South Korea’s antitrust regulator said Tuesday it would slap two Booking Holdings brands fines of $1,750 (2.5 million won) for its flagship brand Booking.com — and a similar fine on sister brand Agoda — for not clearly telling customers that their search results are partly based on advertising, Yonhap News Agency reported.
CORRECTION: This article originally reported an inaccurate currency conversion of $1.75 million per fine.
The Korea Fair Trade Commission said the online travel booking brands had “deceived” customers by not clearly saying that they had listed certain businesses, such as hotels, at the top of their search results partly because those companies had paid fees for the privilege.
The regulator said the practice might lead some customers to think certain businesses were at the top of search restuls solely because of their services and facilities, Yonhap reported.
Booking.com placed a “thumbs-up” logo next to hotels that paid fees, but the regulator said that was inadequate. Agoda used phrases, such as “Agoda Growth Program,” next to listings for hotels that had paid for premium placement, but the regulator faulted that practice as being insufficiently clear.
UPDATE: A Booking.com spokesperson provided the following statement:
“While we have a different view of the decision taken by the KFTC, we accept the judgment. At Booking, we always strive to comply with local laws and regulations in every country we operate in and more often than not, voluntarily go beyond the minimum compliance requirements instituted in the local legal framework. We strongly believe in the importance of continually improving the consumer experience on our website and mobile apps to bring transparency, choice, and value to travelers.”—A Booking.com spokesperson.
Over the last several years, many online travel companies have become the subject of investigations by various national competition authorities for advertising, contractural, and selling practices.