Spain’s anti-trust agency CNMC on Wednesday cleared Amazon, Booking Holdings and Tripadvisor of participating in or facilitating fake reviews on their websites.
CNMC had been investigating a complaint filed by the OCU, a prominent consumer organization in Spain.
“CNMC found no indication that the platforms have participated in or facilitated the publication of these false opinions,” the authority said in a statement, noting the aforementioned companies had collaborated with investigators.
However, the watchdog has sent the complaint to a consumer rights authority due to a possible violation of consumer protection regulations.
Amazon, Booking, and Tripadvisor — as well as Expedia Group, Glassdoor and Trustpilot — announced in October they were launching a group named Coalition for Trusted Reviews that would fight fake online reviews.
Booking Holdings, whose $1.8 billion deal to acquire Sweden’s eTraveli Group was blocked by European Commission earlier this year, paid out $90 million in termination fee this October, according to a nugget in its latest quarterly statement.
Typically deal breakup/termination fees are between 1-5 percent of the total deal value and paid by the seller to the acquirer, but in this case looks like the deal had a reverse termination clause and Booking Holdings had to pay eTraveli as a result, on the higher end of that fee range, in this case 5 percent.
From the filing:
“In November 2021, the Company entered into an agreement to acquire global flight booking provider Etraveli Group. The completion of the acquisition was subject to certain closing conditions, including regulatory approvals. In September 2023, the European Commission announced its decision to prohibit the acquisition and consequently a termination fee of 85 million Euros ($90 million) became payable to the sellers. The termination fee was paid in October 2023.”
In case you missed it before, Booking CEO Glenn Fogel spoke at Skift GLobal Forum in late September and came out swinging, defending the deal. Watch the video below
The problem surfaced in late Summer — Booking.com’s short-term rental hosts in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America cited financial hardships because the company wasn’t paying them for guest stays.
A condo hotel that was listed on Booking.com. Source: Booking.com
CEO Glenn Fogel told financial analysts last week during Booking Holdings’ third quarter earnings call that Booking.com would begin letting partners know that compensation is on the way.
Missed Host Payments
“During the quarter, some of our partners at Booking.com experienced delayed payments due to a planned upgrade to our finance and payment platforms in early July,” Fogel said. “We’ve now cleared the backlog of outstanding payment issues related to the system upgrade. We plan to provide compensation to partners who experienced an extended delay, and we recorded this in our Q3 results. We plan to communicate to all partners who were impacted by these payment delays within the next few days.”
The company won’t specify precisely how much it would be shelling out to hosts as compensation.
A spokesperson said the amount of the payments are “meaningful, not material.”
In-House Payment System Is Strategic Priority
When the reports of missed payments for hosts first surfaced several months ago, the company downplayed the issue.
But in addition to the financial pain it inflicted on hosts, the snafu was an embarrassment to the company because it has been developing its own payments system over the last few years as a strategic imperative.
Fogel: We did a very, very large change in our backend financial systems. Some things didn’t work so well. You do everything you can to make sure it’s going to be perfect. Wasn’t. Some people didn’t get paid a very, very, very small percentage. But even one person is one too many.
We have two types of customers. We’ve got the travelers and we’ve got the partners. And if we don’t provide good service to them, that’s on us. We screw it up, and there were mistakes. And if you don’t pay a very large company so much, well, it’s not a big deal.
By the way, in our agency business where we get paid by the partner who sends us money afterwards our commission, sometimes we don’t get paid on time either. So 30 days late, 60 days late, 90 days late, and during the pandemic, we didn’t get paid at all. Happens. This is not a pandemic, this is a mistake. And the thing is, for the smaller partners, partners that were really depending on that payment, I just felt so horrible.
Schaal: What kind of redress can you have for them?
Fogel: First thing is get their money as fast as you can, as fast as you can. And I’ll tell you, I get emails and I’ve read them and they are really heartbreaking. You just feel horrible when you do something wrong. And we have fixed it, it’s good now. But I’ll tell you, this is something where I say to the team, and I say that … I spoke out at a town hall for all of our 20 something thousand employees.
And I told them about this. I said, “Look, this is not the way we want to be. We got to do better. We should not ever, ever feel that this is OK.” Well, it’s only a small number of partners. That’s the wrong attitude. It’s always got to be, every partner counts. So the lesson from it was we have to do better.
Kayak and OpenTable, two Booking Holdings brands, laid off 80 employees, Skift has learned.
A spokesperson said that was less than 5% of their workforce.
“Like many other companies, we needed to make some difficult staffing changes as we sharpen our priorities,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to have ambitious plans for our meta brands and are doubling down on our core product focus.”
The employees affected were in the brands’ travel and shared services teams, the company said.
