Booking.com's message to European regulators? Don't lump us in with Google when you go after Big Tech. It's so rare to see any public dustup between Google and Booking.com even though there have long been competitive tensions behind the scenes.
In a rare public display of tension, Booking.com and Google are at loggerheads over European Union plans to potentially break up Big Tech and “gatekeepers.”
The Financial Times reported that Google had plans to recruit Booking.com and others in a major lobbying campaign to blunt stiff regulatory action in the form of a Europe-wide Digital Services Act, but Booking.com told the publication it would have no part of it.
“We have no intention of cooperating with Google on upcoming EU platform regulation,” Booking.com told the Financial Times. “Our interests are diametrically opposed.”
When asked to clarify whether Booking Holdings would be joining Google’s campaign, Booking spokesperson Leslie Cafferty told Skift Thursday: “No. We are not involved with Google in any discussions they may be having on any front with respect to EU platform regulation.”
Google declined to comment Thursday.
The issue revolves around whether Booking.com has a grip on online travel — hotel bookings, in particular — in a manner that has rough parallels to Google’s search monopoly. European regulators reportedly want to target the 20 largest tech companies in the region, and possibly would force divestments or even exclude some from the European single market. The latter prospect seems a highly unlikely proposition, but curbs could be coming.
That Would Be ‘Crazy’
Any effort to characterize Netherlands-based Booking.com as a gatekeeper would be “crazy,” Glenn Fogel, boss of both Booking.com and Connecticut-headquarered parent Booking Holdings, told the Financial Times. He added that Booking.com commands only about 13 percent of European hotel revenue.
However, it all depends on how regulators would define a gatekeeper. If they look at every channel — online and offline, including hotel-direct channels — then Fogel’s statistic has merit. But Booking.com dominates the European online hotel market with 67 percent share, according to Statista.
Fogel argued that if the European Union takes adverse regulatory action against home-grown Booking.com, then that would merely provide an opening for Expedia or China’s Trip.com Group to replace Booking’s market-leading position.
“We are one of the very, very, very few tech successes in Europe,” Fogel told the Financial Times. “Let’s be obvious and blatant about this. And our government regulator wants to handcuff us.”
Cafferty highlighted robust competition in Europe.
“Competition is thriving in travel,” Cafferty said. “Consumers have various ways of booking a room: They can call the hotel, send an email, book on the hotel’s website, use a local travel agent, book via a tour operator, use an online travel site, book through Google — and the list goes on.”
Hoteliers, though, often complain about Booking.com’s market power in Europe.
Cafferty countered that hotels have numerous potential advertising outlets, including online travel
“Looking at the data, 60 percent of hotel bookings in Europe are made offline — that’s via telephone, walk-ins or physical travel agents,” she said. “Online travel sites combined only account for 26 per cent of hotel revenues, a significantly smaller proportion of their total bookings. Clearly there are a lot of options for both sides of the marketplace in travel.”
The regulatory tiff and tension between Google and Booking.com takes place as the prospect of increased governmental oversight heats up in Europe, and after the United States and nearly a dozen states filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google.
While companies such as Expedia, Tripadvisor and Yelp have been vocal about advocating regulatory moves to crimp Google’s power, it is rare to see even the slightest criticism of Google from major partner Booking.com. But the pressures will mount.
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Photo credit: The Hotel De L'Europe in Amsterdam as seen on December 29, 2015. Booking.com fears that EU regulators will view it as a gatekeeper of online travel. Tom Roeleveld / Flickr.com