them to take notice and act. We applaud Sens. Daines and Nelson for their leadership on the issue and their colleagues in the House. And we urge other Members in the House and Senate to take up this issue and help protect consumers by supporting this important bill and swiftly moving it through the legislative process to prevent these scammers from harming anyone else.
About the Author
Maryam Cope is AH&LA’s vice president of government affairs.