Taking Aim at Online Booking Scams

Online Booking Scams

Providing our guests with world-class service and experiences is a point of pride for our industry. From the moment their rooms are booked until after checkout, hotels work tirelessly to provide guests with excellent value and service. End-to-end guest service—not just a single transaction—helps ensure guest satisfaction.

Unfortunately, we know all too well that sometimes a guest’s experience can be compromised before they ever step foot in the hotel lobby. At the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), one of our top priorities is to shine a light on misleading and deceptive online marketing practices.

Two years ago, AHLA launched a comprehensive campaign to alert both consumers and government officials about these online booking scams. We’re proud to report there has been noteworthy progress in the consumer education campaign to drive awareness and education regarding deceptive travel websites, how consumers can avoid them, and how the government can stop them. While there is work yet to be done, recent moves from government agencies and consumer watchdogs are supporting our efforts.

Advertisement

Under the backdrop of a consumer education campaign called “Search Smarter,” we made important strides in arming consumers with the information they need to avoid hotel booking scams. We geo-targeted a campaign inside the Washington Beltway to reach important lawmakers and relevant agencies and influencers.

Last fall, AHLA was named a Better Business Bureau (BBB) National Partner, teaming up to make sure consumers have the information and tools they need to avoid falling prey to harmful online scams. The BBB has added a list of helpful tips on its website, and in the coming months, AHLA will launch a broader social media campaign to help consumers “search smarter” when booking travel online.

In Washington, our advocacy efforts have focused on Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. More than 30 members of Congress have signed on to support the bipartisan and bicameral Stop Online Booking Scams Act (SOBSA), which aims to protect consumers by making it easier for travelers to know with whom they are engaging during the booking process, and by requiring any third-party booking site to display notification that they are not the hotel’s official website before a credit card is charged. AHLA members from across the country flew to Washington in November to raise awareness and urge support for the bill on Capitol Hill.

We have also worked to educate Federal Trade Commissioners about hotel booking scams, sharing comprehensive research conducted through AHLA’s Consumer Innovation Forum to illustrate the scope and extent of the problem. In December, the FTC announced that Reservation Counter, LLC, settled charges that they misled consumers through ads, websites, and call centers that led consumers to mistakenly believe they were working directly with the hotel, and failed to properly disclose to consumers that their credit cards would be charged immediately, rather than upon arrival at the hotel. The company is now prohibited from misrepresenting their affiliation with hotels and is restricted in how they can use hotel names and logos in search engines, URLs, and other advertising. They are also required to disclose to anyone calling their hotel reservation call centers that they are an independent, third-party travel agency, and to monitor their call centers to prevent any misrepresentation.

The FTC settlement with Reservation Counter represents a significant milestone in our efforts to rein in online booking scams. Consumers should know with whom they’re doing business when booking online, and AHLA will continue pushing for the government to crack down on deceptive marketing practices that prey on unsuspecting travelers.

With the FTC decision, our efforts with lawmakers, and our new partnership with BBB, we hope to provide some reassurance to travelers that we are working hard to protect them, so we can all have a little more peace of mind.

 

About the Author
Brian Crawford is senior vice president of government affairs for AHLA.