Kayak has several metasearch, or comparison shopping, brands, including Kayak, Momondo and Hotelscombined, among others. OpenTable is Bookings’ dining reservations platform.
Booking.com, which has marketing relationships with the International Cricket Council and the Union of European Football Associations, is playing ball with Major League Baseball.
The company will officially announce today that it has become Major League Baseball’s official online travel partner. Among travel-related services, the league also counts MGM Resorts and Capital One, which offers Capital One Travel, as official sponsors. Marriott has also been a partner.
Booking.com declined to release financial details of the marketing partnership, but said fans will begin to see Booking.com branding in baseball stadiums across the U.S., and there will be a new media campaign getting under way in several weeks.
With the launch, the official schedule pages of Major League Baseball teams will feature Booking.com icons that direct people to search and book accommodations near stadiums.
A recent Booking.com survey found that 49 percent of U.S. baseball fans plan to travel to at least one game in 2023, and 61 percent would be open to traveling as far as 500 miles to see teams play.
Booking.com, based in Amsterdam, has been making significant inroads in the U.S. market, trying to challenge Washington-based Expedia as the market leader.
Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel cited the “explosion of interest” in generative AI (artificial intelligence), but counseled that it would be prudent to be patient about delivering on its promises.
“But it’s important to remember that disruption has never been built in a day, and lasting innovation is iterative,” Fogel wrote on LinkedIn. “At Booking Holdings we have been using various types of AI across our brands for over a decade to remove friction from the travel process and our teams continue to explore what the best uses of this new transformative technology might be.”
Fogel cited the challenges, including reliable data sources, in turning artificial intelligence and related technologies into a better travel experience.
“I believe that generative AI and other technologies will play a key role in this new travel world, and many of us in the travel industry are investing right now to build the foundations,” he said. “However, there are going to be significant challenges. The problems of how to obtain real-time data from countless sources, process it all to result in optimal solutions, and then act rapidly to benefit consumers will not be solved overnight. Nevertheless, this is just one area, among many, where we are going, and travel will be better when we arrive.”
Fogel’s LinkedIn post was a tad more diplomatic than his comments last month when he discussed generative AI during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.
“Obviously, a lot of hype about AI right now, about generative AI,” Fogel said February 23.
Citing a “hype cycle,” and Booking’s long-time work in artificial intelligence, he said: “I’m not sure — I don’t think we’re into that froth of dissolution yet.”
It’s tough for a National Football League team to make a return trip in two consecutive years to the Super Bowl, but online travel company Booking.com will be doing just that with a fourth quarter advertisement during the telecast.
Here’s the advertisement:
Booking.com Chief Marketing Officer Arjan Dijk announced on LinkedIn that the Amersterdam-based online travel agency would run a spot for the second year in a row featuring its Booking.yeah tagline. Melissa McCarthy, who’s won Emmy Awards and been nominated for Academy Awards, headlines the advertisement, and whimsically touts the wonders of stays at hotels and short-term rentals when booked on Booking.com.
FareHarbor, the Booking Holdings’ tours and activities reservations tech platform, has a new CEO, Skift has learned.
Andrea Carini, who served as vice president of product development at fashion retailer Otrium for the past 10 months, began carrying out his CEO role at FareHarbor this week. There has been no public announcement about the hiring.
For nearly 10 years and up until April 2022, Carini was vice president of product development at Booking.com.
Carini replaced Ted Clements, who was acting CEO at FareHarbor for one year, until October 2022. Clements this month became CEO of WeTravel, an Amsterdam-based travel booking and payments platform.
FareHarbor takes offline tours and activities, and brings them online with a variety of booking services and payment tools.
Travel platform Agoda has been pushing ahead with a series of new fintech partnerships, with its eye on Asia’s corporate travel recovery.
Agoda, which is part of Bookings Holdings, recently started working with Singapore’s global payment platform Sunrate, and is also now collaborating with Australia’s Airwallex to target business travelers in Hong Kong.
The deal with Sunrate will see it integrate its own online travel solution into Agoda. Sunrate helps online travel agencies support single and multiple corporate card payments for flights and accommodation, and lets users set spend limits and define usage.
The company said 84 percent of its Hong Kong business clients plan to take a business trip in the next 6 months.
The partnerships come as China and Hong Kong gradually lift their travel restrictions. A day after China announced changes to its controversial zero-Covid policy, Hong Kong said inbound arrivals would only need to undergo daily rapid antigen tests for five days, instead of seven days.
“It is great to see businesses in Hong Kong recover from the pandemic, and to see so many that are eager to travel again,” said Giuliana Riitano, Asia Pacific market director of Agoda. “For many, their next business trip may be the first time they have traveled in a very long time.”
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.”